NEW YORK – Kitty Carlisle Hart, whose long career spanned Broadway, opera, television and film, including the classic Marx Brothers movie “A Night at the Opera,” died after a battle with pneumonia, her son said Wednesday. She was 96.
“She passed away peacefully” Tuesday night in her Manhattan apartment, said Christopher Hart, a director-writer-producer who was at her side. “She had such a wonderful life and a great long run. It was a blessing.”
Hart was touring the country in her autobiographical one-woman show, “Here’s to Life,” until the pneumonia struck around Christmas, her son said. Broadway’s theaters planned to dim their marquee lights Wednesday in honor of the longtime patron of the arts.
In 1991, she received the National Medal of Arts from the first President Bush. Hart’s last gig was a December performance of her show in Atlanta.
Well known for her starring role as Rosa Castaldi in the 1935 comedy “A Night at the Opera,” her other film credits include “She Loves Me Not” and “Here Is My Heart,” both opposite Bing Crosby; Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”; and “Six Degrees of Separation.”
But she was probably best known as one of the celebrity panelists on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth.” She appeared on the CBS prime-time program from 1956 to 1967 with host Bud Collyer and fellow panelists such as Polly Bergen, Johnny Carson, Bill Cullen and Don Ameche.
The show featured three contestants, all claiming to be the same person, with the panelists quizzing the trio to determine which one was telling the truth.
“People remember me from television,” she once said. “They don’t even remember me from ‘A Night at the Opera.’ They have no idea that I played the lead and did all the singing. But they do remember television, particularly ‘To Tell the Truth.’ “
She began her acting career on Broadway in “Champagne Sec” and went on to appear in many other Broadway productions.
Hart’s late husband was Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Moss Hart, who wrote “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner” with George S. Kaufman. He won a Tony for directing “My Fair Lady” on Broadway.
“A Night at the Opera” the following year was the Marx Brothers’ sixth film and their first for MGM, where they shifted after their career at Paramount sagged at the box office. MGM’s Irving Thalberg added more romance to the Marxes’ formula, bringing in Hart and Allan Jones to play the young opera singers in love, and the film became a huge hit.