Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Help

This post also appeared on sister blog Shadow of a Doubt.

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 good performance in a movie full of good 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, and was 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.

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