April 29, 1917– Celeste Holm:
I believe that if a man does a job as well as a woman, he should be paid as much.
I met her once. It was rather a thrill because I am truly a fan and at the time I was a young, rather berserk, musical theatre fanatic. I was over the moon to meet the original Ado Annie from Oklahoma! (1943). As a film-savvy youthful gay man, my head was simply spinning to be meeting the real-life Karen, Margo Channing’s best friend in All About Eve (1950), one of my very favorite films.
The occasion of this meeting was upon my being received backstage by actor Betty Garrett after her one-woman show Betty Garrett & Other Songs at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles in spring 1976. Garrett had been in my acquaintance for a couple of years, and we had recently been at a very informal outdoor dinner thrown by mutual friends. Garrett offered me her house seats the very next evening. I took her up on the offer. The show was splendid, sparkling and sentimental. Right before her big finish, but before the curtain call, Garrett looked into the house with her hands shielding her eyes from the spotlight and announced, while pointing out to the audience: “My dear friends Celeste and Stephen… I want to see you both in my dressing room in just a few minutes.” I turned to the person next to me, nudged them and whispered: “That’s me she is talking about! I’m Stephen. I mean, I’m not Celeste”.
So, the Academy Award winner and I hung out in the small dressing room while Garrett got out of costume and make up. Holm and I made small talk and loudly praised Garrett’s show. I heaped some praise on Holm’s stage performance in the musical Mame which I had seen her perform the title role in 1968.
Unbelievable to me now, I declined an offer from this pair of amazing stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era to move on to party at John Gavin and Constance Towers‘ place as a trio. Instead, I would opt to go to Studio One in West Hollywood. I was hoping that some hot guy would shove that little brown bottle under my nose, that would make me feel all sexy and really connected with the thumping music and that he might then take me home with him. I did meet a beefy redhead that evening. He took me back to his place in Venice Beach, used me for my considerable talents and then made me breakfast. I came to a fork in the road and I made the wrong decision. I could have partied away all evening with the woman who introduced the world to the showstopper I Can’t Say No, but instead I took the fork that might have got me forked.
It is now legendary and attributed to different people, but this is how Holm told it to me: She was nominated for an Oscar for a film she made with Miss Loretta Young, Come To The Stable, in which they both played nuns! Young had become quite pious after having given birth to Clark Gable‘s love child (talk about virgin birth, she adopts her own daughter) and she had announced to the cast and crew that there would no swearing or strong language on the set of the nun flick. Young had set up a penalty box for anyone who dared break her rules. If anyone slipped and used a “fuck” or a “shit”, they were required to place a dime in the box, with the money going to a Vatican charity after the film wrapped. Holm’s good friend Ethel Merman stopped by the set for a visit. Merman took a 10 dollar bill out of her purse and slipped it into the swearword box and for the whole cast and crew on the set to hear, stated:There you go Loretta. Now you can go fuck yourself.
I related this story to a group of young people here in Portland. Not even one of them knew of Celeste Holm, Loretta Young, Ethel Merman, or All About Eve… and they were gay! I hate getting old.
Holm also related this anecdote:
I walked onto the set of All About Eve on the first day and said: ‘Good Morning’ to Miss Bette Davis, and do you know her reply? She said: ‘Oh shit, good manners’. I never spoke to her again … ever.
Holm earned her Academy Award as the knowing voice of tolerance in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and went on to a six-decade screen and stage career, frequently cast as the wistful or brittle sophisticate. Her film career flourished. She played a fellow psychiatric patient of Olivia de Havilland’s character in The Snake Pit (1948).
Holm’s most noted roles shared one quality: her characters rarely got the guy. As a smart magazine photographer in the musical High Society (1956), Holm was ignored by her reporter colleague, played by Frank Sinatra who was more interested in the society bride played by Grace Kelly. In The Tender Trap (1955) she marries at the end of the film, only because her 33-year-old character felt she was too old and that she better settle or be alone forever. In A Letter To Three Wives (1949), the man she ran away with went back to his wife.
Brooklyn born Holm resided in her native New York City for most of her life. She married five times. She wed her fifth husband, opera singer Frank Basile, on April 29, 2004, her 87th birthday. He was 45 years younger. Sweet!
Holm made more than 100 films beginning in 1946, excellent in dramas, comedies and musicals. She outlived the entire cast of All About Eve, my favorite of her films. She continued to work in theatre and cabaret until her late 80s. Holm took her final curtain call in 2012, shortly after her 95th birthday, a life well lived.