Among her many achievements in television, film, and writing, Carole Hart produced “Free to Be ... You and Me” (1972) with Marlo Thomas, and was one of the original creators of Sesame Street.
I find it very ironic that Carole Hart, of all people, recognized her Judaism toward the end of her life. I was always trying to drag her to synagogue, and she would have none of it. But it took a very special community, Romemu in New York, to bring her to it (of course after I left NYC!) and one of the very special things that community does that is their own shmirah—their own members guard the body until it is laid to rest. I stopped by to have some time with Carole, and there were two lovely women sitting there. Neither had ever met Carole, neither had ever done shmirah before. But both felt called, because of who Carole was, and were honored to do it. I think Carole would have loved that.
But to begin: with the need, that people have, to define things, recently I would find myself explaining who Carole and I were to each other. Lots of words were true: we were colleagues, dear friends, she was a kind of sister, a confidante, a co-conspirator, a hero, a personal wisewoman, but none of those cut it. I will say this: Carole was a kindred spirit.
It is hard to talk about Carole without her husband, Bruce, so let me bring him into all this.
As with all things Carole, there was a magic to our meeting each other. An unlikely set of events, all essential yet serendipitously so, brought us together and convinced us that the Creator had Her hand in making our meeting happen. I think we recognized each other right away. Speaking for myself, I fell hard for Carole and Bruce, for their body of work, for their love story, for their fearlessness, for their teenagers-in-the-penthouse lifestyle, for their dedication to their work, for their very specific kind of New Yorkyness. They were decidedly not mainstream Jews. They were miraculous: making some of the most beloved media in the world, while—get this: spending their entire adult lives working together from home, with no children to triangulate them and no separate office to escape to, the only things grounding them were friends, work, and a steady stream of cats.
Carole and Bruce were single-mindedly dedicated to their art. They lived in shared pursuit of the creative muse, recognizing her primacy over bills and bedtimes and laundry and the things that regular adults have to deal with. They also really knew how to have a good time.
Carole and Bruce came from other places of course, but by the time I met them, they had been living in that penthouse apartment for more than twenty five years, ordering Chinese food, going to movies in the middle of the day, and getting stoned, to honor the Mother, in view of the Manhattan skyline.
When Carole died, my five-year-old tried to comfort me. “Mommy,” she said, “Carole was really old my whole life.” And though Carole always seemed, well, old, I thought that she and Bruce would be here forever, their door always open, the terracotta walls and Tibetan flags always waving in friends. And even when Bruce left us, he was still around because Carole was, and would always be, sitting at the head of her oval wood table, a stack of newspapers in front of her, audibly swallowing some greenish cocktail of tortoise shell juice and turmeric root.
My line about Carole is that she is a brilliant storyteller but an unreliable narrator. Her stories were always SO GOOD, and who knew what was really true. She was cynical and dark and irreverent, but her tales always had happy, redemptive endings. The good guys always won, usually through some ingenious sneakiness. She found signs everywhere of the universe at work for good, and she firmly believed in the power of personal transformation.
But as good of a teller I found her, Carole was also a great audience. She was interested in any stories about the human condition, and about any spiritual wisdom tradition (except Judaism). What a joy it was to crack her up, what a great extended laugh she had.
Carole taught me so much: the comfort of a cloth napkin and the grace of giving your beloved a gentle death. She showed me how to create chosen family, and how to cherish, because if you were one of Carole’s people, it was solid. She had unwavering belief in your brilliance, your competence, and your choices, and her heart expanded to love the people you loved. You become the superhero protagonist in the stories Carole told to others.
Carole taught me to believe in myself, because she did. I never saw her ever surrender to a creative block. She always knew that the story was in her, and she would patiently stalk it, often delivering this baby at four a.m., while the rest of us slept. I could wake up in the morning and there, in my email, I would find her elegant solution to a story problem.
Carole was loving and she was singular and she was brilliant, but she could also be stubborn as a mule and incredibly difficult. In my professional journeys I would encounter people whom Carole had worked with or intersected, and more than once I heard someone, usually a woman, say “CAROLE HART. I loathe her. She was the one who ruined my career!” I would go back to Carole, sit at that wood table, and retell the story of whom I had run into. And Carole would laugh her phlegmy, oversized, ex-smoker’s cackle, and say, “That so and so—she was really an idiot.”
Carole and Bruce never had children by unequivocal choice, and yet together they gave millions of children the affirming soundtrack to their childhoods. You can say a lot of things about Carole, but she left this world better than she found it.
In the kind of sureness that Carole had about most things, Carole knew Bruce was hanging around, waiting for her. Sometimes she felt guilty about keeping him waiting twelve years. Bruce visited her in her dreams. I think of Carole in some other dimension, in her fez and her beads and her drapey cardigans, shamelessly mixing Eastern cultures in her accessories, and steadying her off-balance walk against Bruce’s arm.
Carole, may the Creator gather you in Her huge iridescent wings, fold them over you in an embrace you recognize and that contains our love. May you visit all of us in our dreams, and often.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Carole Hart." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/weremember/hart-carole>.