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Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm dies at 95

By Mark Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 15 2012 10:36 a.m. MDT

FILE- In this March 12, 1997, file photo, actress Celeste Holm poses at a friends' home in Santa Monica, Calif. Celeste Holm, a versatile, bright-eyed blonde who soared to Broadway fame in "Oklahoma!" and won an Oscar in "Gentlemen's Agreement" but whose last years were filled with financial difficulty and estrangement from her sons, died Sunday, July 15, 2012, a relative said. She was 95.(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

Kevork Djansezian, AP

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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.

Holm died around 3:30 a.m. at her longtime apartment on Central Park West, located in the same building where Robert De Niro lives and where a fire broke out last month, Phillips said.

"I think she wanted to be here, in her home, among her things, with people who loved her," she said.

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Holm played everyone from Ado Annie — the girl who just can't say no in "Oklahoma!"— to a worldly theatrical agent in the 1991 comedy "I Hate Hamlet" to guest star turns on TV shows such as "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat II" to Bette Davis' best friend in "All About Eve."

She won the Academy Award in 1947 for best supporting actress for her performance in "Gentleman'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, multi-year family legal 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. The actress and her sons no longer spoke, and she was sued for overdue maintenance and legal fees on her Manhattan apartment.

The future Broadway star was born in New York on April 29, 1917, the daughter of Norwegian-born Theodore Holm, who worked for the American branch of Lloyd's of London, and Jean Parke Holm, a painter and writer.

She was smitten by the theater as a 3-year-old when her grandmother took her to see ballerina Anna Pavlova. "There she was, being tossed in midair, caught, no mistakes, no falls. She never knew what an impression she made," Holm recalled years later.

She attended 14 schools growing up, including the Lycee Victor Duryui in Paris when her mother was there for an exhibition of her paintings. She studied ballet for 10 years.

Her first Broadway success came in 1939 in the cast of William Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life." But it was her creation of the role of man-crazy Ado Annie Carnes in the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's musical "Oklahoma!" in 1943 that really impressed the critics.

She only auditioned for the role because of World War II, she said years later. "There was a need for entertainers in Army camps and hospitals. The only way you could do that was if you were singing in something."

Holm was hired by La Vie Parisienne, and later by the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel to sing to their late-night supper club audiences after the "Oklahoma!" curtain fell.

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