Celeste Holm Remembers Gentleman's Agreement

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Celeste Holm didn’t expect to win an Academy Award for her performance in Gentleman’s Agreement. After all, Ethel Barrymore was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and in Holm’s mind, her peer was certain to win. In fact, she was so certain that she only casually thought about what she would say if she won.

“So when he called out my name – mispronouncing it – all of a sudden, I thought I lost my mind because every light in the theater hits you. You’re blinded and numbed,” Holm recalled.

Feeling like her legs were made of “caramel”, her husband helped her to her feet, and she found her way to the stage.

“I suddenly realized I hadn’t prepared,” Holm said with a laugh. “But something came to mind. And what I said was, ‘I thought I already received the greatest reward in having the opportunity of being in a picture which can bring understanding to a world that seems to need it so much.’… And then I burst into tears and ran off the stage.”

Below are some more of Celeste Holm’s memories about Gentleman’s Agreement.

1. On being cast.

“I remember when Kazan wanted me for that picture. Darryl Zanuck said, ‘She can’t do that. She’s a musical comedy actress.’ Kazan said, ‘Oh, no. She isn’t. I know her from New York from Broadway. She’s an actress. She can do almost anything, and I want her.’ So they got me.”

2. On the film.

“I thought making this picture, Gentlemen’s Agreement, was important because of the presence of some anti-Semitism in our society. Gee, that seems long ago. Thank heaven.”

3. On Gregory Peck.

“Gregory Peck wasn’t much fun. You know, humor to me makes life possible. And there wasn’t much of that.”

4. On the film's quality.

“I think the reason that these pictures that I was fortunate enough to make made such an impression was because the writers had a real sense of responsibility to the audience. They had a point. They were written for a reason. That seems to have gone out of style.”

5. On director Elia Kazan.

“He's a very interesting director. He's a secretive director. For instance, if he has a piece of direction for you, he'll whisper it in your ear so the other actors don't hear what it is. Then he whispers in their ears. And then you do the scene again, and you try to figure out what he said to them by what they do.”

6. On her beginnings.

“If I wanted to be an actor today, I really don’t know where I would start. Maybe soap opera. Something where you just have to keep doing it and learn how to be effective, how to learn your own strength. It’s a different world now. I started in theater – summer stock – and it was very good training because you found out what the audience would do and you found out how to control them.”