Born: April 29, 1917; Died July 15, 2012.
Celeste Holm, who has died aged 95, was an actress who soared to Broadway fame in Oklahoma! and won an Oscar in Gentleman's Agreement but whose last years were filled with financial difficulty and estrangement from her sons.
In a career that spanned more than half a century, Holm played everyone from Ado Annie – the girl who just can't say no in Oklahoma! – to a worldly theatrical agent in the 1991 comedy I Hate Hamlet to Bette Davis's best friend in All About Eve.
She won the Academy Award in 1947 for best supporting actress for her performance in Gentleman's Agreement and received Oscar nominations for Come to the Stable (1949) and All About Eve (1950).
Holm was also known for her untiring charity work – at one time she served on nine boards.
But late in her life she was caught up in a bitter, multi-year legal family battle that pitted her two sons against her and her fifth husband – former waiter Frank Basile, whom she married in 2004 and who was more than 45 years her junior.
The court fight over investments and inheritance wiped away much of her savings and left her dependent on social security. The actress and her sons no longer spoke, and she was sued for overdue maintenance and legal fees on her Manhattan apartment.
The future Broadway star was born in New York, the daughter of Norwegian-born Theodore Holm, who worked for the American branch of Lloyd's of London, and Jean Parke Holm, a painter and writer.
She was smitten by the theatre as a three-year-old when her grandmother took her to see ballerina Anna Pavlova. "There she was, being tossed in midair, caught, no mistakes, no falls. She never knew what an impression she made," Holm recalled years later.
She attended 14 schools, including the Lycee Victor Duryui in Paris when her mother was there for an exhibition of her paintings. She studied ballet for 10 years.
Her first Broadway success came in 1939 in the cast of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life. But it was her creation of the role of man-crazy Ado Annie Carnes in the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! in 1943 that really impressed the critics.
She only auditioned for the role because of the war, she said years later. "There was a need for entertainers in Army camps and hospitals. The only way you could do that was if you were singing in something."
Holm was hired by La Vie Parisienne, and later by the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel to sing to their late-night supper club audiences after the Oklahoma! curtain fell.
The slender, blue-eyed blonde moved west to pursue a film career. "Hollywood is a good place to learn how to eat a salad without smearing your lipstick," she would say.
"Oscar Hammerstein told me, 'You won't like it,"' and he was right, she said. Hollywood "was just too artificial. The values are entirely different. That balmy climate is so deceptive." She returned to New York after several years.
Her well-known films included The Tender Trap and High Society but others were less memorable. "I made two movies I've never even seen," she told an interviewer in 1991.
In 1979 she was knighted by King Olav of Norway.
In her early 70s, an interviewer asked if she had ever thought of retiring. "No. What for?" she replied. "If people retired, we wouldn't have had Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud ... I think it's very important to hang on as long as we can."
Her last big screen role was as Brendan Fraser's grandmother in the romance Still Breathing.
Holm had been in hospital for about two weeks prior to her death after being admitted with dehydration after a fire in actor Robert De Niro's apartment in the same Manhattan building in Park West.
She was married five times and is survived by two sons and three grandchildren. She spent her final days with her husband and other relatives and close friends by her side.
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