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Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Mae Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008) was an American singer, actress, dancer and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 hit recordings of "C'est Si Bon" and the enduring Christmas novelty smash "Santa Baby". Orson Welles once called her the "most exciting woman in the world". She took over the role of Catwoman for the third and final season of the 1960s Batman television series, replacing Julie Newmar, who was unavailable due to other commitments. She also voiced Yzma on Disney's The Emperor's New Groove and its television spinoff, The Emperor's New School, earning two Emmy Awards in the process, the second shortly before her death. She won a third Emmy posthumously in 2010, for The Wonder Pets.Early yearsKitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in North, a small town in Orangeburg County near Columbia, South Carolina, in 1927. Kitt's mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent. Though it remains unconfirmed, it has been widely reported that her father was of German descent.Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed to be her mother. When Eartha was 8, Anna Mae went to live with a black man, but he refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion, so the girl lived with another family until Riley's death. She was then sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, who she learned was her biological mother. She had no knowledge of her father, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was supposedly a son of the owner of the farm where she had been born. Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was "a poor cotton farmer".In an August 2013 biography, British journalist John Williams claimed that Kitt's father was a white man, a local doctor named Daniel Sturkie. However, Kitt's daughter, Kitt Shapiro, has questioned the authenticity of this claim.CareerKitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company in 1943 and remained a member of the troupe until 1948. A talented singer with a distinctive voice, she recorded the hits "Let's Do It"; "Champagne Taste"; "C'est si bon" (which Stan Freberg famously burlesqued); "Just an Old Fashioned Girl"; "Monotonous"; "Je cherche un homme"; "Love for Sale"; "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch"; "Katibim" (a Turkish melody) ; "Mink, Schmink"; "Under the Bridges of Paris"; and her most recognizable hit, "Santa Baby", which was released in 1953. Kitt's unique style was enhanced as she became fluent in the French language during her years performing in Europe. Her English-speaking performances always seemed to be enriched by a soft French feel. She spoke four languages and sang in seven, which she effortlessly demonstrated in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performancesCareer peaksIn 1950, Orson Welles gave Kitt her first starring role, as Helen of Troy in his staging of Dr. Faustus. A few years later, she was cast in the revue New Faces of 1952, introducing "Monotonous" and "Bal, Petit Bal", two songs with which she is still identified. In 1954, 20th Century Fox filmed a version of the revue, titled New Faces, in which she performed "Monotonous", "Uska Dara", and "C'est Si Bon". Though it is often alleged that Welles and Kitt had an affair during her 1957 run in Shinbone Alley, Kitt categorically denied this in a June 2001 interview with George Wayne of Vanity Fair. "I never had sex with Orson Welles", Kitt told Vanity Fair: "It was a working situation and nothing else". Her other films in the 1950s included Mark of the Hawk (1957), St. Louis Blues (1958) and Anna Lucasta (1959).Throughout the rest of the 1950s and early 1960s, Kitt recorded; worked in film, television, and nightclubs; and returned to the Broadway stage, in Mrs. Patterson (during the 1954–1955 season), Shinbone Alley (in 1957), and the short-lived Jolly's Progress (in 1959). In 1964, Kitt helped open the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California.In the late 1960s, the television series Batman featured her as Catwoman after Julie Newmar left the role.Anti-war controversyIn 1968, during the administration of US President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt was invited to the 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."During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:"The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it's like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war."Her remarks reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt's career. The public reaction to Kitt's statements was extreme, both pro and con. Publicly ostracized in the US, she devoted her energies to performances in Europe and Asia. It is said that Kitt's career in the US was ended following her comments about the Vietnam war, after which she was branded "a sadistic nymphomaniac" by the CIA.BroadwayShe returned to New York in a triumphant turn in the Broadway spectacle Timbuktu! (a version of the perennial Kismet set in Africa) in 1978. In the musical, one song gives a "recipe" for mahoun, a preparation of cannabis, in which her sultry purring rendition of the refrain "constantly stirring with a long wooden spoon" was distinctive. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance, but lost to Liza Minnelli.Later yearsIn 1978, Kitt did the voice-over in a TV commercial for the album Aja by the rock group Steely Dan. She wrote three autobiographies — Thursday's Child (1956), Alone with Me (1976) and I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten (1989).In 1984, she returned to the music charts with a disco song, "Where Is My Man", the first certified gold record of her career. "Where Is My Man" reached the Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart, where it peaked at No. 36; The song also made the Top 10 on the US Billboard dance chart, where it reached No. 7. The single was followed by the album I Love Men on the Record Shack label. Kitt found new audiences in nightclubs across the UK and the US, including a whole new generation of gay male fans, and she responded by frequently giving benefit performances in support of HIV/AIDS organizations. Kitt appeared with Jimmy James and George Burns at a fundraiser in 1990 produced by Scott Sherman, Agent from The Atlantic Entertainment Group. It was arranged that James would impersonate Kitt and then Kitt would walk out to take the microphone. This was met with a standing ovation. Her 1989 follow-up hit "Cha-Cha Heels" (featuring Bronski Beat), which was originally intended to be recorded by Divine, received a positive response from UK dance clubs and reached No. 32 in the charts in that country.In 1991, Kitt returned to the screen in the Jim Varney children's Halloween movie Ernest Scared Stupid as Old Lady Hackmore. In 1992, Kitt had a supporting role as Lady Eloise in the film Boomerang starring Eddie Murphy. In the late 1990s, she appeared as the Wicked Witch of the West in the North American national touring company of The Wizard of Oz. 1995 saw Eartha Kitt appear as herself in an episode of The Nanny, where she performed a song in French and flirted with Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy). In November 1996, she appeared on an episode of Celebrity Jeopardy!. In 2000, Kitt again returned to Broadway in the short-lived run of Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party opposite Mandy Patinkin and Toni Collette. Beginning in late 2000, she starred as the Fairy Godmother in the US national tour of Cinderella alongside Deborah Gibson and then Jamie-Lynn Sigler. In 2003, she replaced Chita Rivera in Nine. She reprised her role as the Fairy Godmother at a special engagement of Cinderella, which took place at Lincoln Center during the holiday season of 2004.One of her more unusual roles was as Kaa the python in a 1994 BBC Radio adaptation of The Jungle Book. Kitt also lent her distinctive voice to the role of Yzma in Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, for which she won her first Annie Award, and returned to the role in the straight-to-video sequel Kronk's New Groove and the spin-off TV series The Emperor's New School, for which she won two Emmy Awards and two more Annie Awards (both in 2007–08) for Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production. She had a voiceover as the voice of Queen Vexus on the animated TV series My Life as a Teenage Robot.In her later years Kitt made annual appearances in the New York Manhattan cabaret scene at venues such as the Ballroom and the Café Carlyle.She was also a guest star in The Simpsons episode "Once Upon a Time in Springfield", where she was depicted as one of Krusty's past marriages.From October to early December 2006, Kitt co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical Mimi le Duck. She also appeared in the 2007 independent film And Then Came Love opposite Vanessa Williams.Kitt was the spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics' Smoke Signals collection in August 2007. She re-recorded "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" for the occasion, was showcased on the MAC website, and the song was played at all MAC locations carrying the collection for the month.Personal lifeAfter romances with the cosmetics magnate Charles Revson and banking heir John Barry Ryan III, she married John William McDonald, an associate of a real estate investment company, on June 6, 1960. They had one child, a daughter named Kitt McDonald, born on November 26, 1961. They divorced in 1965.A long-time Connecticut resident, Eartha Kitt lived in a converted barn on a sprawling farm in the Merryall section of New Milford for many years and was active in local charities and causes throughout Litchfield County. She later moved to Pound Ridge, New York, and then to the southern Fairfield County town of Weston in 2002, to be near her daughter Kitt and family. Her daughter, Kitt McDonald, married Charles Lawrence Shapiro in 1987 and had two children, Jason and Rachel Shapiro.ActivismKitt was active in numerous social causes in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, she established the Kittsville Youth Foundation, a chartered and non-profit organization for underprivileged youth in the Watts area of Los Angeles. She was also involved with a group of youth in the area of Anacostia in Washington, D.C., who called themselves, "Rebels with a Cause." Kitt supported the group's efforts to clean up streets and establish recreation areas in an effort to keep them out of trouble by testifying with them before the House General Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor. In her testimony, in May 1967, Kitt stated that the Rebels' "achievements and accomplishments should certainly make the adult 'do-gooders' realize that these young men and women have performed in 1 short year - with limited finances - that which was not achieved by the same people who might object to turning over some of the duties of planning, rehabilitation, and prevention of juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency to those who understand it and are living it". She added that "the Rebels could act as a model for all urban areas throughout the United States with similar problems". "Rebels with a Cause" subsequently received the needed funding.Kitt was also a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, thus her criticism of the Vietnam War and its connection to poverty and racial unrest in 1968 can be seen as part of a larger commitment to peace activism.Like many politically active public figures of her time, Kitt was under surveillance by the CIA beginning in 1956. After the New York Times discovered the CIA file on Kitt in 1975, she granted the paper permission to print portions of the report, stating: "I have nothing to be afraid of and I have nothing to hide."Kitt later became a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage, which she considered a civil right. She had been quoted as saying: "I support it [gay marriage\] because we're asking for the same thing. If I have a partner and something happens to me, I want that partner to enjoy the benefits of what we have reaped together. It's a civil-rights thing, isn't it?" Kitt famously appeared at many LGBT fundraisers, including a mega event in Baltimore, Maryland, with George Burns and Jimmy James. Scott Sherman, an agent at Atlantic Entertainment Group, stated: "Eartha Kitt is fantastic... appears at so many LGBT events in support of civil rights."In a 1992 interview with Dr. Anthony Clare, Kitt spoke about her gay following, saying:We're all rejected people, we know what it is to be refused, we know what it is to be oppressed, depressed, and then, accused, and I am very much cognizant of that feeling. Nothing in the world is more painful than rejection. I am a rejected, oppressed person, and so I understand them, as best as I can, even though I am a heterosexual.DeathKitt died from colon cancer on Christmas Day, December 25, 2008, at her home in Weston, Connecticut.Her daughter, Kitt Shapiro, recently explained her last days with her mother:"I was with her when she died. She left this world literally screaming at the top of her lungs. I was with her constantly, she lived not even 3 miles from my house, we were together practically everyday. She was home for the last few weeks when the doctor told us there was nothing they could do anymore. Up until the last two days, she was still moving around. The doctor told us she will leave very quickly and her body will just start to shutdown. But when she left, she left the world with a bang, she left it how she lived it. She screamed her way out of here, literally. I truly believe her survival instincts were so part of her DNA that she was not going to go quietly or willingly. It was just the two of us hanging out [during the last days\] she was very funny. We didn’t have to [talk\] because I always knew how she felt about me, I was the love of her life, so the last part of her life we didn't have to have these heart to heart talks".She started to see people (that weren't there) she thought I could see them too, but of course I couldn't. I would make fun of her like I’m going to go in the other room and you stay here and talk to your friends."AwardsKitt won awards for her film, television and stage work, and in 1960, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honored her with a star, which can be found on 6656 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man

Where Is My Man

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Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby

Santa Baby

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Eartha Kitt - Lullaby Of Birdland

Lullaby Of Birdland

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Eartha Kitt - Snuff Out The Light

Snuff Out The Light

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Eartha Kitt - C'est Si Bon

C'est Si Bon

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