“Peu d’hommes ont esté admirés par leurs domestiques.” (No man is a hero to his own valet.) Michel de Montaigne
When I stayed home sick as a little girl, I used to love to snuggle under the covers of my mother’s bed and watch daytime TV. While my favorites were the talk shows like Art Linkletter and Mike Douglas, my second favorites were the game shows; of these, I most liked To Tell the Truth on which a panel of four seemingly-sophisticated celebrities vied to guess which of three contestants was the one described by the announcer as having lived a particularly interesting life or undergone a singularly peculiar experience.
My favorite panelist was Kitty Carlisle, although I knew nothing about her life as an actress and wife of playwright Moss Hart. I just liked her manner of speaking, her graciousness, and her beautiful clothes accessorized with stunning, yet tasteful, jewelry.
After Jamie built an Off-Broadway house we became patrons of the shows that played there. While most were typical experimental theatre, some were huge hits and moved to Broadway. Because it was a non-profit, the theatre held fundraising galas periodically and we always attended. It was at one such event that I met Kitty Carlisle Hart.
She was well into her nineties by then but had retained the porcelain skin and jet black hair I remembered from my childhood sick days. And despite being well into my forties – and a veteran of many celebrity sightings – I fell right back into my rut of childhood adulation.
“Look!” I poked Jamie as he accepted two stems of sparkling water from a white-jacketed waiter. “It’s Kitty Carlisle! I loved her when I was a little girl.”
Jamie turned his head. “Who is she?”
“She is that older lady clinging to Bob’s arm.” I nodded slightly toward Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration; his wife Judy was the chairwoman of the theatre’s ruling body and they were big contributors. I told him the story of watching her on television as a child.
“So go meet her. Bob will introduce you.”
“Really? Do you think so?”
I negotiated my way across the crowded marble lobby until I was standing in front of Bob. He was inclining his head graciously to hear something Miss Carlisle was saying. I planted myself directly in his line of vision.
Bob leaned and kissed me on the cheek in greeting. “Do you know Kitty Carlisle?” he asked politely.
“No, but I would love to meet her.” I turned to face my favorite panelist.
Bob introduced us and Miss Carlisle placed her cool hand in mine, not shaking it as I – a far younger woman used to the business world would have done – but clasping it delicately as theatre people and courtesans tend to do. All that was missing was the air kiss.
“Oh, Miss Carlisle,” I gushed unabashedly. “I am so excited to meet you.”
She smiled benignly and a bit condescendingly. I guess you can do that when you are the widow of one of Broadway’s and Hollywood’s most respected writers.
“I loved you when I was a little girl,” I continued.
Her eyes narrowed somewhat as they swept up and down my body. Obviously I had been a little girl quite a while ago.
I told her the story of watching To Tell the Truth when I was home sick and how happy I was when the syndicated shows were aired after school so that I could watch it every day “before I did my homework.”
At that she yanked her hand away and clutched Bob’s arm. She tilted her pale face upward and coquettishly asked “dear Bob” to escort her to her seat. Although surprised, Bob recovered quickly and turned toward the elevator to lead her into the auditorium. On the way, he turned and shot me a sympathetic glance over his shoulder. I was shocked and my face showed it.
Jamie sidled up to me. “What did you say to her?”
“What? Why do you think I said something?”
“Just look at her. She is giving you a look that if it came in 3D would have killed you by now. I wouldn’t even need to bother calling 911, just have you carted away to Van Emburgh’s Funeral Home.”
I glanced to my left. Kitty Carlisle Hart was indeed staring at me with an expression that should have made Jamie a widower on the spot. I turned back to face Jamie as he swallowed a mouthful of water.
“I said that I loved her when I was a little girl.”
He choked and spewed his Perrier. “You didn’t!” he exclaimed when he had finished coughing.
“Why? It’s true; I did. Although having finally met her I don’t know what I was so enchanted with.”
Jamie put his arm around my slightly damp shoulder and kissed my cheek. “Honey, you are a beautiful woman in her prime and if you loved her as a child, then she must be 102. She doesn’t like the comparison.”
I sniffed. “Well, she is 102,” I replied snarkily.
“Yeah, that may be, but we are sitting with the Rubins and so is she so try not to say anything else to her, okay?”
“Okay.” The lights dimmed and the bell tinged causing us to turn our faces toward the crowd surging the main staircase to reach their seats. “But she is 102.”
Jamie laughed and steered me into the throng.