Celeste Holm, an UWS Star

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By Angela Barbuti

Celeste Holm, Academy Award-winning actress, couldn’t imagine living anywhere besides the Upper West Side.

The icon moved to her Central Park West residence in 1953 and still calls the same apartment home.

At 93, the All About Eve and High Society actress can be seen strolling near the park and taking advantage of neighborhood amenities.

She first moved to the West Side in the1940s, when she created the role of Ado Annie in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma in 1943. At the time she was living in the same building where she currently resides with her husband, Frank Basile.

“After a night performance, I would take the 110 bus from 42nd Street to my apartment,” she said, recalling her easy commute.

Her building is now a hotbed for famous actors and actresses, and she remembers when as many as five of its inhabitants were present at the Oscars.

Not that she is any stranger to the Oscars herself. In 1947, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Gentleman’s Agreement. Seated in the middle of a row, among the Hollywood glitterati, she recalls that she didn’t she think was going to take a home a prize.

Although proud of the monumental accolade, she said that she was more honored to have been able to work on such a “poignant” film tackling the issue of anti-Semitism, which was controversial at the time.

Her success in the film propelled her on to several other roles in the motion picture industry.

In 1956, she joined Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in the musical High Society.

“Working with them was like the difference between Seconal and Benzedrine,” she said with a smile

During filming, Holm explained, Sinatra preferred spontaneity while Crosby believed in a rigorous rehearsal schedule. Holm agreed with Crosby’s philosophy on set.

As for working with Ol’ Blue Eyes, Holm joked, “I always got along well with children.”

Grace Kelly was also in the film and Holm remembers that Sinatra had a crush on her. But unfortunately for Sinatra, Kelly had just gotten engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco. In fact, Kelly, who also happened to be engaged in the film, was able to wear her actual ring in the production.

“It was the size of a skating rink,” Holm recalled.

Besides being in the company of such a talented cast, working on High Society was memorable in that, since it was a musical, the music of Cole Porter and Louis Armstrong permeated the set.

The actress also appeared in several other films over the years, including The Tender Trap, Tom Sawyer and Three Men and a Baby. But her focus was primarily in the theater world.

Holm has always lived near a park. The actress grew up near Gramercy Park, lived in Chicago for a short while and at 17 returned to New York, where she lived on the north side of Washington Square Park.

Her favorite park, though, is Central Park, where she appreciates both the beauty and the activity that it offers her.

“Just the other day I walked out my door and in a few moments I was lying on the grass under a tree in Central Park. You can’t do better than that,” she said.

Her favorite pastimes include people-watching on a park bench. She named the carousel as her favorite location in the park. On Thanksgiving, the couple invites loved ones to watch the parade as it passes their apartment windows. Once, she actually walked out of her building and onto a float that honored her.

Food is also an important part of her life on the Upper West Side. Two of her favorite restaurants, Café Des Artistes and Tavern on the Green, have closed their doors, but she continues to frequent La Boite en Bois, a family-run French restaurant on 68th Street and Columbus Avenue. Her favorite dishes there are the seafood crepe and pate. Amber, also on Columbus, between 70th and 71st streets, is her favorite spot to get sushi; she claims it is the best in the city.

The West Side has changed vastly in the six decades that she has lived there. Although it’s hard for her to believe now, Lincoln Center did not exist when she first moved to the West Side. She was there for its groundbreaking in 1959, holding the first shovel of dirt. Now she takes advantage of all it offers, going to the Met, the ballet and attending musicals such as South Pacific.

Many of her fondest memories of living in the neighborhood involve doting fans. Once, while dining at Il Violino on Columbus and 68th Street, an admirer spotted her through the window. To show his appreciation for her work, he presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

This is just a small part of the charm of the area that the actress feels cannot be replicated anywhere else in the city.

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