Oscar Icons: Celeste Holm

Francois Dischinger

“Gentleman’s Agreement” (best supporting actress)

When Holm, a 19-year-old Broadway actress, first came west in 1936, she drove to the top of Mulholland and said, “I wonder if I’ll ever make it here.” Ten years later and on a Fox contract, she was back. “What’s a New York actress like you doing in a place like this?” Danny Kaye asked over lunch. The answer — “I want to make pictures that make a difference” — had Kaye laughing so hard he forgot to pick up the check. But Holm, now 93 and married to opera singer Frank Basile, some 40 years her junior, did just that. She cornered Anatole Litvak in an elevator to persuade him to cast her in 1948’s The Snake Pit, which dealt with mental illness. Her screen test for the anti-Semitism-themed Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) was so powerful that Elia Kazan used the footage in the film. She won the Oscar the next year, the first of her three nominations. Recalls Holm, who is shooting two films in the spring, “Oh boy, I felt I’d truly achieved something significant in my career.” 

Photographed by Francois Dischinger on Feb. 18 at Holm’s Manhattan Apartment, next to a childhood portrait