OKLAHOMA! Celeste Holm's signed contract for Green Grow the Lilacs, 1943, the musical that became Rodger and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
A printed Actor's Equity Association Standard Minimum Contract, dated in type 3 February 1943, here hiring Celeste Holm to appear as Ado Annie in Green Grow the Lilacs for the rate of $225 per week in New York and $250 per week on tour, signed in ink "Celeste Holm" and countersigned by Theatre Guild manager Theresa Helburn. 20 x 9 inches. Horizontally folded, else fine with a large dark signature.
The contract that launched the career of Celeste Holm, committing her to the key role of Ado Annie in the musical shortly renamed Oklahoma! that changed Broadway forever and made Celeste Holm a star. But just before the success of Oklahoma!, in 1942 Celeste Holm was a hostess at the Stage Door Canteen, the famous cafe just off Times Square that offered the droves of servicemen passing through free food, cigarettes, coffee, and jubilant entertainment from Broadway performers. Hostesses would graciously dance or talk with the transient servicemen, who were nervously headed to war, and the place was also wildly popular with all levels of the nearby Broadway theater crowd. In order to be allowed to sing at the Stage Door Canteen though, one had to be an established singer, and Celeste Holm, then appearing in The Damask Cheek, sought out a singing role on Broadway. With persistence, Ms. Holm was granted an audition for the role of Ado Annie in the upcoming adaptation of Green Grow the Lilacs, a revamp of the Theatre Guild's previously unsuccessful show about settlers in Oklahoma Indian Territory. Successful in winning the role, the first of many as a comedienne, Ms. Holm's original contract also bears the signature of Theresa Helburn, co-founder of the New York Theatre Guild. Helburn also brought Richard Rodgers and then writing partner Lorenz Hart onto the project, the latter soon to be replaced by Oscar Hammerstein II, and Helburn's role as a critical figure in the coming of the Golden Age of musical theater is important to note. Rodgers and Hammerstein provided all new songs for the show, including the show-stopper "Oklahoma!" which was also selected as the new title for the musical, but the showstopper of the first act was Celeste Holm's legendary performances of "I Cain't Say No!" a song so popular an encore was added after the Boston previews. Oklahoma! was an instant sensation and was the first of a string of successes for Rodgers and Hammerstein whose shows would rule Broadway for the next decade and beyond and launched the long career of Celeste Holm.
The story about the Stage Door Canteen - and Celeste Holm's patriotic service - does not end there. Celeste Holm is credited with bringing the soldiers to see Oklahoma!: "Back on Broadway, a young actress came into the West 44th Street canteen with tickets for a musical opening that night just up the street in the St. James Theater. She was playing the ingenue role, and there were still seats to fill for the premiere. So the actress, who had been a canteen hostess before winning her role, had come back to paper the house with free tickets for servicemen. Those who took advantage of her offer witnessed a landmark theatrical first night. The actress's name was Celeste Holm, and the show was Oklahoma! From the following day on, for years to come, the lines in the morning to buy tickets for Oklahoma! would be longer than the lines in the evening to get into the Stage Door Canteen."
See John Vacha, Meet me at the Canteen in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Summer 2020.
C The Celeste Holm Collection
Additional Notes & Condition Report
No condition report? Click here to request one.