Interview with actress and singer Kitty Carlisle Hart
She has referred to herself as a "late bloomer." But Kitty Carlisle Hart, now in her 80s, has cycled through three distinct careers, and is now embarking on a fourth returning to the stage in a one-woman show.
With the rerelease on CD of the Decca Broadway series of eight of the world's most beloved operettas, Ms. Hart's first career, as a Broadway and Hollywood singer, is again being discovered. Recorded during the 1940s and 1950s, the series features Hart in "The Merry Widow," "Desert Song," and "Roberta." It also includes now-classic melodies such as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "Lovely to Look At."
"Operetta is very different from opera," she explains, seated comfortably in her East Side apartment. "They're much lighter, and there's much more attention to the lyrics. As far as the form goes, they're halfway between opera and musical comedy, with a formula story, but the musical range [is] like opera."
"Roberta" in particular, written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach in 1933, symbolizes the transition from operetta to the musical, which was first attempted by Kern in 1927 in "Show Boat."
That year was also an important one for Hart, then Kitty Carlisle. When her mother found herself without any other resources, she took 13-year-old Catherine from New Orleans to Paris and London, and convinced singing and acting teachers to coach her daughter privately.
"Mother could be very persuasive," she laughs. A few years later, they moved to New York, and young Kitty launched a stage career. She soon found herself part of the famous Algonquin Round Table set, where Edna Ferber sparred with Groucho Marx, and Alexander Woollcott traded barbs with Dorothy Parker. She starred in Broadway revues, and appeared in films such as "Night at the Opera" and "Murder at the Vanities."
Then, she met playwright Moss Hart, whosecredits include "You Can't Take It With You," "Once in a Lifetime," and "Lady in the Dark."