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Classic Hollywood: Celeste Holm, Barbara Stanwyck and 'The Lawman'

I’m Susan King, a veteran entertainment writer at the Los Angeles Times who is unabashedly passionate about the Golden Age of Hollywood. Each Friday in the Classic Hollywood newsletter, I look at events around town, movie and TV milestones, the latest in classic films on TV, as well as notable births and deaths.  So grab a cup of coffee and a Danish and enjoy.

July 15 marks the third anniversary of the death of the versatile character actress Celeste Holm, who was the original Ado Annie in the groundbreaking 1943 Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” and earned the supporting actress Oscar for her dramatic performance in the 1947 best picture winner “Gentleman’s Agreement.” She also received Oscar nominations for 1949’s “Come to the Stable” and 1950’s “All About Eve.” Holm’s career spanned a staggering 70 years.

Celeste Holm (Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

I had the opportunity to interview her in 1998 when she was making the CBS family series “Promised Land.” She was full of colorful stories, including one involving British actor Leslie Howard — best known as Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind” — who was a notorious womanizer. Holm was playing a lady-in-waiting and an understudy to Ophelia in Howard's 1936 touring production of “Hamlet” in Chicago.

“I was wearing a gorgeous scarlet dress with a gold wimple and a train,” she said. “After my scene, I immediately exited to the first wing. I could see the show from there.”

Then Howard entered the wing.

“He took one look at me, and before I could say anything, he took me in his arms and kissed me as beautifully as I had ever been kissed before or since. I was totally unprepared. I had only met him the night before.”

The problem was that Howard was nearsighted. As soon as he kissed her, he realized he had kissed the wrong girl.

Holm went to her dressing room. “One of the actresses I was working with said, ‘What happened to you? You look like you have seen a ghost.’ ”

She told the actress about her brief encounter with Howard.  “She said, ‘He was having an affair with the girl in New York who wore your dress. He probably forgot where he was.’ ”

Here is the L.A. Times obit of Holm as it appeared on July 16, 2012.

Around town

Colleen Moore was one of the biggest stars of the 1920s, best known for her deft comedic performances in such films as 1926’s “Ella Cinders” and 1927’s “Her Wild Oat” and her dramatic turn in 1928’s “Lilac Time” with a young Gary Cooper. Her recently discovered long-lost 1929 silent comedy film “Synthetic Sin,” which was restored by Warner Bros., is having its L.A. restoration premiere Saturday afternoon at Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. Antonio Moreno also stars in the comedy, which New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall described in 1929 as “the type of contraption that through sheer absurdity arouses mirth from those who don't mind a character being irrational in order to carry out a quasi type of fun. The stellar performer in this wild piece of work is Colleen Moore, who is really sufficiently talented to act in a more sober sort of comedy.” Cliff Retallick will provide the live accompaniment.

Movie milestone

Rob Reiner’s sparkling romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally...,” penned by Nora Ephron and starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, opened in limited release on July 12, 1989. The soundtrack is filled with vintage tunes, several of which were performed by a young Harry Connick Jr., including George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” And, of course, who can forget the iconic line “I’ll have what she’s having” uttered by Reiner’s mother, Estelle, in the deli scene?

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally." (Castle Rock Entertainment)

DVD vault

Does anyone remember the ABC western series “Lawman”? The half-hour sagebrush saga, which premiered in the fall of 1958, lasted four seasons. World War II hero John Russell starred in the series as the no-nonsense Marshal Dan Troop of Laramie, Wyo., and Peter Brown played his much younger deputy. Guest stars included Robert Conrad, Adam West, Dick Foran and Lee Van Cleef. Warner Archive just released the first season of “Lawman” on a five-disc, 39-episode set.

Don’t touch that dial

Barbara Stanwyck fans should set their DVRs for 3 a.m. July 15 because that’s when TCM begins its 10-film festival featuring several of those terrific pre-Code melodramas that she made early in her career, including William A. Wellman’s snappy 1931’s “Night Nurse,” with Clark Gable as a baddie; the notorious 1933 “Baby Face,” which features young John Wayne as one of her conquests; and the bawdy 1933 “Ladies They Talk About.” The retrospective concludes with 1936’s “His Brother’s Wife,” the first of three films she made with Robert Taylor, whom she married in 1939.

Barbara Stanwyck (UCLA Film and Television Archive)

Sneak peek

In Sunday’s Classic Hollywood, I chat with Oscar-nominated actress Amy Madigan (“Twice in a Lifetime”), who has also made several films with her husband, Ed Harris, including 1985’s “Alamo Bay” and 2000’s “Pollock,” which Harris also directed. Madigan, who was a rock singer before she became an actress, is returning with Harris to the stage next year in New York. But in the interim, she has directed a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre of “Off the King’s Road.”

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable births this week include John Gilbert (July 10); Sam Wood (July 10); Yul Brynner (July 11); Tab Hunter (July 11); Milton Berle (July 12); Harrison Ford (July 13); Patrick Stewart (July 13); Dale Robertson (July 14); Toby Wing (July 14); Forest Whitaker (July 15); Carmen Zapata (July 15); and William Dieterle (July 15).

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and follow me on Twitter at @mymackie.

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