“I have a great need for affection from an audience. I don’t know whether this is because I had such a tough life when I was a child.” Eartha Kitt
Hailing from a difficult childhood, Eartha Kitt (born Eartha Mae Keith) became a multi-talented entertainer with three Tony Award nominations, two Grammy nominations and an Emmy nomination. Famous for her sexy, purring voice and slinky stage presence, Kitt had several landmark singles, including “C’est Si Bon,” “Uska Dara (A Turkish Tale)” and “Santa Baby.”
In the acting world, Kitt had a notable stage performance in “New Faces of 1952” (1952), “Timbuktu” (1978), “Mrs. Patterson” and “The Wild Party” (2000). On screen, her well-remembered roles included Angel in “I Spy” (1965), Catwoman in the “Batman” series (1968), as well as Yzma in Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). She is now filming the spin-off series “The Emperor’s New School” (series began in 2006).
Kitt has authored four autobiographies: “Thursday’s Child,” “Alone With Me” (1976), “I’m Still Here: Confessions Of A Sex Kitten” (1989) and “Rejuvenate! (It’s Never Too Late)” (2001). Although currently going through treatment for colon cancer, the performer said she is not retiring.
“I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my gut. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Eartha Kitt (1968, in The White House)
In 1968, Kitt was invited by Lady Bird Johnson to a luncheon and was asked her views on inner-city youth. Apparently, her anti-Vietnam War statement put the First Lady into tears and resulted in her being blacklisted. Now, she refuses to speak out about the current Iraq war unless being asked.
Kitt has a daughter from her marriage with Bill McDonald (1960-1965). The artist was also known to have a relationship with Arthur Loew and Charles Revson. Kitt is also the grandmother of two.
Most Exciting Woman Alive
Childhood and Family:
Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith, on January 17, 1927, in a cotton plantation in the small town North, South Carolina. An illegitimate girl of mixed race, Eartha’s white father abandoned the family and her Cherokee Afro-American mother sent her to live with neighbors. After her mother died, Eartha moved in with an aunt in Harlem, where she began learning how to dance, sing, act and play piano.
After dropping out from New York’s High School for the Performing Arts, Eartha won a scholarship to Katherine Dunham’s dance school and then toured with the school’s company. Opportunity knocked when director Orson Welles labeled her “the most exciting woman alive,” and cast her in a play.
From 1960 to 1965, Eartha was married to real estate developer Bill McDonald. They have a daughter named Kitt Shapiro, who later gave Eartha two grandchildren: Justin and Rachel. She previously lived in New York’s Pound Ridge and recently moved to Connecticut to be near her daughter’s family.
As a member of Katherine Dunham’s troupe, Eartha Kitt made her Broadway debut in “Blue Holiday” (1945) and went on tour in the production of “Bal Negre” (1946), as well as made a movie debut in Casbah (1948, unaccredited). She also stayed in Paris to sing in a nightclub and on the cabaret circuit. Kitt was finally discovered by actor/director Orson Welles, who then asked her to costar with him, as Helen of Troy, in his production of “Faust” (1951).
After touring around France, Germany and Belgium with the role, Kitt returned to the United States and quickly gained notice with her performance in the Broadway comedy “New Faces of 1952” (1952). For the stage production, the artist performed her signature songs: “Monotonous,” “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby.” The next two years, she reprised the stage role in the movie version of the play titled New Faces.
Meanwhile, Kitt’s song “C’est Si Bon” was featured in her successful debut album RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt (1953), along with “Uska Dara (A Turkish Tale).” Also in 1953, the performer released the Top Five sophomore recording That Bad Eartha (spawned “I Want to Be Evil,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Under the Bridges of Paris”).
Later, Kitt’s musical effort in the album Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa resulted in a Grammy nomination. In 1954, the singer had a minor success with the singles “Somebody Bad Stole de Wedding Bell (Who's Got de Ding Dong)” and the R&B-flavored “(If I Love Ya, Then I Need Ya) I Wantcha Around.” However, her next recording, Down to Eartha (1955), did not fare as well.
Kitt was then seen as Salome in an episode of “Omnibus” (1955) before sharing the frame with Sidney Poitier in The Mark of the Hawk (1957), where she played his wife Renee. Following a performance alongside Nat King Cole in St. Louis Blues (1958, as singer Gogo Germaine), the artist acquired her first leading role, as the titular prostitute, in the movie Anna Lucasta (1958). She was then seen in such screen projects as Saint of Devil’s Island (1961), Drei Mânner spinnen (1962, TV), “Burke's Law” (1 episode, 1965) and “I Spy” (1965, earned an Emmy nomination for appearing as Angel).
Kitt’s name was even more recognized after appearing as Catwoman in the “Batman” series (1968). However, the growing fame was fractured by her anti-war statement at a White House luncheon. Blacklisted from show business in America, Kitt briefly moved to Europe to work on her career. Yet, the artist still received several screen roles, such as Scheherazade in Up the Chastity Belt (1971), Lady in Lieutenant Schuster’s Wife (1972, TV), Carrie Blaine in “The Protectors” (1 episode, 1974), Madame Rena in Friday Foster (1975) and Paula in To Kill a Cop (1978, TV).
Kitt’s career was resurrected with her starring role in the all-black adaptation of the musical “Kismet” titled “Timbuktu” (1978), which earned her a Tony nomination for Best Actress (Musical). Several years earlier, the entertainer also received a Tony nomination for her performance in the staging of “Mrs. Patterson.”
Kitt, who is famous for her purring, husky voice and slinky stage performance, had a hit on her hands with the single “Where Is My Man” (1984), giving her a first gold certification. Continuing her acting journey, the entertainer took part in A Night on the Town (1983, TV), “Miami Vice” (1985), The Pink Chiquitas (1987, voiced Betty, the Meteor) and Erik the Viking (1989, as Freya). Still in 1989, Kitt broke the dance charts with the UK No.32 track “Cha-Cha Heels” (featuring Bronski Beat).
In the early 1990s, the artist could be seen in little-seen films like Living Doll (1990), Ernest Scared Stupid (1991), Boomerang (1992) and Fatal Instinct (1993). Kitt, who previously toured in the musical “Blues in the Night” (1985, as Woman of the World), performed a one-woman show titled “Yes” (1994), at the Edinburgh Festival. The same year, she released an album called Back in Business and accepted a second Grammy nomination.
In 1995, Kitt guest starred as Mrs. Stubbs in “New York Undercover” and appeared in the Isaac Mizrahi documentary Unzipped. She next acted in Harriet the Spy (1996), Ill Gotten Gains (1997, voiced The Wood), the video-released The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story (1998, as the voice of Bagheera the Panther) and “The Famous Jett Jackson” (1999).
Kitt gained respect for her performance in the staging of “Cinderella” (2000), as well as the musical play “The Wild Party” (2000), in which she took home a third Tony’s Best Actress nomination. The same year, she expanded her fame to younger audiences by lending her voice for the villainous Yzma in Disney’s animated movie The Emperor’s New Groove. She was then handed an Annie award for Best Voice Acting and received a Black Reel nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Later, Kitt re-voiced her Yzma character in the video game Emperor’s New Groove (2001), the video-released sequel Kronk’s New Groove (2005), as well as the now-airing series “The Emperor’s New School” (series began in 2006, had an Annie nomination). Kitt, who recently performed the song “Yzmopolis” for an episode of the cartoon series, stated, “I loved every minute of singing Yzmopolis. Yzma is a wonderful and exciting character. Being able to give her the added dimension of a singing voice gives my character an added and vital layer. May Yzma sing forever and often.”
As a singer, Kitt also made annual performances at New York City’s Cafe Carlyle. She starred in the Off-Broadway musical Mimi Le Duck (started performing in October 2006) and is scheduled to sing Christmas at the White House’s 2006 Christmas tree lighting party.
Her upcoming movie work, the romantic comedy Somebody Like You, is slated for release in 2007. Among her costars are Vanessa L. Williams, Kevin Daniels, Michael Boatman and Ben Vereen.