Remembering Mrs. Hart

A little over a decade ago, Kitty Carlisle Hart was scheduled to spend the day with the writer Marie Brenner for a profile in The New Yorker.

But there was a terrible storm, on a day when the two were meant to recreate the busy daily schedule of the legendary stage and screen actress and singer.

Ms. Hart was then 85 years old.

“I called to say, ‘Well, Mrs. Hart, I’m sure you’ll want to reschedule.’ She said, ‘My dear, I never let weather slow me down.’ There was a monsoon on the street, airports were closed!  So I go to her apartment and she appears at the door in a perfect lavender ultrasuede raincoat, with perfectly matching boots.

“The whole day I was following her around like a wet mouse and she kept saying, ‘My darling, my darling, snap it up – I’ve got the governor coming at 6 o’clock with 60 guests for cocktails.’

“At the end of the day I say, ‘Ms. Hart, you are astonishing. What is the secret to staying so vibrant?’

“She said, ‘My dear there is only one word, and it is the watch word of my generation. That word is discipline.’ And with that she got down on the floor and did 50 leg lefts.’”

Mrs. Hart, as people called her if they caught sight of her pursuing her brisk schedule of errands in the East 60’s, died today. She was 96 years old.

The wife of noted playwright Moss Hart, Mrs. Hart was unmatched in her dedication to the arts in New York, serving on the State Council on the Arts for 20 years, including as stint as its commissioner.

A dedicated performer, she was belting out show tunes at clubs and for private parties right up to the last months of her life.

“These women kept a kind of beautiful mask on, they were soldiers in high heels,” said Ms. Brenner.. “There’s a reverence now to these women. There’s much to be learned from the solders in high heels. They confronted the world with gaiety and dignity and a beautiful mask. They shaped their stories like performers.”

Ms. Brenner is presently writing a book, titled Great Dames, that was inspired in part by her introduction to Mrs. Hart.

“I hadn’t wanted to write a profile of her,” Ms. Brenner said. “And Tina Brown came bursting into my office and said, ‘I’ve just had lunch with this great New York character, Kitty Hart. I want you to stop everything you’re doing and write a profile of her.’ I was cranky about it and was I wrong.”