Eartha Kitt established herself in film, theater, cabaret, music and on television. By the time she was 20, Eartha was a featured dancer and vocalist in the Katherine Dunham Dance Company Troupe and was touring Europe where she was seen by Orson Wells who was quoted as calling her “the most exciting woman in the world”.
Wells hired her to play Helen of Troy in his production of Dr. Faust. When she returned to the States she was seen by Leonard Stillman, who included her in his production of New Faces of 1952. The run lasted for a year and ended up leading to her landing recording contracts. Some of her more famous songs were Love for Sale, I Want to Be Evil and Santa Baby.
Eartha Kitt and James Dean circa 1955 At Katherine Dunham studios
Kitt made her film debut in 1957 in The Mark of the Hawk with Sidney Poitier. Her other movies during this time were Anna Lucasta with Sammy Davis, Jr. and St Louis Blues with Nat King Cole. During this time Kitt also published her first autobiography called Thursday’s Child. Then in 1967, Kitt became the third actress to play Catwoman after Julie Newmar was unable to continue for the third season of Batman.
In 1968, during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a significant professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt 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 derailment of Ms. 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. After which she was pretty much banned from performing in the United States and ended up having to travel overseas for work. Eartha didn’t return to the States until 1974 with a concert in Carneige Hall. In 1976 she published her second autobiography called Alone With Me. Her third autobiography was published in 1989, I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten.
In 2001, she released her fitness and positive attitude book called Rejuvenate (It’s Never Too Late). Eartha’s first love was always live theater so over the next few years she did a lot of Broadway shows such as George Wolfe’s The Wild Party, National Tours The Wizard of Oz and Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella along with a few appearances in movies like Boomerang with Eddie Murphy and Harriet The Spy. She also did voice over work in animated shows like The Emperor’s New Groove, The Emperor’s New Groove 2: Kronk’s New Groove, The Emperor’s New School, The Jungle Book and My Life As A Teenage Robot to name a few.
On December 25, 2008, Eartha Kitt passed away at home from colon cancer, leaving behind her daughter Kitt from her marriage to William MacDonald from 1960 – 1964 and 2 grandchildren.
Contributor: New York Times