This year’s Christmas was cause for celebration, yet many fans mourned upon learning that one of showbiz’s most enduring performers, Miss Eartha Kitt, died on that day at 81 of colon cancer.
Born in poverty in South Carolina, she was the daughter of a white father, a cotton farmer, and a black-Cherokee mother. As a mixed-race child during the first few decades of the century, she endured racism, neglect, and rejection.
For a while she attended the New York School of Performing Arts, but dropped out to take various odd jobs. In the mid-40s, she auditioned for the Katharine Dunham dance troupe and earned a place, performing in the Broadway production “Bal Negre” as one of the San Souci singers.
Orson Welles once called Eartha “The most exciting woman in the world.” She spent much of her life single. She married Bill McDonald in 1960 but divorced him after the birth of their daughter Kitt.
Her experiences with the troupe led to other opportunities in dance, singing, and acting.
As “Catwoman” from 1967-68 in the “Batman” television series, replacing Julie Newmar, she filled out the prescribed catsuit with her svelte 35-23-35 (inches) figure, making her one of the sexiest villains to purr her way around the small screen.
Eartha as “Catwoman” in the “Batman” episode “Dressed to Kill”
She traveled the world and learned to perform in more than ten languages. She performed exclusively overseas after her anti-Vietnam War activism led to her investigation by the FBI and the CIA.
Upon returning to the US, she was cast in many Broadway roles. In 2000, she was tapped to be the voice of the villainess “Yzma” in Disney’s cartoon “The Emperor’s New Groove”, bringing her more fans from the younger generation.
She was also a published author who wrote three autobiographies and, in 2001, Rejuvenate, a guide to staying physically fit.
In her six-decade career, she was still performing well into her late 70s, and maintained the curvaceous figure that made her famous.
Her life was a celebration of beauty, joy, and art. While she wasn’t always happy, she made the most of what she had to carve out her own niche in the world that no one else can fill. There are many lessons to be learned from her life – of strength, perseverance, and endurance. She makes our list as a certified Gogirl, an icon of feminism, grace, and style.
The incomparable Eartha Kitt.
17 January 1927 – 25 December 2008.
Eartha’s deep back bends remind me of the ones which made our very own Pilita Corrales, “Asia’s Queen of Song”, famous as a performer.
Eartha’s images from various points in her career (from all over the ‘Net).
Pilita on a concert program from 1973 (wolfgangsvault.com)
My father, who was a fascinating raconteur, often told a story of taking me with him to work one day at the ABS-CBN broadcast network studio where he was a newscaster and we ran into Pilita. I must have been all of four years old. Upon seeing her, my dad said, I immediately went into a backbend, holding an imaginary microphone to my lips. The good-natured Cebuana songstress laughed.
I don’t know if this story is true. This was told, after all, by the man who assured me in all seriousness that on days when the sun is shining at the same time it’s raining, somewhere in the world it’s a gorilla’s birthday. Go figure.