I first heard Eartha Kitt’s sultry come hither tones when I was about 7yrs old. I was on the way to Liverpool to see my grandmother and my mum was listening to her ‘The Very Best of Eartha Kitt’ cassette tape as she was driving; I was captivated by her beautiful voice, the way she purred through the songs with her voice of smooth velvet. It wasn’t long before I practically wore out the tape listening to it constantly on my walkman, I actually still have the tape and my walkman here with me now and I think she sounds more beautiful on cassette than she does on CD or digital download.
A few months back I read an interview with her in The Times and it was a bit of an eye opener. She started life as a slave on a cotton plantation; her mother had been ‘taken advantage’ of by the son of the plantation owner, and raised by a woman who wasn’t her mother until the woman married a man who refused to have a mixed race child in his house. Sent away to live with an ‘aunt’ (who she came to believe was actually her mother) she would spent time at the local cinemas watching movies.
The film ‘Stormy Weather’ which featured a choreographer called Katherine Dunham who had founded American first black company. Later she ran into a woman looking for directions, she happened to be a dancer with the dance company and Kitt told her that she would give her directions if she could meet Katherine Dunham. She was given a rehearsal leotard and that event started the ball rolling, she was offered a $10 a month scholarship and joined the dance company.
In Paris she left the dance company to take the place of a Cuban singer and the newspapers called her ‘the most exciting thing that has happened in Paris in 25 years.’ Orson Welles, who once called her ‘the most exciting woman in the world’, saw her and cast her in one of his productions. The rest, you could say was history, she went on to appear as Catwoman in ‘Batman’ and attracted many admirers, including Winston Churchill who hand delivered a fan letter sent to him by mistake (she was appearing in a club called ‘Churchill’s). She dated Charles Revlon, who created a flaming red lipstick called ‘Fire and Ice’ for her.
She was blacklisting herself from working in the US after her comments to the presidents wife about the Vietnam War. She’d been invited to a lunch at the White House in 1968, the First Lady asked her why she thought American’s youth were disaffected and Kitt replied “you send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Apparently her CIA file calls her ‘a sadistic nymphomaniac with a vile tongue’!
Eartha Kitt fought her way in life, essentially on her own from the start but she was a strong woman and determined to make something more of her life. With her steely resolve she became one of the most glamorous women around who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and without a firm identity she created her own. She was supremely talented, still popular and still touring throughout her life.
The world is certainly going to be a less glamorous place without the ultimate seductress.
17th January, 1927 – 25th December, 2008