Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Help

Actress Celeste Holm died last week at the age of 95. In my opinion, she had both the talent and the looks to be a leading lady, yet with the exception of one, possibly two, films, she spent most of her brief Hollywood career (by her own choice; she preferred New York and the theater) in supporting roles. She won an Oscar supporting Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement. She also supported Olivia De Havilland in The Snake Pit. As an uncredited, disembodied voice, she supported Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Southern, Kirk Douglas, and Paul Douglas in Letter to Three Wives. On TV in the 1960s, she supported (with a wave of a wand) Leslie Ann Warren in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.

These days, Celeste Holm's best known movie may be All About Eve (1950), where she supported Bette Davis. Watch:


Well? Did you see her? Did you see Celeste Holm? She was the blond standing to the left of Davis. She said, "We know you. We've seen you like this before. Is it over, or is it just beginning?"

Not to give you the wrong impression, there are plenty of instances in Eve where Holm really does get to show off her thespian skills. She turns in a fine performance in a movie full of fine  performances. However, the particular scene that I just showed you happens to be most famous one in the movie (as well as the most available scene on YouTube.) Probably because it contains the most famous line in the movie, uttered by Miss Davis: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." But Holm set Davis up to say that line! You know, when she said, "We've seen you like this in the beginning. Is it over, or do we know you?" Something like that. Holm supported Davis.

OK, this may not be the best argument on behalf of Miss Holm. So I'll give you another clip from a lesser known but hardly obscure film, High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Holm could sing as well as act, and here she supports Frank Sinatra, who could act as well as sing. Sinatra was a big star in 1956, billed above the title, along with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. Louis Armstrong had a much smaller role, but was prominently featured on the film's poster anyway. As for Celeste Holm, you have to kind of look for her name. Yet in this particular scene, Sinatra dominates at first, until Holm's contribution increases, it all balances out, and both stars end up supporting each other:

Unfortunately, this equality doesn't last the whole picture. Celeste Holm was, after all, just a supporting actress. One of the best.


  1. Thanks for including the clip from High Society. That may have been the best musical adaptation of another film ever made. Later on she became on fixture on TV in various supporting roles.

    1. Cole Porter composed the music for HIGH SOCIETY, Mike. I recall you had him as a Saturday Master not too long ago on your own blog.

  2. Yes, I did but I didn't use any of the music from this great film. My favorite piece was Bing and Louis Armstrong. I have both High Society and The Philadelphia Story on The old 12 laser disc format, Unfortunately my disc player is no longer working.

    1. That is a great moment. Interesting to hear Bing mention "rock and roll" in a song about jazz. Maybe rock seemed more like an offshoot of jazz in 1956, instead of a competing musical form.

      I also like the scene where Bing and Frank sing, "Well, Did Ya Evah?"

    2. Incidentally, I've seen THE PHILADELPHIA STORY a number of times, and while it's a great film, I'm always a bit disappointed that Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart don't get together in the end, as they do set off a lot of sparks in that film. It may be the only movie where I'm actually a bit ambilivent about Cary Grant getting the girl.

      As for the remake, I have not such disappointment regarding Frank Sinatra (Stewart) and Grace Kelly (Hepburn). Thanks in part to "Who Want's to be a Millionaire", I was happy Sinatra and Celeste Holm reconcile in the end.


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