July 15, 2012
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.
The slender, blue-eyed blonde moved west to pursue a film career. "Hollywood is a good place to learn how to eat a salad without smearing your lipstick," she would say.
"Oscar Hammerstein told me, 'You won't like it,'" and he was right, she said. Hollywood "was just too artificial. The values are entirely different. That
balmy climate is so deceptive." She returned to New York after several years.
Her well-known films included "The Tender Trap" and "High Society" but others were less memorable. "I made two movies I've never even seen," she told an interviewer in 1991.
She attributed her drive to do charity work to her grandparents and parents who "were always volunteers in every direction."
She said she learned first-hand the power of empathy in 1943 when she performed in a ward of mental patients and got a big smile from one man she learned later had been uncommunicative for six months.
"I suddenly realized with a great sense of impact how valuable we are to each other," she said.
In 1979, she was knighted by King Olav of Norway.
In her early 70s, an interviewer asked if she had ever thought of retiring. "No. What for?" she replied. "If people retired, we wouldn't have had Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud ... I think it's very important to hang on as long as we can."
In the 1990s, Holm and Gerald McRainey starred in the CBS's "Promised Land," a spinoff of "Touched by an Angel." In 1995, she joined such stars as Tony Randall and Jerry Stiller to lobby for state funding for the arts in Albany, N.Y. Her last big screen role was as Brendan Fraser's grandmother in the romance "Still Breathing."
Holm was married five times and is survived by two sons and three grandchildren. Her marriage in 1938 to director Ralph Nelson lasted a year but produced a son, Theodor Holm Nelson. In 1940, she married Francis Davies, an English auditor. In 1946, she married airline public relations executive A. Schuyler Dunning and they had a son, Daniel Dunning.
During her fourth marriage, to actor Robert Wesley Addy, whom she married in 1966, the two appeared together on stage when they could. In the mid-1960s, when neither had a project going, they put together a two-person show called "Interplay — An Evening of Theater-in-Concert" that toured the United States and was sent abroad by the State Department. Addy died in 1996.
Funeral arrangements for Holm were incomplete. The family is asking that any memorial donations be made to UNICEF, Arts Horizons or The Lillian Booth Actors Home of The Actors Fund in Englewood, N.J.
July 09, 2012
The stocky, gap-toothed Connecticut native won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a lonely Bronx butcher looking for love in the 1955 drama 'Marty.' He also starred in the popular TV show 'McHale's Navy.'
Ernest Borgnine seemed born to play the heavy when he burst onto the Hollywood scene as "Fatso" Judson, a sadistic stockade sergeant who viciously beats a private to death in the 1953 movie "From Here to Eternity."
But two years later came the title role in "Marty," where the stocky, gap-toothed Borgnine defied typecasting and earned recognition as a versatile actor by inhabiting the part of a lonely Bronx butcher looking for love.
He went on to a prolific seven-decade career in film and television, moving easily from scoundrels and serious portrayals to a comedic role on the 1960s TV sitcom "McHale's Navy" and a spate of grandfatherly parts.
Borgnine, who won an Academy Award for his performance in "Marty," died Sunday of apparent kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his longtime publicist, Harry Flynn. He was 95.
The role opposite Frank Sinatra in "From Here to Eternity," based on James Jones' acclaimed novel depicting Army life in Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor, moved Borgnine into the top echelon of movie villains in films such as "Vera Cruz" and "Bad Day at Black Rock."
He left expectations behind in "Marty," the 1955 film version of Paddy Chayefsky's original TV play about a sensitive Italian American bachelor butcher who longs for more than simply hanging out with his pals on Saturday night.
"Well, waddaya feel like doing tonight?" Marty's best friend, Angie, played by Joe Mantell, asks in the movie's often-quoted exchange.
"I don't know, Ang', wadda you feel like doing?" Marty replies.
Borgnine's sensitive portrayal of the self-described "fat ugly man" not only earned him an Oscar for best actor, but the movie also won Academy Awards for Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, as well as the best picture Oscar.
In a film career that began in 1951, Borgnine appeared in more than 115 movies, including "Johnny Guitar," "Demetrius and the Gladiators," "The Flight of the Phoenix," "The Oscar," "The Dirty Dozen,""The Wild Bunch,""Willard," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Emperor of the North."
From 1962 to 1966, he played the title role in the ABC sitcom "McHale's Navy." As the regulation-breaking commander of a PT boat in the South Pacific during World War II, Borgnine was pitted against the constantly frustrated Capt. Binghamton (played by Joe Flynn). Tim Conway played McHale's bumbling sidekick, Ensign Charles Parker.
Born Ermes Effron Borgnino in Hamden, Conn., on Jan. 24, 1917, Borgnine was the son of Italian immigrants. His parents separated when he was 2, and his mother took him to live in Italy, returning after a few years.
Borgnine graduated from New Haven High School in 1935, then worked a few weeks as a vegetable truck driver before enlisting in the Navy as an apprentice seaman. He was discharged two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and promptly reenlisted. He spent the war as a gunner's mate on a destroyer.
After his discharge, Borgnine returned home, unsure of what he was going to do.
Finally, his mother suggested he give acting a shot. After all, she told him, "You're always making a fool of yourself in front of people."
After six months of study at the Randall School of Dramatic Art in Hartford, Conn., on the GI Bill, Borgnine got a job at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., working behind the scenes before finally landing a $30-a-week acting spot in the theater's road company.
"We kept 14 shows in our heads all the time," he told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1956. "We'd go from 'John Loves Mary' to 'Much Ado About Nothing' — what training! Dramatic school is OK, but the road is where you learn."
He continued his acting apprenticeship over the next four years, including making his Broadway debut playing the hospital attendant in"Harvey."
More stage work followed, supplemented by television appearances, including playing a villain on the science fiction series "Captain Video and His Video Rangers."
Borgnine made his motion picture debut in 1951, appearing in three films: "China Corsair," "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" and "The Mob." But he was unemployed in New York when the call came to play his next film role: Fatso Judson in "From Here to Eternity."
Borgnine made a convincingly menacing Fatso — so much so that when young Frank Sinatra Jr. saw the movie for the first time, Borgnine later told The Times, "He looked at it and said, 'Dad, when I meet that man, I am going to kill him.' And his father said, 'No. When you meet that man, you put your arms around him and kiss him. He helped me win an Academy Award!' "
Borgnine was on location in Lone Pine, Calif., playing another menacing heavy, this time in "Bad Day at Black Rock," when director Mann and writer Chayefsky flew up to have him read for the lead in "Marty."
As Borgnine recalled during a panel discussion at the Lone Pine Film Festival in 1999, he met with Mann and Chayefsky in his hotel room.
"The very first thing when we started reading, Paddy Chayefsky said, 'Hold it! Hold it!' I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'You're doing it with a western twang.' 'OK,' I said, 'wait a minute.' I threw off my hat, kicked off my boots and I went at it.
"Paddy was reading all the other parts and Delbert was stretched across my bed, listening, and we came to the part where my mother says, 'Put on your blue suit or your gray suit and go down to the dance hall; there are a lot of tomatoes there.' And I said, 'Mom, you don't understand. I'm just an ugly, ugly man,' and I turned away and tears were coming out.
"And I looked back and Paddy Chayefsky had tears in his eyes and Delbert was wiping tears from his face, and inwardly I said, 'I got it!'"
"Marty" proved to be both an artistic and commercial success.
Life magazine called Borgnine's characterization of the lonely butcher who falls in love with an equally plain and lonely schoolteacher (played by Betsy Blair) "one of the most successful pieces of movie casting so far this year."
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that Borgnine's Oscar-winning performance was "a beautiful blend of the crude and the strangely gentle and sensitive in a monosyllabic man."
In the wake of "Marty," Borgnine played an Amish farmer in "Violent Saturday," a prizefight promoter in "The Square Jungle," a rancher in "Jubal" and a Bronx taxi driver (opposite Bette Davis) in "The Catered Affair."
But he was soon back in front of the cameras playing another heavy, this time the villainous Norse chief in "The Vikings," a 1958 film co-starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.
"After 'From Here to Eternity,' I decided to steer away from heavies, but here I'm playing one again," he told The Times at the time.
"I made the original decision after some young Bronx characters almost took me apart. 'You're the guy that killed Sinatra,' a group yelled at me one day in New York, and it looked bad until I spoke soothingly to them in Italian — a language they understood. 'Fellows, it was just a picture,' I said. They were so intrigued that I spoke Italian, they let me go."
Borgnine closed out the '60s with a memorable role in Sam Peckinpah's bloody 1969 western "The Wild Bunch" and later made numerous television guest shots as well as appearances in TV movies and miniseries.
In the short-lived 1970 series "Future Cop," he starred with John Amos as veteran policemen whose new partner is a biosynthetic computerized android.
And he played Jan-Michael Vincent's older war buddy, Dominic Santini, on "Airwolf," a mid-1980s CBS adventure series about a high-tech attack helicopter.
In 1995, Borgnine was back in series television playing a friendly, pasta-loving doorman on "The Single Guy," which ran for two seasons on NBC. He also was the longtime voice of Mermaid Man on the animated TV series "SpongeBob SquarePants."
Off-screen, Borgnine has been described as soft-spoken and affable — a simple, unassuming, average man.
Beginning in the late 1980s, when he wasn't working, he traveled the country in a custom-made bus dubbed the Sunbum. In 2001, at age 84, he had just completed his latest trip to Alaska.
"I find it terribly relaxing," he told The Times in 1996. "It's like driving a big car. You see everything. The minute you get out of the cities, it's wonderful. You become part of America."
When Borgnine received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2011, his career in front of the camera had spanned six decades. And at age 94, the venerable actor was still going strong.
As he said in 2008 when he received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as a retired song-and-dance man in the TV-movie "A Grandpa for Christmas": "You die on the vine if you just sit down in a chair and get old. The idea is to get up out of the chair and go out there and hustle."
Borgnine's final role came earlier this year in "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez," as a retired radio DJ with an unfulfilled dream of stardom who winds up in a nursing home staffed by Latin American immigrants.
Borgnine was married five times, including to actress Katy Jurado from 1959 to 1964, and briefly to Broadway musical star Ethel Merman in 1964.
In 1973 he married his Norwegian-born fifth wife, Tova, who became head of her own cosmetics company.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his children Nancee, Cristofer and Sharon Borgnine and David Johnson; six grandchildren; and a sister, Evelyn Velardi.
Services will be private.