Celeste is one of the main stars (if not the principal character) in one of my all time favorite movies Letter to Three Wives —and yet you never see her glamorous face during the entire film, not even once. We only hear her distinctive voice purring seductively as ‘Addie Ross.’
Luckily for us, Celeste starred, face and body, in numerous Hollywood roles, including her Academy Award winning portrayal in The Gentleman’s Agreement  with Gregory Peck, The Snake Pit  with Olivia de Havilland, All About Eve  with Betty Davis, The Tender Trap  with Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds, and High Society  also starring Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Bing Crosby—as well as many, many others.
Despite all of the accolades she received from film and movie roles, Celeste garnered more satisfaction from live theater productions. Her most recognizable role was introducing ‘Ado Annie’ in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma. The show was a tremendous success, but she told that she treasured the opportunity to work with the musical team of Rodgers and Hammerstein more. She was equally adept and in-demand at prestigious nightclubs and on television, and she shared some of her many adventures for my book The Persian Room Presents.
Sadly, Celeste passed away July 15, 2012, just days after she and her opera-star husband, Frank Basile, shared tea and visited with me at The Plaza Hotel in the Palm Court.
Whenever we got together, the conversation invariably swung towards reminiscing about her illustrious career in show business—what better way to spend an afternoon? It was then that Frank pointed out that she was in George M. Cohen’s last production. “That’s right,” said Celeste, “The Return of the Vagabond. I played his last ingénue. The film was a sequel to The Vagabond— and not well reviewed at all. But he gave me some advice that I carried throughout my career. It really helped solidify and define my acting and how I approached performing in general. It was simple, really but it felt like an epiphany to me. He said, ‘My dear, the audience will never have fun unless they believe you are. Give ‘em a good time.’
“Before that, I’d go backstage after a show and moan and groan about this or that not being perfect. George made me realize that the audience doesn’t recognize what didn’t happen exactly as you planned. They don’t sit in the audience and judge you. It’s only the critics who do that— and even they want to be entertained. They want to see you succeed and that makes all the difference. They want to see a good story play out, and it was our job to give them a good time. I seriously took his advice to heart and I’ve been passing it on ever since.”
Celeste found her passion at the very impressionable age of three when her grandmother and aunt brought her to see Ana Pavlova dance. “Even at that young age I saw that she transported the audience and I said, ‘Oh, I want to do that!’ I studied ballet for eleven years. By the time I was fifteen, I realized that the verbal language had more impact, so I started getting involved in my schools theater. I took drama classes in high school and that was the extent of my formal theatrical education— despite the fact that some schools claim I studied with them.”
I’m sad knowing that I won’t be able to learn more from her wonderful stories shared over a cup of Darjeeling tea, but feel blessed to have had the opportunity to hear tales from the golden days of both Hollywood and Broadway told by such a legend.