Apr 20, 2007

Kitty Carlisle Hart, 1910-2007

As a girl who emulates that vanishing social set comprised of the talented, elegant women of yesteryear, I was truly saddened to hear that just months after touring the United States with her one-woman show, sassy singer, actress, socialite, philanthropist, lecturer, television personality, and Broadway star Kitty Carlisle Hart died this week at her Manhattan, NY home. She was 96 years old.

Perhaps best known for her long-running presence on popular game shows of the 1950s and 60s (she appeared as a favorite panelist on TV's "To Tell The Truth" for a span of more than forty years), Carlisle was born Catherine Conn in New Orleans on September 3, 1910. After her father died in 1920, Catherine and her mother took to Europe, where Mrs. Conn hoped to marry her daughter into royalty after she had been suitably educated. While intentions of noble nuptials never materialized, young Kitty finished her formal education in Switzerland, France's Sorbonne, and the London School of Economics; she also studied acting at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Returning to the United States at age 21, Carlisle soon took to the musical stage, premiering in the titular role of "Rio Rita" before embarking on a brief tenure in Hollywood. She made only four films during her ingenue period in the 1930's; perhaps most notable is her role in 1934's zany Marx Brothers classic, A Night at the Opera. Feeling films were not her fortitude, she returned to the theatre and continued performing sporadically through the 1970's, mostly musicals and occasionally drama, even making numerous noted and successful forays into opera (she premiered in Die Fledermaus in 1967).

Carlisle married prominent Pullitzer prize-winning playwright Moss Hart in 1946 - her only marriage - and remained devoted to him and to their two children after his 1961 death at age 57, never remarrying, despite the fact that she outlived him by nearly fifty years. Colorful accounts of the couple's glitzy social life, rife with renowned talents from the arts and New York's elite uppercrust society, remained a mainstay of Carlisle's personal appearances in theatres and nightclubs for the rest of her life.

remained a foremost supporter and advocate of the arts in the years following Hart's death, most notably chairing the New York State Council of the Arts for over 25 years, where she worked to expand the council's budget by an estimated $50 million. She was still actively fundraising into her 90's.

The few in today's audiences who are privileged enough to be familiar with Kitty Carlisle Hart won't be surprised to learn that she continued her one-woman cabaret act until late 2006, even celebrating her 96th birthday with a performance at New York's Regency Hotel. Pretty, genuine, unpretentious, and endlessly enthusiastic about the perpetuation of memories of Hollywood's Golden Age, she created a name for herself by trying her talents in a multitude of mediums and endeared herself to New Yorkers with her dedicated efforts to enrich the art and culture of their legendary city. To tell the truth, a lady like this will never be forgotten.

Ms. Hart is survived by her two children with Moss Hart: son Christopher Hart and daughter Cathy Hart Stoeckle.

For more information on Kitty Carlisle Hart, I highly recommend reading Kitty: An Autobiography, which she published in 1988: it's an engrossing read that fully employs Kitty's wit and intelligence, detailing her youth, her romantic forays in Europe, her decades-spanning and multifarious career, her family life with Moss Hart, and the considerable strides she made as an independent woman in her later years. It's quite a book based on quite a life.


Kitty: An Autobiography

Complicated Women (TV Documentary)

Vintage Episode of To Tell The Truth - Courtesy of YouTube (external link)

Labels: , ,