Celeste Holm, a versatile actress who achieved fame on Broadway in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit musical “Oklahoma!” in 1943 and five years later won an Oscar for best supporting actress in the movie drama “Gentleman’s Agreement,” died Sunday. She was 95.
Holm, whose more than 70-year career in show business also included performing in nightclubs, died in her apartment on Central Park West in New York City, said her husband, Frank Basile.
She had recently spent two weeks in a hospital, where she was discovered to be dehydrated and ended up suffering a heart attack. She asked to be taken home Friday, Basile said.
Holm had great success on Broadway, and already had 10 productions behind her when she was cast in the star-making role of man-crazy Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!,” in which she sang “I Cain’t Say No.”
“Any good actress can play a man-crazy hoyden, but Celeste Holm played Ado Annie with a sly wink-in-the-eye that made her character irresistible,” Miles Krueger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, told The Times in 2007. “She was so cute.”
Holm’s Broadway work, including the lead in the hit 1944 musical comedy “Bloomer Girl,” led to a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox, where her first two films were the musicals “Three Little Girls in Blue” and “Carnival in Costa Rica.”
Then came her third film, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the groundbreaking 1947 drama directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck as a journalist who adopts a Jewish identity to chronicle his experiences dealing with anti-Semitism.
Kazan fought to have Holm cast in the role of the witty and sophisticated magazine fashion editor Anne Dettrey. Studio head Darryl Zanuck, Holm told The Times in 1998, viewed her only as a musical-comedy performer.
“So they made me do the big emotional scene first as a test,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a test.”
Holm received two more supporting-actress Oscar nominations while under contract to Fox — for playing a nun in the 1949 drama “Come to the Stable” and for playing the best friend of Bette Davis’ aging Broadway star Margo Channing in the classic 1950 backstage drama “All About Eve.”
Holm received three Emmy nominations, including a 1979 nomination for her supporting role in the mini-series “Backstairs at the White House.”
An only child, Holm was born in New York City on April 29, 1917. Her Norwegian-born father, Theodor Holm, worked with the American branch of Lloyd’s of London and her mother, Jean (Parke) Holm, was an American portrait artist and author.
Celeste Holm, who was knighted by King Olav of Norway and appointed to the National Arts Council by President Ronald Reagan, was active in various social causes, including being a spokeswoman for UNICEF. She also served as chairman of Arts Horizons, which brings the arts to schoolchildren.