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Jewish World Review
April 23, 2007
/ 5 Iyar, 5767
The Kitty Carlisle Hart I knew
We met by accident at a newspaper editor's convention in St. Paul,
Minn., in 1989. She was to be one side in a debate over federal funding
for the arts. She was for it. Her opponent was against it. Except, her
debating partner's plane was delayed, and so the host editor called me.
"You've got to help me by stepping in," said Ronald Clark, who, at the
time, was the editorial page editor for the St. Paul newspaper. "Are you
nuts?" I said. "I'm not prepared and I certainly am not going to debate
an old lady, especially one with her standing." He persevered and I
I was somewhere else in town and had to come back to the convention
site. By the time I arrived, she had begun her presentation. It was
worse than I had anticipated - not her presentation, but the obstacles I
faced. There she was with her half granny glasses and a little lamp on
the podium, reading her notes. I was supposed to attack this grandmother
twice my age? I should rather commit suicide!
An inspiration came to me. When it was my turn to respond, I began by
saying how much I admired her husband, the late Broadway director Moss
Hart, and how when I read his autobiography "Act One" in the early '60s,
it had deepened my appreciation for the theater. I had her eating out of
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We made a "date" to visit at her marvelous Upper East Side apartment in
New York. When my wife and I arrived, she escorted us into a main room
and we had tea. Then she said, "I know what you want to see; come on."
She led us down a hallway with original posters of "My Fair Lady,"
"Camelot" and other shows that Moss Hart had directed or written. It was
manna for an unreconstructed "Stage Door Johnny."
We would meet many times after that on flights or trains between New
York and Washington and at the Kennedy Center. Two years ago, Kitty
appeared at the Kennedy Center with Carol Channing and Debbie Reynolds
to reminisce about show business in the 1940s. The audience was charmed.
Kitty defined elegance. She was always dressed and coiffed for stepping
out. Until recently, she performed a one-woman show at Feinstein's in
New York, in Palm Springs and any other place that would have her. Her
recollections about her life and the people she knew made you feel as if
you were an eyewitness at a cocktail party of famous people; people
famous for actually doing something, rather than those today who are
famous just for being famous. Celebrities we call them.
Kitty's stories were a verbal arcade of the brightest and best of
Broadway. At 96, some might think her time had long ago passed her by.
She once told me that she believed the golden era of the Broadway
musical was long gone and would not make a comeback, except through the
occasional revival, because there was neither the talent, nor the
interest in such things today. I said I hoped she was wrong, but I
feared she might be right.
Any journalist will tell you that the people you meet are the best part
of this business. And I have been doubly blessed. Not only have I been
fortunate to meet world leaders, but also talented performers from the
Broadway stage a place I dreamed of becoming a part of, before I
entered the world of journalism.
I could live vicariously through people like Kitty Carlisle Hart, who
knew the people I wished I knew, and some I actually came to know. That
golden age those magical years in the '30s and '40s when scores of
shows ran simultaneously on and off-Broadway will never live again
except in the memory of those who were there and lived to tell and write
about them. If those days are never to be again, at least we can know
what they were like through books like Steven Bach's "Dazzler," a
biography of Moss Hart, and through the stories Kitty told to those who
wanted to hear them.
I wanted to hear them and to pass them on. She would have liked that.
And I do so without a government grant.
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