Kitty Carlisle Hart Dies at 96
Singer, actress and classic game show panelist was still performing her one-woman show just months ago
By Libby Slate
Kitty Carlisle Hart, who spent more than two decades as a panelist on the television game show To Tell The Truth, died April 17 in her New York City apartment. She was 96.
The widow of playwright-director Moss Hart, the actress-singer was still performing her one-woman autobiographical musical show as late as November. She contracted pneumonia in December and died of congestive heart failure.
Known professionally as Kitty Carlisle, Hart began carving her niche as a TV panelist with appearances on various game and quiz shows—Who Said That?, The Eyes Have It, What’s Going On? and a 1952-53 stint on I’ve Got a Secret., among others.
She signed on for To Tell the Truth in 1956, remaining with the CBS show until its 1967 cancellation. The program revolved around three contestants, claiming to be the same person, and trying to stump the panel as to whose identity was the real one.
When the show went into syndication, Hart joined it for its entire run, which ended in 1977. Encountering such a diverse array of people and careers, she once described the show as “a continuing college education.”
Always elegantly dressed and coiffed, Hart brought an air of sophistication to the show befitting her life in the New York arts milieu. She had married Hart in 1946, having previously turned down a proposal by composer George Gershwin. Among her friends, she counted such people as lyricist-playwright Alan Jay Lerner, author Sinclair Lewis and critic George Jean Nathan.
Long after Moss Hart’s 1961 death, she became a hard-working arts advocate, serving for twenty years, beginning in 1976, as chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Born Catherine Conn in New Orleans, Hart attended private schools in Europe as part of her mother’s quest to marry her off to a rich husband—who along the way chose her new name out of a telephone book. When no such spouse materialized, her mother told her to choose between being an actress or a model, both of which were high-profile careers socially.
She chose the former, training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London until her finances ran out and she retuned to New York. Cast at first in operettas, she eventually signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. That led to her most memorable screen role, A Night at the Opera, opposite the Marx Brothers.
She met Hart, co-author of Once in a Lifetime, You Can’t Take It with You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, after she returned to New York. She appeared on Broadway in the opera The Rape of Lucretia and the hit The Anniversary Waltz, before embarking on To Tell the Truth.
In her later career, Hart guested in the Kojak telefilm Flowers for Matty, appeared in the features Radio Days and Six Degrees of Separation and performed in the Broadway revival of On Your Toes. She toured the country with her cabaret show of songs and stories, to glowing reviews.
Hart is survived by her son, director Christopher Hart, daughter, Dr. Catherine Hart, and three grandchildren.