Kitty Carlisle dies, the end of glamour as we once knew it

Kitty Carlisle Hart died on Tuesday, April 17, at the age of 96. The New York Times had an obituary for her on Thursday, April 19. The details of her life are well known: she was born in New Orleans of what appears to have been the prototypical Jewish stage mother wanting to marry her daughter off very well. She had a modestly successful career on screen and stage, was the Chair of the New York Council on the Arts and a doyenne of the New York social circuit. She will still performing as of last Fall. You’ve got to give her credit—she had persistence and stamina, as well as an easy smile and apparently a charming, if imperious, personality. (A friend who worked at the New York Council on the Arts during Mrs. Hart’s time there reported that everyone scurried around to get things in order when it was known that Kitty was coming into the office.)
But for me, as well as many of my baby-boomer generation, Kitty Carlisle was the glamorous lady in the fabulous gowns on “To Tell the Truth,” the 1950s and ’60s TV game show. Everyone else was in business suits or cocktail dresses, but Kitty was always dressed to the nines. And her accent (remember, this is a boy in the middle of Iowa): what kind of an accent was that, anyway? It wasn’t British, it wasn’t southern U.S., it certainly wasn’t Midwest or New York. It was “glamour/theatrical,” probably at one point totally affected, but by this time, all her own.

She was one of the last living memories of so many theatrical greats: Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, and, not least, her husband, the playwright and director Moss Hart. The anecdotes in her later cabaret performances were real.
I only saw her perform live once, in a revival of “On Your Toes” on Broadway in about 1983.

Kitty, we’ll miss you.

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