There is a wonderful line written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in the 1950 Academy Award-winning 20th Century Fox film All About Eve where Karen Richards says, “Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello.”
That well-written classic line was uttered by one of America’s greatest actresses, Celeste Holm, who passed away this past week.
Why a Fort Lee archive piece on Ms. Holm? What possible connection could she have to Fort Lee?
Well, simply put, her roots in Fort Lee go as far back as the first Fox Studio lot, circa 1915, where Ms. Holm’s mother was a set designer for that studio in Fort Lee. Holm spent many years in New Jersey on her family farm and was a strong voice for filmmaking in New Jersey and for the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.
Also of note is the fact that Holm, at the age of 16, made her stage debut in Summer Stock at the Netcong Playhouse in New Jersey. Holm would go on to great fame on Broadway (The Time of Your Life, Oklahoma) and even greater fame in the film industry. She was under contract with 20th Century Fox, the same studio that employed her mother back in Fort Lee when it was Fox Studio.
Holm won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the groundbreaking Elia Kazan film Gentleman’s Agreement (20th Century Fox, 1947).
The Fort Lee Film Commission created the Barrymore Award in 2003, named after the acting family that both lived and worked in Fort Lee more than a century ago. The award is presented each year to a person in the film industry whose work exemplifies the best of American filmmaking.
Some of our winners over the years have included three-time Academy Award-winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg and actress Ruby Dee.
In 2006, we presented the Barrymore Award to Ms. Holm. It was a way to honor a wonderful actress and advocate for filmmaking in New Jersey. We brought Ms. Holm to to speak to an auditorium full of teenagers about the craft of American filmmaking and the history of this art form in their hometown of Fort Lee.
We were honored to produce a 50th anniversary screening of Ms. Holm’s classic 1956 film High Society, in which she regaled the audience with wonderful stories of her co-stars Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. The Fort Lee Film Commission sponsored a screening of All About Eve at the theatre, where Ms. Holm participated in a symposium and Q&A.
One wonderful story she recounted was about Bette Davis, who played the character Margo Channing in the film. When an audience member asked Ms. Holm how she got along with Davis on the set, Ms. Holm smiled and said that on the first day of shooting, “I walked onto the set . . . on the first day and said, 'Good morning,' and do you know her reply? She said, 'Oh shit, good manners.' I never spoke to her again - ever."
Our week with Ms. Holm culminated in our Awards Dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Fort Lee in November 2006. We were graced by American film royalty that night, and our guests were dazzled by Ms. Holm’s elegance and charm.
We produced a clip reel of Ms. Holm’s career, which we screened prior to the award presentation. At the conclusion of the film tribute, our audience rose to their feet and gave Ms. Holm a wonderful standing ovation. Her kind words to all of us in her acceptance speech touched our hearts, and her clear connection of her career to that of her mother’s at the Fox Studio in Fort Lee brought our own history to life.
No one in this life of ours is irreplaceable, we are told. But personally, all I can say is the style, class and charm of Ms. Holm is not likely to be seen again, unless of course we watch her in her wonderful films, in which she will live forever.