September 3, 1910
|Died||April 17, 2007 (aged 96)|
|Resting place||Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York|
|Other names||Kitty Carlisle Hart|
|Alma mater||University of Paris|
London School of Economics
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
(m. 1946; died 1961)
Kitty Carlisle Hart (born Catherine Conn; September 3, 1910 – April 17, 2007) was an American actress, singer, and spokeswoman for the arts. She is best remembered as the leading lady of the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera (1935) and as a regular panelist on the television game show To Tell the Truth (1956-1978). She served 20 years on the New York State Council on the Arts.
In 1991, she received the National Medal of Arts from President George H. W. Bush. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1999.
Kitty Carlisle was born as Catherine Conn (pronounced Cohen) in New Orleans, Louisiana, of German-Jewish heritage. Her grandfather, Ben Holzman, was the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, and a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War. He had been a gunner on the CSS Virginia, the Confederate ironclad warship that fought the USS Monitor at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Her father, Joseph Conn, MD, was a gynecologist who died when she was ten years old. Her mother, Hortense Holzman Conn, was eager for her daughter to be accepted by local society. A taxi driver once asked if her daughter was Jewish, and she answered, "She may be, but I'm not."
Carlisle's mother took her to Europe in 1921, where she hoped Kitty would marry European royalty, believing that nobility were more likely to marry a Jewish girl. The two traveled around Europe and often lived in what Carlisle recalled as "the worst room of the best hotel". Kitty was educated at the Château Mont-Choisiin Lausanne, Switzerland, then at the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics. She studied acting in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She studied singing with Estelle Liebling, the teacher of Beverly Sills, in New York City.
After returning to New York in 1932 with her mother, she appeared, billed as Kitty Carlisle, on Broadway in several operettas and musical comedies, and in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. She also sang the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen in Salt Lake City. She privately studied voice with Juilliard teacher Anna E. Schoen-Rene, who had been a student of Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Manuel Garcia.
Carlisle's early movies included Murder at the Vanities (1934), A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers, and two films with Bing Crosby, She Loves Me Not (1934) and Here Is My Heart (1934). Carlisle resumed her film career later in life, appearing in Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) and in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), as well as on stage in a revival of On Your Toes, replacing Dina Merrill. Her last movie appearance was in Catch Me If You Can (2002) in which she played herself in a dramatization of a 1970s To Tell the Truth episode.
For her contributions to the film industry, Carlisle was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 with a motion pictures star located at 6611 Hollywood Boulevard.
In the early 1950s, Carlisle was an occasional panelist on the NBC game show, Who Said That?, in which celebrities tried to determine the speaker of quotations taken from recent news reports.
Carlisle became a household name through To Tell the Truth, where she was a regular panelist from 1956 to 1978, and later appeared on revivals of the series in 1980, 1990–91 and one episode in 2000. (One of her most notable hallmarks was her writing of the number one: When she voted for the member of the team of challengers who occupied the number one seat, it was written with a Roman numeral I.) She was also a semi-regular panelist on Password, Match Game, Missing Links, and What's My Line?
On December 31, 1966, Carlisle made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss's Die Fledermaus. She sang the role 10 more times that season, then returned in 1973 for four more performances. Her final performance with the company was on July 7, 1973. She reprised this role during the Beverly Sills Farewell Gala in October 1980.
Carlisle dated George Gershwin in 1933 "until George went to California". On August 10, 1946, she married playwright and theatrical producer Moss Hart, whom she met at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. They had two children. Hart died on December 20, 1961, at their home in Palm Springs, California. She never remarried, although she briefly dated former governor and presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey after the death of his wife. During the 1980s and 1990s, Carlisle was the partner of diplomatic historian Ivo John Lederer, a relationship that lasted 16 years until Lederer's death in 1998. In her later years, she kept company with financier and art collector Roy Neuberger.
Carlisle was known for her gracious manner and personal elegance, and she became prominent in New York City social circles as she crusaded for financial support of the arts. She was appointed to various statewide councils, and was chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts from 1976 to 1996. One of the two state theaters housed at The Egg performing arts venue in Albany is named the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre in her honor. She also served on the boards of various New York City cultural institutions and made an appearance at the annual CIBC World Markets Miracle Day, a children's charity event. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.
She also widely performed her one-woman show in which she told anecdotes about the many great men in American musical theater history whom she had known, notably George Gershwin (who had proposed marriage), Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan Jay Lerner, and Frederick Loewe, interspersed with a few of the songs that made each of them famous.
Carlisle Hart was a longtime champion of Historic Preservation in New York City and State. While chair of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) from 1976 to 1996, Mrs. Hart directed many millions of dollars in support to preservation projects from the Niagara Frontier to Staten Island, in an effort to keep historic preservation as a core program of the New York State Council on the Arts, the only arts council in America that provides such funding. In 1980, she was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball, an annual event run by the Beaux Arts Society (American comedian Paul Lynde was crowned King the same year).
In recognition of this legacy, the Historic Districts Council bestowed its Landmarks Lion award upon her in 2003.
Carlisle died on April 17, 2007, from congestive heart failure resulting from a prolonged bout of pneumonia. She had been in and out of the hospital since she contracted pneumonia some time prior to November 2006. She died in her Upper East Side, Manhattan apartment, with her son, Christopher Hart, at her bedside. She was interred in a crypt next to her husband, Moss Hart, at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.