Oy, is this blog officially defunct? NO, not as long as I’m still the CEO of Jew Eat Yet, Inc.! Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of my gig writing for MSN Movies and the one-year anniversary of leaving this blog in the dust! My fantasy was that I’d continue using this space for other, more personal writing since that fulfills a whole different kind of writing need, but there are only so many hours in the day and between my movie work and editing books for various publishers I’ve come up terribly short in the blogging department. Not that this move has caused much rioting in the streets and in even commenting on it I’m doing what I swore I’d stop doing—writing about blogging. (Yawn.) As if regular ol’ blogging wasn’t narcissistic enough?
Anyway, the main times lately when I’ve really felt the absence of my blog is when some of my favorite stars have kicked the bucket. Let's face it—this site has practically become a clearinghouse for celebrity obituaries in recent years! The last time I wrote on here, over a month ago, was when lovely Ann Rutherford died. But what about Andy Griffith, who died two weeks ago at the age of 86. Or Ernest Borgnine, who died a week ago today at the age of 95? Today clinched the deal when I heard that one of my favorites, Celeste Holm, died. Like Borgnine, Holm was 95. I had to write about her, especially after what happened just before I found out about her passing. It was such a bizarre experience that I already wrote about it on Facebook AND in a personal anecdote on the MSN Movies site. Forgive me if you’re already read about it there!
I was walking along Hollywood Boulevard this morning with Charlie in our weekly trek to the Sunday Farmers Market in Hollywood. We always gaze at the stars on the Walk of Fame and play this game where I see which star Charlie stops on and then try to find some significance in that. Well, this morning we were walking along when Charlie suddenly darts over to Celeste Holm’s star and begins to touch it tenderly (which he’s never done with any star). Remember this was early in the morning before I heard anything on the news about the actress. I quickly snapped this photo at which point Charlie sat down on the star (again, something he’s never done!) and refused to budge! At one point he was lying face down across Holm’s name (taking in the full filth of Hollywood Boulevard, I may add!). Very odd. We finally went on to the market and about an hour later, when we got back into my car, the very first thing I heard on the radio was that Celeste Holm had died this morning. Whaaaat?? Is Charlie a celebrity empathic? The reincarnation of one of Holm’s hundreds of co-stars? Or just his father’s son, in tune with the comings and goings of Old Timey Hollywood? Yikes! I really got the chills when I heard the news.
Not that I ever have a difficult time making celebrity deaths all about ME, ME, ME! Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel compelled to write about Griffith and Borgnine, because I didn’t feel a strong personal connection. On the other hand, I did feel somewhat connected to Andy since our friend Sam Bobrick wrote some of the best “Andy Griffith Shows” back in the 1960s and we used to watch it every week looking for his name. I don’t think I ever missed an episode and I always had the hots for Andy’s girlfriend, whether it was Elinor Donahue in the early years or Aneta Corsaut’s schoolteacher Helen Crump later on. I wrote about Don Knotts on here when he died in 2006 and how moved I was by his relationship to Andy Griffith that lasted until his death.
On Facebook, I noted what I think is Andy Griffith’s best performance—in the Elia Kazan film “A Face in the Crowd” with Patricia Neal. Griffith is utterly brilliant (and terrifying) in the role of “Lonesome” Rhodes, a drunken drifter who is discovered by Neal in rural Arkansas and rises to fame and power on TV. Take a look at this clip and then go watch the hard-hitting film which I believe was way ahead of its time.
Ernest Borgnine? I don’t think I ever met him and I didn’t even watch “McHale’s Navy” as a kid (hey, sue me, it was on opposite “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.!”). But I certainly admired many of his films including “From Here to Eternity,” “Marty,” “The Catered Affair,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and yes, “The Poseidon Adventure!” Come on—who didn’t cry when Borgnine loses his sexy wife, Stella Stevens? (Oops—spoiler alert!)
And dear Celeste Holm, an ageless woman who first appeared on Broadway 72 years ago, won an Oscar 65 years ago, and starred in a TV series as recently as 12 years ago. As I wrote earlier today, Celeste Holm was nominated for three Best Supporting Actress Oscars and she was the very definition of a “supporting actress.” Not in the sense that her roles were shorter or less important that those of the film’s leads, but more that Holm was such an ideal ensemble player who upped the game of everyone around her. While her Academy Award for “Gentleman’s Agreement,” a hard-hitting 1947 film about American anti-Semitism starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, was well deserved, my favorite Celeste Holm performance by far is in the 1950 Bette Davis classic, “All About Eve.” Holm plays Karen Richards in the film, the sweet wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and best friend to temperamental diva Margo Channing (Davis). It is Karen who first introduces the conniving Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) to Margo, and she remains the heart and soul of the film through all the machinations and histrionics of the main players.
Holm’s third Oscar nomination was for the 1949 film, “Come to the Stable,” in which she and Loretta Young play French nuns who come to a small New England town to help the residents build a children’s hospital. My other favorite Celeste Holm films include “The Tender Trap” (1955) and “High Society” (1956), both opposite Frank Sinatra. On stage, Holm originated the role of Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” (1943).
The first time I ever saw Celeste Holm as a kid was on the beloved TV version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” starring Holm as the Fairy Godmother and Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella. In another odd twist of fate, I was at a screening at the Motion Picture Academy last night and found myself sitting directly in front of the still beautiful Warren. I wish I had turned around and talked to her about working with Celeste Holm all those years ago.
The first stage musical I ever saw when I was growing up in Chicago was a touring company of “Mame” starring Celeste Holm as the irrepressible Mame Dennis. I’ve seen her several times since then, the most recent being in 2008 when she introduced a screening of “All About Eve” at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. With her memory fading, Holm was joined on stage by her husband Frank Basile (over 40 years her junior!), who helped her remember various anecdotes about the making of the film. In addition to stories bout “All About Eve,” Holm told us about the time she purposely stalled an elevator so she could beg director Anatole Litvak for a role in “The Snake Pit.” (She got the part!) She also told a story about the “swear jar” that goody-two-shoes actress Loretta Young set up on the set of “Come to the Stable.” Celeste and the other actors were forced to drop a quarter into the jar every time they so much as uttered a “damn” in Young’s presence. When ballsy Ethel Merman heard about the swear jar, she stormed onto the set, shoved a twenty-dollar bill into the jar and said, “There you go, Loretta. Now go fuck yourself!”
Needless to say, Celeste Holm brought the house down with that story, as she’s been doing with audiences for over seven decades in the spotlight. Rest in peace, Celeste!