Friday, June 22, 2007

Remembering Kitty

I read in the paper today that if you are prone to anger or anxiety, you have a better chance of getting dementia. So before I lose it completely, I thought I’d better catch the Dear Readers up on what’s going on with me.

Susan Silver

Apropos of someone who led a life of anything but anger, I was privileged to attend the celebration of Kitty Carlisle Hart’s life.

As I’ve told you before, she was a friend, and I only regret now that I didn’t spend much more time with her. She was 96 when she passed away and clear as a bell until the end, always smiling. As well as full of energy, vitality, and joy. Her favorite expression was “You bet!”

I’d first met Kitty when her son Christopher Hart told me to look her up when I moved to New York in 1990.  I had been honored to rewrite a TV pilot which had been made of one of his dad Moss Hart’s famous plays.

It had not gone on to series, but it was a wonderful experience for me and having grown up watching Kitty on To Tell the Truth, I couldn’t wait to meet her.

She invited me for tea, in her grand apartment and though I was a little nervous, she made me feel welcome which was one of her best talents. Subsequently, we found we had mutual friends and spent some time together in the Hamptons as houseguests.

While I wallowed in bed, she would be up and at ‘em swimming and doing her famous stretches, which included putting her legs over her head. She demonstrated that on a TV morning show when she was 92 and the exercise guy, who went into shock, said “don’t try this at home anyone over 50!”

She counseled me on dating occasionally and once fixed me up and we doubled -- she and one of her “beaux” as she liked to call them.  And then, through the years I’d see her at events and sometimes walking up Madison where I’d take her arm and we’d giggle about something silly or gossip. She loved to hear gossip. But she’d never say anything bad about anyone.


The memorial was called a celebration of her life and that was the proper title. Everyone commented on her vivacity, her love of people and activity. She was out every night after a full day of work for the New York State Council of the Arts or any one of many other charities she embraced.

There was a stacked-to-the-rafters crowd (a line around two corners) at the Majestic Theater where they held the service. Dr. William Baker of Public Television led off the speakers. He spoke, as did all the male speakers, of her beauty, her charm and her fabulous legs, which she loved to show off.

David Lewis, her friend and accompanist of the last 15 years who toured the country with her one woman show of songs and stories, sang her favorites. Kristin Chenoweth told some cute stories about Kitty and then sang. Michael Feinstein was her “boss” at the Regency and he sang magnificently some of the old classics she embodied, as she knew ‘them’s that wrote ‘em’’ such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.  

There were lots of funny film clips from old movies she starred in with the Marx Brothers, and Bing Crosby. It was told that she wasn’t that crazy about Bing, and that he had to stand on a box to be tall enough!

The TV clips were fabulous for any of us who grew up watching her in her elegant gowns and witty manner as she grilled the “imposters” who tried to fool the panel. Her hairdos were constantly changing, but her red lips and beautiful red nails never did.

Barbara Walters, who was a really close friend, joked that the various “beaus” in the audience, one of whom is 103, were each thinking they were the only one…but they weren’t!

Ann Kaufman, daughter of Moss Hart’s partner, George Kaufman, told some wonderful stories about their working relationship, keeping the treasure trove of plays alive. 

Mayor Bloomberg talked about her being what New York really represents, and Governor Cuomo and his wife, Matilda, who were friends as well as working colleagues had warm remembrances.  He was one of the ”Governor Darlings” as she called all five of New York’s leaders from whom she “conned and cajoled” money for the Arts. She raised more than anyone else and really changed the New York arts landscape in every small nook and cranny she visited and encouraged.

Her two children, Dr. Cathy and Chris had the most hysterical stories of their childhoods, the highlight being how they and their little friends would gather in the garage in Connecticut and watch Kitty wax her legs for entertainment on a weekend.

And once, she and Cathy got caught in the rain and couldn’t get a cab so they took a bus. It might have been the first times Kitty Carlisle rode one, and she had no change.  Once the bus driver saw who it was he let her on for free. Poor Cathy had to scrounge up her own coins and by the time she’d dragged her packages on to find Kitty, the entire bus was swarming around her mother and then they all sang Christmas carols.

Chris told the most visual and characteristic tale of how when she was 93, Kitty and her families were vacationing where there was a water slide that the grandchildren had been enjoying. When “her daughter the Doctor” wasn’t around, she convinced Chris to take her up the three flights of stairs to go down the slide.

He tried to get the guard to say no, but the guard thought he was some weird kid who brought his old mother to help him!  Kitty got on and came sailing down, arms in the air, hooting and hollering and laughing.

I wish I’d been able to pick her brain more about that love of life and how she managed to never seem to be sad or angry. Of course there was pain and loss and talk about that too, but as was often repeated about Kitty, every night she looked in the mirror and said, “I forgive you, Kitty.” She believed in discipline, tenacity, and could re-invent her self many times over.

Many of these memorials are sort of pat and filled with platitudes. This one was as genuine as Kitty, so filled with love and good memories of a once in a lifetime person!  As Chris said, by starting to sing again at 86 she went from the “singing dog” wonder to an icon! What an inspiration! 

Maybe it’s not too late for me to learn some lessons from her after all.


I’m happy to tell you regular Dear Readers that Stan is getting married! It’s to the love of his life on and off for the last fourteen years. I just want them to get going on a baby.

And speaking of that, the Precious Boys are even more precious than ever and now have a baby sister.  You can read about them in the July issue of a magazine called Grand, which is dedicated to grandparents. I snuck in on a pass. You can read the article in July on the web site:  It’s calledExtra Grand.’

Ben can read like a whiz now, he must be a genius. I mean it! He asks questions and notices things I missed. Hmmm. Nate is more adorable than ever, his smile and his cute little voice are infectious. He cracked me up. The baby, Addie, is cute, but is too young to play with, although she does a mean finger grip.

The Search ie. dating life sucks, but as Kitty would say, tomorrow will be better!

I’m doing a few more radio shows and soon maybe I can assemble a tape and get my own show. Wouldn’t that be nice? Will keep you posted. Miss you guys so go to the blog: where I write about everything from The Sopranos to politics, and keep in touch that way, won’t you?
©Susan Silver, 2007