The film career of Celeste Holm was spotty throughout her illustrious show business life – with only over a dozen big-screen roles before her death on July 15 at age 95. Even with that limited resume, Holm still managed to achieve three Oscar nominations with a victory on top of that in 1948.
Holm’s film career began after achieving wide acclaim for starring in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma! – though she would never appear in the film production released in 1955. In 1946, she signed with 20th Century Fox and made her first movie Three Little Girls in Blue. In 1947, Holm starred in director Elia Kazan’s powerful drama Gentleman’s Agreement, about a reporter (Gregory Peck) who gets in over his head when he pretends to be a Jew for a story on anti-Semitism. Holm starred as an editor who becomes a voice of reason for Peck’s character, especially when his work causes problems with his relationship with a Jewish woman (Dorothy McGuire). Holm’s performance earned the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, one of three the film would win – including Best Picture.
From 1948 to 1950, Holm would star in some of Fox’s most notable and controversial successes. 1948 would bring Holm roles in Jean Negulesco’s film noir Road House and co-starring with Olivia de Havilland in the mental hospital drama The Snake Pit. In 1949, she made her first film with acclaimed writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, with A Letter to Three Wives. Holm wasn’t seen in a single frame of Mankiewicz’s dramedy – instead she was the voice of the woman who writes to three women over taking off with one of their husbands. She then co-starred alongside Loretta Young as a nun helping to build a hospital in the drama Come to the Stable; she earned her second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
One of the major highlights of Holm’s film career would came in 1950, when she co-starred alongside Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Broadway satire All About Eve. Holm starred as Karen Richards, whose friendship with stage star Margo Channing (Davis) is altered when she gets into a rivalry with rising acting powerhouse Eve Harrington (Baxter). Though All About Eve received Oscars for the film and Mankiewicz’s directing & writing, Holm would be one of five actors nominated for her work. Despite her third nomination, Holm wouldn’t win the Best Supporting Actor prize – and of all the Eve acting nominees (also including Davis, Baxter & Thelma Ritter), only George Sanders would win for his legendary role as critic Addison DeWitt.
Film roles would come sparingly after the Fox period of Holm’s career, as she would ultimately take on more theater and TV opportunities. Notable movie performances would include supporting roles opposite Frank Sinatra in two 1950s musicals: 1955’s The Tender Trap (with Debbie Reynolds) and 1956’s High Society (with Bing Crosby & Grace Kelly); she also appeared in the 1962 British-American comedy Bachelor Flat, the 1973 Mark Twain musical Tom Sawyer and the 1987 blockbuster comedy Three Men and a Baby. Great television appearances included as the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the 1977 miniseries The Private Lives of J. Edgar Hoover, the soap opera Loving and the family drama Promised Land.
Celeste Holm didn’t have many opportunities to showcase her talents on screen – but when she was able to, it resulted in some notable successes. During a four-year period with one major film company, Holm scored several Academy Award nominations – and managed to even win a statuette for her efforts. Though on-screen roles would come less and less over the decades, she remained one of Hollywood’s great stars of the Golden Age.