Friday, April 20, 2007
Mine turned out to be National Pink Day. It's far from my favorite color but pink, along with lavender, IS a symbol of gayness so I really can’t complain.
My younger daughter's special holiday is National Cheer Up the Lonely Day--which is actually something she does.
Fritz, on the other hand, turns out to have been born on Bratwurst Festival Day. When this thing screws up, it screws up, it screws up big.
On Wednesday one of the great ladies of the theater and, peripherally, of opera died in New York City at the age of 96. Kitty Carlisle Hart touched base successfully with an astonishingly large number of endeavors, for a very long period of time.
Kitty Carlisle (nee Kathryn Conn) was a New Orleans girl whose mother had her eye set on marrying her daughter to European nobility. So Kitty studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and was to have been sent to study music and theater in Londoin. Instead, she went to New York and starred in an adaptation of the operetta "Die Fledermaus" when she was 23. From there, Hollywood, where she became best known for being the young female love interest and opera star in the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera." In that, she interpolated a high C into one of Verdi's numbers in "Il Trovatore" that has become known ever since to hard-core Opera Fanatics as "the Kitty Carlisle High C"—and they love her for it.
After several more movies, it was back to New York and the legitimate theater, including a stint as George Gershwin's muse while he was composing "Porgy and Bess." When she came to MIT to do her second fund raiser for our council for the Arts, she did large cuts from her one-woman show "My Life on the Wicked Stage." She said that Gershwin had her over once a week and employed her to sing the newest pages he'd composed so that he could hear what they sounded like. As the work progressed, she found herself singing "Summertime" over and over at Gershwin's request, and realized that he was really getting her into his apartment regularly not to hear his developing opera, but so he could put the moves on her. She never let on if he had succeeded or not.
I lit both of her appearances it MIT which was a special responsibility as she suffered from glaucoma. The lights had to be at specific angles and intensities or she wouldn't have been able to see to perform. There could be absolutely no shadows falling on any of her material or any place she had to move. It was tricky, exacting work but she was unfailingly gracious and delightful to work with. At the time she made her second appearance with us, she was well into her 80s and her singing voice was rock solid and beautifully projected. Because I had worked so closely with her and learned her needs when she first came to MIT (when she did the female role to playwright A.R. Gurney, Jr.'s male lead in his "Love Letters") she asked that I not only light her the second time, but be her companion for the evening and help her through all the places she had to go and people she had to meet. It was one of the great moments of my career at MIT.
Among her many extraordinary accomplishments was making her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in "Die Fledermaus" in her mid-50s, and becoming Chair of the Arts Council of New York in her mid-60s, a position she held for twenty years and in which she served with distinction. She was a fixture on the long-running TV quiz show "To Tell the Truth" and continued to perform well into her 90s.
At the height of her career she married playwright and director Moss Hart. He died quite young and, despite persistent rumor that he was gay, there were two children and an obvious love match. For the remainder of her life after his passing, she preferred to be billed as Kitty Carlisle Hart and word was put out in advance wherever she visited that she preferred always to be addressed as Mrs. Hart.
Here is a quote from her 91st year:
"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. I've been doing that all my life. I'm very ambitious, in fact I'm looking for a new booking agent. I was 54 when I made my debut at the Metropolitan Opera. I was 64 when I became chairman of the Arts Council of New York. I'm not brilliant but I have a very good mind and was made to cultivate it by my mother. You have to get ready to age early on.
"You have to be disciplined and be aware of what you have to be doing as you get older. It's crucial that you have something interesting to do. You have to establish good habits early on that will help you do what you want to do later in life."
Boston's channel 4 has been full of pictures of the flooding in Raymond and accounts of road destruction and the phone and electric outages in the area. School there seems to be closed long-term. Newmarket, where bloggers Chris and the "devious" Steve-O live, is watching two dams very, very carefully. And Verizon has revised its estimate on the restoration of phone and internet access from three weeks to "several weeks." Local businesses, including Fritz's, are in big trouble.
FEMA arrived in Raymond yesterday, which may or may not be a blessing given its recent track record. National Guard trucks are stationed throughout the town to act as emergency communication centers for health or fire crisis calls. Downtown Raymond is filled with Verizon trucks tearing up the ground and otherwise working on the problem. And comcast set up a bank of phones in the middle of town for anyone to use--and probably to thumb its nose at Verizon.
I drove up early yesterday afternoon to be with Fritz as we had tickets for a Russian ballet company performing Tchaikovsky's big story ballet "Sleeping Beauty" in Portsmouth. It was a very pleasant evening, beginning with dinner at Radici, eating at the bar which was tended by the handsome and outgoing Sam. In fact, from the maitre'd on through the wait staff, the place was full of good looking men. We are SO going there again. Oh, the food and wine were excellent also.
Thanks also for the great tribute to Kitty!
I am on Strawberry Sundae Day
I am turning it in for
National lick the fingers of whiskered gentlemen Day.
Kitty Carlisle, to be fair, was simply continuing a long tradition when she sang that high C in the Miserere -- and you can hear the same note on Frances Alda's recording (with Caruso) from 1910.
Interestingly, Mrs. Hart said she was unaware that it was called the Kitty Carlisle High C when I mentioned it at dinner after her MIT performance. Extremely pleased, but formerly unaware.
And on the quiz thing, it reminded me what my mother said to me about my birth. She said, "When you were being born, I thought the Russians were invading!" I was born in the 1950's, and in those days, they used ether to knock women out. Of course, many because very nauseous from that, and many hallucinated. I was also delivered in the midst of a huge thunderstorm. So I guess I can see her point. That and the fact that there was extreme paranoia about Russia at the time. I just always thought the comment was a bit funny.
I always loved Kitty. Indeed, a life well lived. :-)