Childhood & Early Life
Celeste was born on April 29, 1917, in Manhattan, to American artist Jean Parke and Norwegian businessman Theodor Holm. Because of her parents' professions, most of Celeste's early years were spent traveling.
Celeste had attended various schools, in the Netherlands, France, and the US. She graduated from the 'University School for Girls' in Chicago and then went to the 'Francis W Parker School.' She graduated from there in 1935.
At 'Francis,' Celeste actively participated in the school's stage productions, which inspired her to nurture the craft further. Hence, she enrolled at the 'University of Chicago' and studied drama.
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Celeste made her acting debut through theater in 1938. Her first stage performance was as ‘Lady Mary’ in the three-part opera 'Gloriana.' However, her first prominent stage performance was as ‘Mary L’ in the ‘Broadway’ revival of 'The Time of Your Life' (1940).
Celeste was the first actor to portray the character ‘Ado Annie,’ a flirtatious but innocent young woman, in the 1943 musical 'Oklahoma!' The role brought her scant accolades from fans and critics. Subsequently, she performed in the ‘Broadway’ musical 'Bloomer Girl' and had a guest appearance in the radio musical ‘The Bob Crosby Show’ before she made her transition to films.
In 1946, Celeste signed a contract with '20th Century Fox' and made her big-screen debut with the 'Technicolor' musical film 'Three Little Girls in Blue' (as ‘Miriam Harrington’). The following year, she received her first 'Academy' and 'Golden Globe' for her supporting role of a fashion editor named ‘Anne Dettrey’ in the drama film 'Gentleman's Agreement,' an adaptation of the novel of the same name. Celeste also earned a 'New York Film Critics Circle Award' for her performance in the movie.
Celeste was nominated for the 'Academy' for the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ for her performance as ‘Sister Scholastica’ in the 1949 drama film 'Come to the Stable.' Her next 'Academy' nomination was for her supporting role as ‘Karen Richards’ in the 1950 drama film 'All About Eve.'
Around the same time, Celeste made her first TV appearance in an episode of the 'NBC' comedy-variety show 'All Star Revue.' Despite her successful career in films, Celeste preferred live theater over movies. For the next few years, she mostly did theater and appeared in a few select film roles only. She, however, simultaneously continued making appearances on TV.
Celeste also performed in several stage productions, such as 'Affairs of State' (1950), 'The King and I' (1951), 'Anna Christie' (1952), 'His and Hers' (1954), and 'Interlock' (1958). In 1958, Celeste played a reporter in an unsold TV pilot for her self-titled show, which was based on the book 'No Facilities for Women.'
Some of her prominent film roles around the time were in 'The Tender Trap' (1955), 'High Society' (1956), and 'Bachelor Flat' (1961). Celeste provided her voice as the narrator of the 1963 short 'Hailstones and Halibut Bones.'
Celeste played the titular role in the 1970 version of the comedy play 'Candida,' written by George Bernard Shaw in 1894. That year, she appeared as ‘Abigail,’ her first recurring role, in the 'NBC' sitcom 'Nancy.' Her first big TV achievement was a 'Primetime Emmy' nomination for her supporting role as First Lady Florence Harding in the 'NBC' miniseries 'Backstairs at the White House.'
During that decade, Celeste was more active in films than in theater. She had starring roles in the 1976 romantic drama 'Bittersweet Love' and the 1977 biopic 'The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover' (which featured her as ‘Florence Hollister’).
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From 1996 to 1999, Celeste played the character ‘Hattie Greene’ in 69 episodes of the 'CBS' drama 'Promised Land.' Her next recurring role was that of ‘Frances Robinson’ in the 'UPN' drama 'The Beat.' Her final two theater appearances were as ‘Lilian Troy’ in the 1991 comedy–drama 'I Hate Hamlet' and the musical 'Allegro’ (1994).
Celeste was a life member of 'The Actors Studio' and had been honored with the 'Sarah Siddons Award' in 1968 for her achievements in 'Chicago Theatre.' Former president Ronald Reagan appointed her to the 'National Arts Council.' She was honored with the title ''Knight, First Class of the Order of St. Olav'' by King Olav of Norway in 1979.
In 1991, Celeste received an honorary degree from 'Seton Hall University.' She was then inducted to the 'American Theater Hall of Fame' in 1992. In 1995, she had an honorary mention in the 'Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.' She had also received the 'Ellis Island Medal of Honor.'
In 2006, Celeste was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by the 'SunDeis Film Festival' at 'Brandeis University.'
She had contributed to the soundtracks of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ‘Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!,’ ‘Three Little Girls in Blue,’ and many such musicals.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Celeste's mother was a renowned American portrait artist and author. Her father owned a company that provided marine adjustment services for ‘Lloyd's of London.’
Celeste was married to actor, producer, director Ralph Nelson from 1936 to 1939. Their son, Ted Nelson, is an internet pioneer and sociologist. Celeste was received into the Roman Catholic Church to marry her second husband, English auditor Francis Emerson Harding Davies, on January 7, 1940. The marriage ended on May 8, 1945.
Celeste was married to airline public relations executive A Schuyler Dunning from 1946 to 1952. They had a son, Daniel Dunning, who is an entrepreneur now.
Celeste married actor Wesley Addy in 1961 and remained married to him until he died in 1996. On April 29, 2004, Celeste married opera singer Frank Basile, who was around 40 years younger to her. The two had met in October 1999, at a fundraising event where Frank performed.
Celeste and Frank sued the trust that was set up in 2002 by her younger son to shelter his mother's financial assets from taxes. However, Frank believed that the primary purpose of the trust was to keep him from inheriting Celeste's assets.
According to an article in 'The New York Times,' the 5-year-long court case cost them millions of dollars, and this left Celeste and Frank with a "fragile hold" on their luxury apartment.
Celeste was a spokesperson for ‘UNICEF’ and had also served as the chairperson of the 'Board of Arts Horizons,' a non-profit educational organization founded in 1995.
Since 2002, Celeste was under treatment for memory loss and later suffered from skin cancer, bleeding ulcers, and a collapsed lung. Moreover, she had also undergone hip replacements and had pacemakers. In June 2012, he was admitted to New York's ‘Roosevelt Hospital,' where she had a heart attack the following day. Two days later, Celeste died at her ‘Central Park West’ apartment.