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A Film by Michael Kantor



Kitty Carlisle Hart

Although she practically made a career in middle age as one of the ever-curious panelists on the prime time, daytime, and syndicated versions of the game show TO TELL THE TRUTH during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and even a brief 1990 revamp, Kitty Carlisle actually enjoyed a successful stage career before and during her question-posing days. She also made a brief try at film stardom in the ’30s, and performed very occasionally in movies and TV over the decades. In recent years, though, Carlisle has done her most important work at charity events and in arts administration, serving as chair of the New York State Council of the Arts for 20 years.

Privately educated at schools in Lausanne, London, Paris, and Rome, the New Orleans-born Carlisle later studied for the theater at RADA and at Paris’ Theatre de l’Atelier. A tall brunette with an opera-trained voice, she made her stage debut in a touring company of “Rio Rita” and debuted on Broadway in “Champagne, Sec” in 1933. The movie musical, which had been dormant for several years after the early sound explosion, was reviving, and Carlisle was put under contract by Paramount. She debuted in the enjoyably odd backstage mystery musical MURDER AT THE VANITIES (1934), and that same year was in two fun Bing Crosby vehicles, HERE IS MY HEART (as a princess) and SHE LOVES ME NOT (playing second lead behind Miriam Hopkins). Carlisle looked classy and sang well, but her roles were fairly standardized leading lady types, and in general her male co-stars and the zany comic supporting players won all the kudos. This was especially the case in her last film for eight years, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935); while Carlisle and Allan Jones provided the romance and the songs, the Marx Brothers anarchically satirized any bourgeois convention in sight.

Kitty Carlisle Hart in MURDER AT THE VANITIES.

Carlisle returned to the New York stage, mostly in such operettas as “Three Waltzes” (1937) and the occasional straight comedy. She made a guest cameo in the all-star film revue HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN (1944) and starred opposite Jones in a routine “B” movie, LARCENY WITH MUSIC (1943), but here the King Sisters snapped up most of the best songs, so it was back to the stage. She continued until the late ’40s until she had two children by playwright Moss Hart, whom she had married in 1946, but became busier again in the ’50s. Over the years Carlisle has performed on Broadway in “The Rape of Lucretia” (1948) and “The Anniversary Waltz” (1954) and on summer tours of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1949), “Die Fledermaus” (with the Metropolitan Opera, 1967), and “You Never Know” (1975), among others.

Kitty Carlisle Hart

Born: September 3, 1915
Key Shows
  • "Champagne, Sec"
  • "On Your Toes"
  • "Three Waltzes"
  • "Walk with Music"
  • "White Horse Inn"
Related Artists
  • Lorenz Hart
  • Moss Hart
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Shubert Brothers
  • Elaine Stritch
TO TELL THE TRUTH provided steady, fun work and income as she raised her children after Hart’s death in 1961. Over the years, the ever-gracious Carlisle has regularly appeared in the society column of THE NEW YORK TIMES at high-profile charity fund raisers; played a radio singer in Woody Allen’s nostalgic RADIO DAYS (1987) and a supporting role in the TV movie FLOWERS FOR MATTY (1990); and appeared as host, guest, or interviewee on TV specials including AN EVENING WITH ALAN JAY LERNER and BILL COSBY SALUTES ALVIN AILEY (both 1989). Most importantly, after her appointment by Governor Hugh Carey in 1976, the New York-loving Carlisle also devoted herself tirelessly to promoting the arts in all their variety until she resigned in 1996.

Source: Excerpted from Baseline. BaselineStudioSystems — A Hollywood Media Corp. Company.

Photo credits: Photofest