night I went to hear Kitty Carlisle Hart (she, of “What’s My Line?”
fame in my life. I didn’t know she was in a Marx Brothers film in 1935!)
perform at the Regency. Since I didn’t get to see Bobby Short before he
died, I was making sure I wasted no time on Hart; it was her opening
night. She’s full of spirit and anecdotes, and says she and her
accompanist “love gigs.” The music was terrific, and she is decidedly
glamorous and full of life. Great fun (this, despite some of the worst
and most expensive food I’ve ever had in New York). Below, Bloomberg’s
Kitty Carlisle Hart, Glamorous Still, Sings Gershwin, Berlin
By Robert Hilferty
Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) — In the long corridor of her sprawling Upper
East Side Manhattan apartment, Kitty Carlisle Hart has paintings by
Irving Berlin, Harpo Marx and Noel Coward. Her favorite is a George
Gershwin rendering of bathers on the New York beach of Fire Island.
These guys not only made a gift of their tunes and jokes to Hart back
in the good old days, but also gave her their secret canvases.
At 95, Hart could easily sit pretty among her breathtaking
memorabilia. The portraits alone are a gallery of the past century’s
celebrities, including her husband, the playwright and director Moss
Hart, who died in 1961.
She’s still in the spotlight, though, singing Berlin and Gershwin at
Feinstein’s at the Regency Hotel, starting today. The anecdotes she
tells between numbers date back to the beginning of her career, when she
appeared in the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” in 1935.
The illusion of eternal youth was briefly interrupted while she
popped in hearing aids after sitting down in her opulent living room,
looking daintily smashing in a red silk robe.
Hilferty: You’re 95 and still performing. What’s this all about?
Hart: Well, if I knew, I’d be the richest woman in the world. But I don’t know what it is that keeps me going. I enjoy myself.
Hilferty: You knew all the classic Broadway tunesmiths, from Gershwin to Rodgers.
Hart: They all played for me and showed me how to sing their songs.
So when I sing their songs, it’s authentic. I’m very sure of myself
because they coached me.
Hilferty: Gershwin even proposed to you once, right?
Hart: Yes, he did. He really didn’t love me, but he thought it was
time to get married. So we would go to El Morocco and dance around and
feel very glamorous.
Hilferty: I heard that he was quite the ladies man.
Hart: He had a roving eye, and he would select a young lady and would
lead her to the piano bench and, right then and there, “be inspired”
to write this song just for her. The already- written song had a blank
space in it for any girl that struck his fancy.
Hilferty: That sly dog! What about Bing Crosby, with whom you starred in two films?
Hart: He never said boo to me. The only time he ever spoke to me was
when he showed me a charming jewel case and asked, “Do you think my
wife will like it?” I said, “She’ll love it.” That was the end of it.
Explosion of Writers
Hilferty: How would you compare the good old days of Broadway to what’s happening now?
Hart: Unfortunately, the people who wrote those great songs don’t
exist anymore. We had the explosion of wonderful writers for theater and
operetta and musical comedy, and they’re gone. That’s it.
Hilferty: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a performer?
Hart: It wasn’t I, it was my mother. She looked at me one day and
said, “You’re not the prettiest girl I ever saw, you’re not the best
singer I ever heard, and you’re certainly not the best actress I ever
hope to see. But if we put them all together, we’ll find the husband
we’re looking for on the stage.” So I went on the stage to find a rich
husband, and I did.
Hilferty: Moss Hart?
Moss at Hellman’s
Hart: My only husband. He was wonderful. When he walked in the room,
the party was made. I wanted to marry him for nine years. So when I met
him at Lillian Hellman’s after nine years of thinking about him, he
called me the next morning and said, “Are you surprised?” And I said,
“No. I knew you would call.”
Hilferty: You performed Benjamin Britten’s opera “Rape of Lucretia”
on Broadway in 1948. Did you ever perform at the Metropolitan Opera?
Hart: When I was 54. I’ve done everything slightly late, and that was
the most important thing of my life. When I walked down that red carpet
leading to the stage, I felt I was on my way to the guillotine.
Hilferty: In addition to movies, theater and opera, you were also on TV’s “To Tell the Truth” for 20 years.
Hart: They called me up after I had been there for three months and
invited me to lunch. I thought, “Oh, I’m doing so well.” And they
fired me. They thought I was too old. So they hired 19-year-olds who
were so beautiful it was as if God had personally turned every eyelash.
But they didn’t know anything, so they hired me back.
Governors Were `Darling’
Hilferty: You also were chairman of the New York State Council for the Arts for two decades.
Hart: I worked hard. I learned how to be a politician and how to get
the money out of Albany. And I learned how to charm five governors. I
started with Nelson Rockefeller. I called all my governors “Darling.”
Hilferty: Do you have any boyfriends now?
Hart: I have two boyfriends. I had one other one, but he died. He was in his 80s.
Hilferty: What wisdom can you offer?
Hart: What I’m doing at the moment is the most important thing in my life.