NEW YORK – Celeste Holm, a versatile, bright-eyed blonde 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, died Sunday, a relative said. She was 95.
Holm had been hospitalized about two weeks ago with dehydration. She asked her husband on Friday to bring her home and spent her final days with her husband, Frank Basile, and other relatives and close friends by her side, said Amy Phillips, a great-niece of Holm’s who answered the phone at Holm’s apartment on Sunday.
Holm died at her longtime apartment on Central Park West, in the same building where actor Robert De Niro lives.
In a career that spanned more than half a century, Holm played Ado Annie – the girl who just can’t say no in Oklahoma!– Bette Davis’ best friend in All About Eve and a worldly theatrical agent in the 1991 comedy I Hate Hamlet. She had guest-star turns on TV shows such as Fantasy Island and Love Boat II.
She won the Academy Award in 1947 for best supporting actress for her performance in Gentlemen’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 – and was a board member emeritus of the National Mental Health Association.
She was once president of the Creative Arts Rehabilitation Center, which treats emotionally disturbed people using arts therapies. Over the years, she raised $20,000 for UNICEF by charging 50 cents apiece for autographs.
President Ronald Reagan appointed her to a six-year term on the National Council on the Arts in 1982.
In New York, she was active in the Save the Theatres Committee and was once arrested during a vigorous protest against the demolition of several theaters.
But late in her life she was in a bitter, multiyear legal family battle that pitted her two sons against her and her fifth husband – former waiter Basile, whom she married in 2004 and 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 benefits. The actress and her sons no longer spoke, and she was sued for overdue maintenance and legal fees on her Manhattan apartment.