Celeste Holm (1917-2012):
”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 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 Karen, Margo Channing’s best friend in All About Eve (1950), one of my Top Ten 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 (now The Geffen) in L.A., spring 1976. Garrett had been in my circle of acquaintances for a couple of years, and we had recently been at an informal outdoor dinner thrown by mutual friends. Garrett offered me her house seats for her show the next night, and 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, a stranger, next to me, nudged them and whispered: “That’s me she is talking about! I’m Stephen. I mean, I’m not Celeste.”
So, Academy Award-winning consummate character actor Celeste Holm and curly haired Stephen Rutledge 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 performance. I heaped some praise on Holm’s stage performance in the musical Mame which I had seen her perform the title role in 1968.
While hanging together, Holm did relate this tid-bit:
“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 Gentlemen’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. Her most noted roles shared one quality: her characters rarely got the guy.
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 chose to go to Studio One in West Hollywood. I was hoping that some hot guy would shove a little brown bottle under my nose, and it would make me feel all sexy and really connected with the thumping music and that he might later take me home with him. And I did.
I met 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. What can I say; I came to a fork in the road and I made a wrong decision. I could have partied away the evening with the woman who introduced the world to the showstopper I Can’t Say No, but instead I took the fork that got me forked.
Celeste Holm turns 101-years-old today.