CELESTE HOLM DESERVES A TONY – 95 Year-old Is Broadway’s Living Treasure

| June 14, 2012 | Comments (2)
(This past Sunday, June 10, 2012, I watched the Tony Awards on television and was underwhelmed by the deteriorating quality of what I feel is  happening on the Broadway stage. For those of you not familiar with the Tonys, they are the stage equivalent of the Academy Awards – the Oscars – and are supposed to recognize excellence in the theatre. Tony Awards are given for many categories of theatrical effort both musical and non-musical. Aside from specific awards for best actor, best director and so on, there are always  honorary Tonys given not for specific feats, but in recognition of generally outstanding effort on the part of an artist, presumably somebody with a great track record of stellar performances  under their belt. This year two honorary Tonys were given, one to Hugh Jackman, the other to Bernadette Peters, both favorites of mine. My only reservation in seeing them receive these awards was: these outstanding performers are still in their prime and have lots of mileage left in their stage careers. I wondered: shouldn’t older, more venerable artists be given recognition, veteran thespians like Celeste Holm, for example ? These thoughts prompted me to write the piece that appears below.)
Growing up in a rural backwater on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the 1940s, I had none of the cultural opportunities available to city kids. There were no theatres featuring dramas and musicals; opera was unheard of; there wasn’t even a cinema within reasonable distance and television’s debut was still a few years away.
My only connection to the distant world of music and the arts was an ancient gramophone that  played scratchy 78 rpm records.
Among the stacks of disks was a recording from the 1943 Broadway show “Oklahoma !” featuring Celeste Holm as Adoo Annie singing the flirty song, “I Can’t Say No!” I played Celeste’s song over and over, and even though I was a boy, I sang along with her, oblivious to the gender difference in the lyrics. It is hard to express what a cultural life line Celeste and her song provided me as a precocious, culturally inquisitive youngster starved for the fantasy and bright lights of a world far from our quiet farm.
Celeste Holm has been an actress for more than 75 years, most of that time spent playing on  Broadway. To many, she is most remembered for her performance in the film “All About Eve”, but although she achieved fame in Hollywood and received an Oscar for her role in “Gentleman’s Agreement”, her first love was the stage where she excelled in productions, a number written expressly for her. By the 1940s Holm was a constant presence on Broadway achieving renown in “Oklahoma !” in  a role she said she got “after proving I could sing bad.” “Oklahoma !” was a smash hit that went on to set a record as Broadway’s longest running musical. In 1945 Holm mounted her own USO tour  to entertain troops fighting in Europe.
Celeste has worked tirelessly for the theatre. She turned over the first shovel of dirt at the ground-breaking for the Lincoln Center Theatre complex. In 1982 she was arrested along with a group of artists and actors protesting the destruction of five historic Broadway theatres. Although the theatres  were destroyed, the rallying cry they raised was successful in giving landmark status and protection  to the remaining historic Broadway houses.
Several months ago I had the good luck to be seated across from Celeste and her husband at a dinner celebrating the Theatre Guild which she was instrumental in founding. At 95 she is as lovely and engaging as ever and still sings with gusto as she proved that evening  when she performed from her Broadway repertoire.
As I watched the Tony Awards this past Sunday, I was hoping Celeste would receive recognition for a life devoted to Broadway. She deserves an honorary Tony not just because she has been a star from the 1930s to the new millennium,  but also for her tireless work benefiting  those in the performing arts.
Let’s hope the Tony Awards will do the right thing this coming year with an award for Celeste Holm in 2013.
(Celeste Holm passed away shortly after I wrote this piece. RIP Great Lady!)

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  1. Anne (Freimuth) Statland says:

    A wonderful actress, now gone. Very sad. She should have been recognized for her work before her death. I sometimes wonder about the group that nominates and then bestows the awards on those who, as you noted, still have a lot of time still in them. She was an elegant lady.

    • Sam says:

      Hello Anne, Good to hear from you. Today I attended Celeste Holm’s memorial. She died last week at age 95. The service was moving and beautiful. In attendance were a bevy of famous actors including Angela Lansbury. It was quite an event, held in an intimate, lovely Episcopal church in Manhattan. I am shocked that thus far the New York Times has NOT run an obit on this wondeful talented person.

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