April 18, 2007 4:19 PM
Kitty Carlisle Hart was no longer a fixture on American television when she died Tuesday at age 96. But she was around for so many years that, for some of us, it seems impossible she’s no longer here.
Kitty brought a dollop of New York sophistication and social grace into America’s living rooms every week while a regular panelist on Goodson-Todman’s “To Tell the Truth,” which ran on CBS from 1956-68 (she also appeared in the subsequent 1969-77 syndicated version).
When we were kids, my sister and I used to make fun of her because, besides her appearance in the Marx Bros. film “A Night at the Opera,” no one in the fly-over states where we were ever knew what she did to deserve to be a panelist on a prime-time game show. I remember my father, who knew more than a little something about life in the big city, taking umbrage when we ridiculed her: “Kitty Carlisle is a fine, classy woman,” he rebuked. (She didn’t use her married name professionally at the time though even then she was the widow of the esteemed Broadway playwright and director Moss Hart, with whom she had lived a charmed life at the apex of the New York theatre world).
Looking back on it, Dad was right. I remember being surprised by his level of vehemence in defending her. But she was indeed charming and elegant, dignified and learned, someone to look up to. And having lived in New York City for a dozen years subsequently, I came to know more about her work for the New York Council on the Arts and to perfectly understand why she was held in such high esteem by Goodson-Todman and CBS.
Last fall, she celebrated her 96th birthday by appearing in her one-woman show in several spots around the country, looking robust and much as she did 40 years ago. Even though I wanted to catch her show, I put off seeing her; she had been around forever. Wouldn’t she always be?