Tuesday, December 30, 2008
a sex kitten worth remembering.
She was an entertainment multitasking pioneer, earning accolades in the recording, television and movie industries, as well as on Broadway, during a six-decade showbiz career. She was a mixed-race abuse survivor who pulled herself out of poverty with a feline femme fatale persona that wowed the likes of Orson Welles and sought to seduce Santa Claus. She was gritty. She was growly. And for me, she was the most purrrr-suasive Catwoman of the 1960s Batman series. (Julie Newmar? OK. But Lee Meriwether? Please.)
She was Eartha Kitt, and she finally used up her ninth life on Christmas Day at the age of 81, succumbing to colon cancer.
Eartha Mae Keith was born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina, the illegitimate child of a black Cherokee sharecropper mother and a white man Eartha never knew. She worked in the cotton fields as a child, and was raised in her aunt's home, where she claimed she was abused for being "too white." Upon her aunt's death, eight-year-old Eartha was sent to Harlem to live with Marnie Kitt, whom Eartha believed to be her biological mother. Abused there, as well, Eartha became a runaway and was a homeless teen until a friend dared her to audition for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company; Eartha was accepted, and her life changed for good.
Eartha Kitt went on to speak four languages and sing in seven as she performed her sizzling cabaret act across Europe, singing signatures such as "C'est Si Bon," "Love for Sale," and "Monotonous." Her biggest and most lasting hit came with 1954's "Santa Baby," still a holiday season staple. Eartha's stage career lasted from 1945 to 2003, and included 13 shows and two Tony nominations. Her film career included 35 movies, while her TV work garnered her an 1966 Emmy award nomination for a guest appearance on I Spy, as well as two Daytime Emmy awards within the past two years for her voicework as Yzma in the children's animated series The Emperor's New School.
While Welles publicly dubbed her "the most exciting woman alive," Eartha's other rich-and-famous romances included cosmetics magnate Charles Revson and banking heir John Barry Ryan III. She was married only once, to real-estate developer Bill McDonald, for five years. Their daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and two grandchildren survive her.
She was singular. She was a siren. And she could teach us all a little something-something about sexy. Au revoir, amazing Eartha. Rowwwrr.
And just for nostalgia's sake, here's a little vintage Kitt Catwoman-on-Batgirl action: