Monday, August 2, 2010

Person of the Week: Kitty Carlisle Hart

A sketch of Kitty by Larry Sobel from my collection
Perhaps you know her from her starring role as the star-crossed ingénue in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera. Maybe you remember her as a panelist on “To Tell The Truth” from 1957-1978 (and again in revivals until 2000). You must have heard her name at some point in your life. She’s Kitty Carlisle. She was fabulous.

Born Catherine Conn in New Orleans in 1910, she preferred to be called, “Kitty.” Kitty Conn and her mother were extremely close. Her mother’s singular ambition was to see her daughter achieve her dream of success as an opera singer. Together, they traveled the world to make that happen. Very quickly, Kitty Conn (then known as Carlisle), became a celebrated beauty—mixing with the elite and making her mark on the world. She was engaged to George Gershwin and had romances with some of the most prominent men of the day. Her heart, however, belonged to one man—legendary playwright, Moss Hart. Moss and Kitty married in 1946 and remained married until his sudden death in 1961. They had two children.

After the death of her beloved husband, Kitty continued her work—both professional and charitable. She became a champion for the arts and especially for young artists. For twenty years, she served as the chair of the New York State Council for the Arts. Age meant nothing to Kitty Carlisle Hart. She exercised daily and continued to perform her cabaret act until her death in 2006 at the age of 96.

Kitty as "Rosa" from A Night at the Opera
Among her many achievements, she starred in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and sang the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen. She made an indelible impression with her 1935 role in A Night at the Opera with her life-long friends, the Marx Brothers. Among her many film roles were Murder at the Vanities (1934), 1935) She Loves Me Not (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), and Hollywood Canteen (1944). Later, she appeared in Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) and in Six Degrees of Separation (1993).

One of her crowning achievements was her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss's Die Fledermaus. She would play the part ten more times in her lifetime.

Most importantly, however, Kitty Carlisle Hart was the epitome of grace and class. Eternally beautiful in every conceivable way, I will always remember her kindness and unceasing support of young artists.

Three cheers for the amazing Kitty Carlisle Hart!

I recieved this photo from her after sending her the first manuscript for The Garnet Red.


Anonymous said...

Miss Carlisle had a quick wit with absolutely no malice and seemed to be one of those human angels who could make everyone around her feel important and at ease. She also reflected a standard of manners, class and style that the arts community - particularly in New York - is sadly coming to miss. It is interesting that you chose Fran Drescher for this blog because she does seem to be an able torch-bearer for the Carlisle legacy.

Fran said...

Kitty was one of a kind. She was all class, I'll tell you. And such clothes. I don't think anybody could be as classy as that Kitty Carlisle. But, you know, to even be a little bit like her is something pretty special. ; )