On the Three Lives of Kitty Carlisle (Hart)
Today is the birthday of the lovely Kitty Carlisle Hart (Catherine Conn, 1910-2007).
For the purposes of easy digestion, her career divides conveniently into thirds.
I first became aware of her, like many, during the second phase of her long career, when she was a panelist on the tv game show To Tell the Truth, which ran from 1956 through 1978, with additional extensions in 1980, 1990-1991 and 2000. She was also an occasional panelist on a number of other game shows during the same period, although she was ALWAYS on To Tell the Truth. But of course seeing her there week after week was the farthest thing from a guarantor of knowing who she actually WAS, any more than I knew who Peggy Cass, Bill Cullen, Orson Bean, or even the host Gary Moore were. Older people knew, but the producers of such shows in the 1970s never seemed to stop to think that new generations of viewers might be watching to whom these names meant nothing. They needed to be reintroduced to us, to every new audience on an ongoing basis. We knew nothing of these people’s previous careers as entertainers. So far as we were concerned, their only identity was as panelists on To Tell the Truth. Needless to say, this was decades before the Internet. I had the vague sense that Kitty Carlisle was “fancy” because she talked posh, had a fancy hairdo and wore pearls. That was the extent of it.
Later, one began to piece together her earlier (phase one) career as an opera singer, Broadway performer, and movie actress, her most famous part being in A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers. A subsequent favorite of mine became Murder at the Vanities (1934), her first movie, set against the backdrop of Earl Carroll’s Vanities. The talented young socialite had studied at the Sorbonne, the London School of Economics and RADA before beginning her professional career in the states in 1933. In 1946, she married one of Broadway’s hottest playwrights, George S. Kaufman’s frequent collaborator Moss Hart.
The third section of her career is well known to development people and those in the arts who worked in New York City and state at any time between the 1970s and her death, for she was an extremely active philanthropist and advocate for arts funding, even serving as Chair of the NY State Council on the Arts for many years. She was a frequent presence at galas and fundraisers. I saw her at such on many occasions back in my fundraising days, and even got to meet her a couple of times. She managed to retain her beauty and grace until the end, that is to say until her late 90s! Wherever she went, this buzz would follow her: “She looks good!”. Because even towards the end of her life she still looked like this:
To learn more about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc