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Hart to Hart
The Metropolitan Opera Guild Honors
Kitty Carlisle and Moss Hart

By Jonathan Frank

Last night, The Metropolitan Opera Guild honored two landmarks of theater, film, television, literature and politics: the highly glamorous and celebrated couple, Kitty Carlisle and Moss Hart. Co-hosted by Julie Andrews and Beverly Sills, the evening was entitled Hart to Hart and celebrated the lives and achievements of this beloved couple through a plethora of film clips, performances, and remembrances by those who loved and worked with them.

The first act was devoted, appropriately enough, to Moss Hart, whose autobiography, Act One, was a best selling book in 1959 and who would be celebrating his centenary this year. Every aspect of his varied career was celebrated. His work as a theater director was showcased by Robert Goulet, who reminisced about his auditioning for the Hart-directed Camelot (as well as some innovative staging that he and Richard Burton came up with after three-and-a-half hours of drinking that would have been more at home in La Cage). Goulet wrapped up by performing "How To Handle A Woman" from Camelot after prefacing it with the fact that it was one of Hart's favorite songs.

Other theatrical reminiscences and clips included Ann Sothern performing "The Saga of Jenny" from a television production of Lady In The Dark (the Broadway production of which Hart wrote and directed), Rosemary Harris chatting about The Climate of Eden (written and directed by Hart, and which was the production that brought her to America) and You Can't Take It With You, Dina Merrill recounting touring with Hart in The Man Who Came To Dinner, and operatic baritone Thomas Hampson singing "Begin the Beguine" (from the Hart/Cole Porter musical Jubilee).

Audra McDonald
Hart's film career was celebrated by Celeste Holm, who appeared in Gentleman's Agreement (screenplay by Hart), and by Audra McDonald, who performed "The Man That Got Away" following a clip from the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born (for which Hart wrote the screenplay). Two clips from Hart's literary life were also the most affecting.

Hart's son, Chris (himself a director) read a delightful and highly illuminating letter Moss wrote to Brooks Atkinson and Lonny Price (who appeared in the musical adaptation of Kaufman and Hart's Merrily We Roll Along) read a section from Hart's autobiography detailing him moving his family from the poverty of Brooklyn to Manhattan after receiving glowing reviews for his first hit, Once In A Lifetime. The first act was brought to a rousing close by students of Tisch School of the Arts singing "Our Time" from the musical adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along.

The second act was devoted to Hart's 94-year-young widow, Kitty Carlisle Hart. While known primarily for her appearances on the hit TV quiz show To Tell The Truth (on which Kitty appeared from 1957 through 1981, as well as later incarnations through 2000, making her the only performer to have appeared in the same show in six decades), Carlisle is a woman of many hats. On Broadway, Kitty Carlisle's appearances spanned five decades, from 1933's Champagne, Sec to the 1983 revival of On Your Toes. While most of her films have vanished into obscurity, her most famous movie, the Marx Brothers' classic comedy A Night at the Opera remains evergreen. As an opera singer, she appeared on Broadway in the title role in Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and at The Metropolitan Opera as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus. Her greatest contribution to the arts, however, was behind the scenes through her work at the New York State Council on the Arts, for which she worked as Vice-Chairman and Chairman for twenty-five years.

Michael Feinstein
Kitty's frequent co-star on To Tell The Truth, Orson Bean, recounted her work on that longtime hit. Jane Alexander, who used Carlisle as a mentor when she headed the NEA for four years, helped illustrate how influential Kitty was in lobbying for the arts. Michael Feinstein performed "June In January," originally sung by Bing Crosby in the 1934 film Here Is My Heart, which also starred Kitty Carlisle. Opera singer Sylvia McNair re-created Kitty's audition for The Met by singing "Falling in Love with Love." Theodora Hanslowe performed a number from Die Fledermaus and Denyce Graves sang an aria from Carmen, both of which were triumphs for Kitty.

Following a clip from A Night At The Opera, Kitty was presented with the Eleanor Belmont Award by the Guild. Looking and sounding like a woman a fraction of her age, Kitty performed "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll Along and a number that sums up her philosophy: "Here's To Life." (I hear that she is already planning her 95th Birthday Bash at Feinstein's for next year). The evening closed with a group sing-a-long of "I Could Have Danced All Night," started by the original 'Fair Lady,' Julie Andrews.

Photos: Patrick McMullan

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