Kitty Carlisle Hart – an appreciation

Saturday 21 April 2007

Kitty Carlisle HartWe were a bit concerned that our obituary of Kitty Carlisle Hart might have been a bit short on facts (we basically said we thought she sounded fabulous whoever she was).

So, never ones to shirk from hard work and in-depth research, The West End Whingers have commissioned a testimonial from a real live ex-patriate (the best kind) American living in London and writing under the pseudonym of The Merm.

Why does everyone writing for the Whingers insist on using a nom de plume?

The Merm writes:

She was fabulous.

And not just because she was always dressed and coiffed as if she was dashing to the opera even for her afternoon appearances on the quiz show To Tell The Truth (see video below).

Mrs. Hart (or Miss Carlisle as she was professionally known) was fabulous for using her celebrity to further causes important to her, for the greater good of her community.

While she was one of the first to champion women’s rights in the workplace (beginning in 1961 as advisor to then Governor Rockefeller), her greater fame came as chairperson for New York State’s arts council, a position she held for 20 years (1976-1996). In that position, she promoted all art, adding to New York City’s reputation as one of the world’s cultural capitals.

For example, when arts funding was derided as unnecessary, and artists’ provocative works were heavily criticised or shunned, Mrs. Hart stood her ground for supporting Mapplethorpe’s and Serrano’s religiously-oriented work.

She challenged the New York State legislators who wanted to cut art funding for controversial art. To make her point, she cited Rigoletto, an opera featuring rape and murder in its storyline, as an example of art that began as controversial, but is now routinely performed and accepted. Her logic calmed her critics and she won funding approval.

Another time when the council was accused of funding gay-oriented art, Mrs. Hart told the legislators that the council was neutral, and in the business to fund art and not specific points of view. She claimed the council was agenda-neutral, and again prevailed.

Her death marks the end of an era for New York City. She was one of the last society matrons who was truly a mentor both privately and publicly. She was always supporting young actors, singers, and artists while standing behind the cultural institutions of New York.

In the present age of people famous for being famous, Mrs. Hart’s fame will be ascribed to her grace, elegance, wit and tireless dedication to the arts.

Thanks, The Merm. Our own research came up with this quote which we feel says almost as much about her:

“Age has never affected my goals. I get on the floor and do my exercises. I can put my feet over my head and touch my feet behind me, come down and do 30 leg lifts.”

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