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If It Takes a Winner to Know a Winner . . .

March 23, 1997|Susan King | Susan King is a Times staff writer

So just what does a veteran Academy Award winner think of this year's crop of Oscar nominees?

Though Celeste Holm hasn't caught up with all the major Oscar contenders, she gently allows as how she's not all that thrilled with what she's seen.

"You see, my basic idea about being an actress anyway is to give the audience a wonderful present, preferably one which makes them glad to be human," says Holm, who is celebrating her 60th year in the profession. "In these, I didn't really want to be human."

Holm, 77, has always imbued her characters with humanity, especially in her best supporting actress turn in 1947's "Gentleman's Agreement," as the compassionate friend of a writer (Gregory Peck) pretending to be Jewish for his story on anti-Semitism.

She also received supporting actress nods for her role as a nun in 1949's "Come to the Stable," and as Bette Davis' friend in 1950's landmark comedy "All About Eve."

Holm, currently a regular on the wholesome CBS drama "Promised Land," says of the four best film nominees she's seen, "Shine" was "the most coming-out-of-adversity sort of picture, but still to see another child destroyed is terribly painful to me."

Her candidate for best picture is "Evita," which failed to get nominated in that category. She admired the Madonna musical because of the "scope of it--the fact that a whole country fell in love with this lady and she fell in love with the role of fairy godmother. I have never seen so many people on screen--not since 'Ben-Hur.' I could feel and taste Argentina in that picture. I don't like Madonna. I think she's perfectly dreadful, but she was wonderful. I admit it! I think she was marvelous."

Holm, who played Ado Annie in the original 1943 Broadway production of "Oklahoma!," gives thumbs up to best actress nominee Frances McDormand for her role as the laconic, pregnant police chief in "Fargo."

"She gave a marvelous, wonderful, unsentimental performance," Holm says. "It was a wonderful character. Of course, blowing people's faces off, I don't find funny. It's supposed to be a comedy and I'm sorry, it offended me. My favorite scene [in the film] is when she gets into bed, the size of a bureau, and her husband says, "Only two months more" [before the baby arrives]. Only two more months? She was 20 minutes away from the hospital."

She found best actor nominee Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of troubled pianist David Helfgott in "Shine" to be "absolutely remarkable." Though she adds she was "irritated by the fact that much of the time I didn't understand him. Of course that was part of [Helfgott's] problem, but it didn't make it easier to understand."

And though she hasn't seen best supporting nominee Lauren Bacall in "The Mirror Has Two Faces," Holm says, it's "nice when you see an actress admired for [star] quality emerge as an actress."

Holm confesses she's been so busy working 15-hour days on location in Utah with "Promised Land" that she's not even casting her Oscar ballot this year.

"I really don't feel I have a right," she says. "It's so embarrassing to be working so hard, you can't do your job as a member of the academy. But at the same time, I was standing in the snow in a silver mine atop of Park City, 8,000 feet up in the air, and this child--he was an extra--looked at me and said, 'Are you really crying?' I said, 'Of course, the script does it for me,' which is a pleasure of working with good material." Working on the series, she says, also has helped her cope with the recent death of her actor husband, Wesley Addy. "I think it has saved my life," she says wistfully.

Holm is thrilled that independent features are dominating the nominations this year. Hollywood studios, she says, "have dropped the ball in the sense of responsibility to the audience to bring things [on screen] that are heartwarming. The [old] Hollywood studio system was really a very good one because they had the responsibility of providing movies for their theaters and that gave them the real sense of responsibility. Without responsibility, as far as I am concerned, you can forget the whole thing."

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