July 3, 2011

USA: Love and Inheritance - A Family Feud

NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / July 3, 2011

Oscar-winning actress Celeste Holm, 94, with her husband, Frank Basile, 48,  at their co-op on Central Park West. The couple have had a five-year legal battle with her sons. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

By John Leland

IF you could script your life, how would it play out? Make movies, win an Academy Award, own an enormous apartment on Central Park West and then, in your declining years, marry someone half your age?

On a recent afternoon, Celeste Holm, 94, sat in her vast living room overlooking Sheep Meadow, holding hands with her husband, Frank Basile, 48, assessing how things had worked out for her.

“I don’t like it at all,” she said.

The stately apartment, where Ms. Holm has lived since 1953, reflects a full and fruitful life: mementos from her films “All About Eve” and “Gentleman’s Agreement”; sheet music on the grand piano for songs she and her husband still sing together. But it is now at the center of a bitter family battle that has poisoned her relationships with her two sons and exhausted all her other assets, including the trust fund that was supposed to pay her living expenses.

The couple have had to borrow money to stay in the apartment. They no longer have a housekeeper or a home health aide. Even now, Mr. Basile said, there is a very real chance that they could lose their home, or that Ms. Holm’s sons could force them to sell it.

“There is?” Ms. Holm said, staring at him.

In February, Ms. Holm was sued for overdue maintenance and legal fees on her
apartment,  where she has lived since 1953. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

To its various players, this story is about a young husband coveting his elderly wife’s fortune, or jealous sons guarding their inheritance or an independent-minded woman trying to maintain control of her finances even as her faculties decline. It is a cautionary tale for families trying to manage one of our age’s emblematic conflicts, between elderly parents who want to live autonomously and adult children who want to protect them, made more vivid by the presence of the Broadway and screen actress at its center. From all sides, it is a story of loss.

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