By Robert Simonson
10 Sep 2012
Dear Liar brought together the stage pros Brian Aherne and Katharine Cornell as lifelong pen-pals and mutual admirers George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who created the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, a role Shaw wrote for her. The two-hander was adapted from the famous, four-decade correspondence between the playwright and actress, which created a literary sensation when it was published in 1952. Mr. Kilty spent 13 months negotiating with the estates of both parties before he was given permission to adapt the missives.
The show was not an immediate success; it played for a couple months on Broadway in 1960. In the New York Times, critic Brooks Atkinson allowed that the adaptation was "intelligent," while adding "a dramatic character is livelier than a letter-writer—even though he is Bernard Shaw."
However, the text has proven durable. Mr. Hilty himself, along with his wife Cavada Humphrey (who died in 2007), toured the world with the play. By 1961, according to the Times, "there is hardly a place left in the free world where it has not been played." It was revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1977, with Mr. Kilty in the cast, and 1999 at Irish Repertory Theatre, in a production starring Marian Seldes and Donal Donnelly.
Mr. Kilty's other playwriting efforts similarly leaned heavily on the un-dramatic art of letter-writing, though with less success than Dear Liar enjoyed. The Ides of March was an adaptation of Thornton Wilder's account of the fall of the Roman Empire distilled down to a series of written exchanges between Rome's principal players. It opened in London in 1963 with John Gielgud as Caesar. Look Away was about the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, and was based in part on the former First Lady's writings. Set in an insane asylum and starring Geraldine Page (directed by her then-husband, Rip Torn), it ran for a single performance on Broadway in 1973. Mr. Kilty's Dear Love, a love story based on the poems and letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, played the Alley Theatre in 1970 and London in 1973.
In 1948, Mr. Kilty, a graduate of Harvard University, along with Albert Marre and a few others, co-founded the Brattle Theater Company in Cambridge, MA. The company played host to the likes of Jessica Tandy, Zero Mostel and a young Nancy Marchand. He made his Broadway debut as an actor in 1950 in The Relapse. During the 1953 season, he was part of the acting ensemble at City Center (then under the direction of Marre), appearing in Love's Labour's Lost, Misalliance and A Pin to See the Peepshow. He acted alongside Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Noel Coward's romantic comedy Quadrille in 1954.
In 1963, Mr. Kilty starred in an international tour of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? When it arrived in South Africa, Albee insisted the play be performed before integrate audiences. It successfully played in Durban and Port Elizabeth, but was shut down in Johannesburg by the government, purportedly due to what was deemed the offensive content of the drama. However, Mr. Kilty stated that the authorities' real objection was to the racially mixed audiences.
In later years, the actor played Phil Hogan in the 1984 Broadway revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten and was a Senator in Larry Gelbart's satire Mastergate. His many regional theatre credits include appearances at Chicago's Court Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Alley Theatre, Asolo Theatre, Goodman Theatre and Yale Rep.