Orson Welles: "The most exciting woman in the world."
Born: 17 January 1927 in North, SC, USA
Died: 25 December 2008 in Weston, CT, USA
Eartha Kitt was born in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina, between Columbia and Charleston. She was the illegitimate child of a white dirt farmer and a black Cherokee mother, and grew up in poverty. Her mother gave her away at age 9, and she ended up in Harlem. She lived in friends' homes and in the subway as a teenager. Her background was indeed not unlike Selina Kyle in that respect.
Despite the hardships, she managed to rise above poverty by 1952. That year, she made a major splash in the movie New Faces of 1952, which also featured performers Carol Lawrence and Robert Clary. She continued on with her song-and-dance career throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Ms. Kitt's performance in Batman was considered daring, given her background. However, because of her race, her interpretation of Catwoman could not have a sexually tense relationship with Batman like Julie Newmar's Catwoman that could have made hotel managers at some Vegas hotels blush. Nonetheless, Eartha Kitt brought a real sense of menace and a unique feline quality to the role.
Nineteen sixty-eight would prove to be a turbulent year. On 4 January, Ms. Kitt's final Catwoman episode would air, with Pierre Salinger as a guest star. Two months later while she was in Washington DC, the actress got herself into some trouble at a White House luncheon when she made some incendiary statements against the Vietnam War that probably got her banned from the hotels in DC. Eartha's statements supposedly caused Lady Bird Johnson to burst into tears, which resulted in Ms. Kitt being blacklisted in the entertainment industry for a time. Ironically, the first interracial kiss took place later in 1968, on a Star Trek episode.
However, no one can keep a feline down. Eartha Kitt continued her career overseas, and then resumed working in the United States. In 2004, she sustained minor injuries in an auto accident in Connecticut. Not long after, she attended an opening for a restaurant in Manhattan catering to cats! She was the guest of honour at the White House Christmas Tree lighting in 2006.
Ironically, Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas Day 2008 in New York—ironically, because she had sung "Santa Baby" back around 1953. She is survived by a daughter and grandchildren.
This page updated 14 September 2012.