For years we can admire the work of a particular actor or actress and never really take the time to learn anything about them until they are gone. Eartha Kitt was one of the greats. I remember her playing Catwoman in Batman; her role as the too-hot-to-handle Lady Eloise in Boomerang, and of course, one of my favorite Christmas songs, Santa Baby. But today, I found out a few other things about her that I never bothered to look up before. For example, I didn’t know that she was the product of rape and an abused child. Orson Welles was one of her suitors when she was younger and called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”
According to the entry on Wikipedia:
Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in the tiny town of North, South Carolina. She had stated that her mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent, and her father, German and Dutch descent. She claimed she was conceived of rape. Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, a black woman whom she believed to be her mother, but after Riley’s death, she was sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, reportedly Riley’s sister. Eartha Kitt believed that Mamie Kitt was her biological mother; she had no knowledge of her father’s identity, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was the son of the owner of the plantation on which she had been born. Kitt suffered terrible abuse and neglect at the hands of a family to whom Anna Mae Riley entrusted her, or “given away for slavery” as Kitt described in many interviews.
She was very outspoken and it caused trouble in her career. According to NYTimes:
But she took the steeliness with her, in a willful, outspoken manner that mostly served her career, except once. In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to the only derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career. (Ms. Kitt claimed that the C.I.A. drafted a negative memo that referred to her as a nymphomaniac.)
As bookings dried up she was exiled to Europe for almost a decade. But President Jimmy Carter invited her back to the White House, and she earned her first Tony nomination for her work in “Timbuktu!,” an all-black remake of “Kismet,” in 1978.
Twenty years after that incident with Lady Bird Johnson, in an interview with Essence magazine, Kitt said, “The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth—in a country that says you’re entitled to tell the truth—you get your face slapped and you get put out of work,” Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later. [Huffington Post]
As Lady Eloise in the movie Boomerang, 1992
As Catwoman in the television series Batman, 1967 & 1968
C’est Si Bon—Live Kaskad, 1962
I Want To Be Evil—Live Kaskad, 1962
Santa Baby, 1953