Kitty Carlisle was born as Catherine Conn (Kitty is a nickname for Catherine; the surname was pronounced Cohen) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her family was of German Jewish heritage Her grandfather, Ben Holtzman, was the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana. A Confederate veteran of the American Civil War, Holtzman had been a gunner on the CSS Virginia, perhaps better known as by its previous Union name of Merrimack, the famous confederate ironclad warship the fought the USS Monitor. Carlisle's father, Dr. Joseph Conn, was a gynecologist who died when she was 10.
Her mother Hortense Holtzman Conn, was a woman obsessed with breaking into the prevailing Gentile society. (She once said to a taxi driver who askd if her daughter was jewish, "She may be, but i'm not.") Carlisle's early education took place in New Orleans. In 1921, she was taken to Europe, where her mother hoped to marry her off to European royalty, believing the nobility there more amenable to a Jewish bride - only to end up flitting around Europe and living in what Carlisle recalled as "the worst room in the best hotel". Carlisle was educated at the Chateau Monti-Choisi in Lausanne, Switzerland, then at the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics. She studied acting in London at the Roya Academy of the Dramatic Art.
After returning to New York in 1932 with her mother, she appeared, billed as Kitty Carlisle, on Broadway in several operettas and musical comedies. amd in the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. She also sang the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen in Salt Lake City. She privately studied vice with Juilliard teacher Anna E. Schoen-Rene, who had been a student of Pauline Viadot-Garcia and Manuel Garcia.
Carlisle's early movies included Murder at the Vanities (1934), A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers, an d two films with Bing Crosby, Sh Loves Me Not (1934) and Here Is My Heart (1934). Carlisle resumed her film career later in life, appearing in Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) and in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), as well as on stage in a revival of On Your Toes, replacing Dina Merrill. Her last movie appearance was in Catch Me If You Can (2002) in which she played herself in a dramatization of a 1970s episode of To Tell the Truth.
In the early 1950s, Carlisle was an occasional panelists on NBC's Who Said That?, in which celebrities try to determine the speaker of quotations taken from a recent news reports.
Carlisle became a household name on To Tell the Truth, where she was a regular panelists from 1956 to 1978, and later appeared on revivals of the series in 1980, 1990-91 and one episode in 2000. (One of their most notable hallmarks was her writing of the number one. When she voted for number one, it was written in roman numeral I.) Prior to this, She was also a semi-regular panelists on Password, Match Game, Missing Links and What's My Line?.
On Decemeber 31, 1966, Carlisle made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss's Die Fledermaus. She sang the role 10 more times that season, then returned in 1973 for four more performances. Her final performance with the company was on July 7, 1973. She reprised this role during the Beverly Sills Farewell Gala in October 1980.
Carlisle married playwright and theatrical producer Moss Hart on August 10, 1946, the two having met as actors at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The couple had two children. Hart died on December 20, 1961, at their home in Palm Springs, California. Carlisle never remarried, but briefly dated former governor and presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey after the death of his wife.
Known for her gracious manners and personal elegance, Carlisle became prominent in New York City social circles as she crusaded for financial support for the arts. She was appointed for various state-wide councils, and was chair of the New York State Council of the Arts from 1976 until 1996. The New York State Theater in Albany, New York is named the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre in recognition for this. She also served on the boards of various New York City cultural institutions and additionally would make an appearance at the annual CIBC World Market's Miracle Day, a children's charity event at the former CIBC Center (300 Madison Avenue).
In her later years, she kept company with the financier and art collector Roy Neuberger. She also widely performed her one woman show in which she told anecdotes about the many great men in American musical theatre history whom she had personally known, notably George Gershwin who had proposed marriage (according to an interview in American Heritage magazine). Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, interspersed with a few of the songs that made each of them famous.
In 2006, Carlisle performed at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City; in St. Louis, Missouri; Phoenix, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; and at the famed Plush Room in San Francisco. According to her official website, her appearances in Atlanta in November 2006 were her last public performances. In December 2006,she made her final public appearance as the special celebrity guest for the annual Noel Coward Society birthday tribute in which she laid flowers in front of Coward's statue at The Gershwin Theatre in New York City.
On April 17, 2007, Carlisle died from congestive heart failure resulting from a prolonged bout of pneumonia. She had been in and out of the hospital since she contracted with pneumonia some time prior to November 2006. She died in her New York City apartment, with her son, Christopher Hart, at her bedside. She was buried in a crypt next to her late husband, Moss Hart, at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
- To Tell the Truth
- What's My Line?
- I've Got a Secret
- Password All-Stars
- The Match Game
- Missing Links
- Celebrity Time
- What's Going On?
- The Movie Masters
- Who Said That?