Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt

Kitt in 1973, by Allan Warren Born Eartha Mae Keith
January 17, 1927(1927-01-17)
North, South Carolina, U.S. Died December 25, 2008 (aged 81)
Weston, Connecticut, U.S. Occupation Actress/Singer Years active 1943–2008 Spouse(s) John “Bill” McDonald (June 6, 1960-1965)[1]

Eartha Mae Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008)[2][3] was an American actress, singer, and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 hit Christmas song “Santa Baby“. Orson Welles once called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”[4] She took over the role of Catwoman for the third season of the 1960s Batman television series, replacing Julie Newmar, who was unavailable for the final season.


Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in the town of North, South Carolina, a small town in Orangeburg County near Columbia, South Carolina. Kitt’s mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent and her father of German or Dutch descent. Kitt claimed she was conceived by rape.[5][6]Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed to be her mother. Anna Mae went to live with a black man when Eartha was 8. He refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion.[5] Kitt 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.[5] Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was “a poor cotton farmer.”[7]

Photo of Kitt by Carl Van Vechten, October 1952Kitt 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, her hits include “Let’s Do It“, “Champagne Taste”, “C’est si bon“, “Just an Old Fashioned Girl”, “Monotonous”, “Je cherche un homme”, “Love for Sale“, “I’d Rather Be Burned as a Witch”, “Uska Dara“, “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 had some skill in other languages too, as she spoke four languages and sang in seven, which she effortlessly demonstrated in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performances.

In 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 continues to be identified. In 1954, 20th Century Fox filmed a version of the revue simply titled New Faces, in which she performed “Monotonous”, “Uska Dara” and “C’est si bon“.[8] 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”.[9] Her other films in the 1950s included The Mark of the Hawk (1957), St. Louis Blues (1958) and Anna Lucasta (1959).Throughout the rest of the 1950s and early 1960s, Kitt would record, work in film, television and nightclubs, and return to the Broadway stage in “Mrs. Patterson” during the 1954-55 season, “Shinbone Alley” in 1957, and the short-lived “Jolly’s Progress” in 1959. [10] In 1964, Kitt helped open the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California. Also in the 1960s, the television series Batman featured her as Catwoman after Julie Newmar left the role.In 1968, during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon.[11][12] 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 a derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career.[13] 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.

During that time, cultural references to her grew, including outside the United States, such as the well-known Monty Python sketch “The Cycling Tour”, where an amnesiac believes he is first Clodagh Rodgers, then Trotsky and finally Kitt (while performing to an enthusiastic crowd in Moscow). She 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,
which her sultry purring rendition of the refrain “constantly stirring with a long wooden spoon” was distinctive.

Eartha Kitt in concert, 2007In 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 #36;[14] The song also made the Top 10 on the US Billboard dance chart, where it reached #7.[15] 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. 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 #32 in the charts in that country.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. 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 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.

After romances with the cosmetics magnate Charles Revson and banking heir John Barry Ryan III, she was married to John William McDonald, an associate of a real-estate investment company, from June 6, 1960, to 1965.[16] They had one child, a daughter, Kitt (born November 26, 1961, married Charles Lawrence Shapiro).[17] Kitt had two grandchildren, Jason and Rachel Shapiro. A long-time Connecticut resident, 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. Subsequently moving to Pound Ridge, New York, then in 2002[18] Kitt moved to the southern Fairfield County town of Weston, Connecticut to be near her daughter’s family.Kitt became a vocal advocate for homosexual rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage, which she believed to be 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?”[19]Kitt died from colon cancer[20] on Christmas Day, 2008 at her Weston, Connecticut, home.[3]


  • 1960 Hollywood Walk of Fame – 6656 Hollywood Boulevard.[21]
  • 2001 Annie Award for Best Voice Acting by a Female Performer in a Featured Film – The Emperor’s New Groove
  • 2007 Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production – The Emperor’s New School
  • 2007 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – The Emperor’s New School
  • 2008 Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production – The Emperor’s New School
  • 2008 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – The Emperor’s New School


  • 1966 Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama – I Spy
  • 1978 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical – Timbuktu!
  • 1996 Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – Living Single
  • 2000 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical – The Wild Party
  • 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical – The Wild Party
  • 2010 37th Daytime Emmy Awards – “THE WONDER PETS!” /ref:<>


  • Casbah (1948)
  • New Faces (1954)
  • The Mark of the Hawk (1957)
  • St. Louis Blues (1958)
  • Anna Lucasta (1959)
  • Saint of Devil’s Island (1961)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1965)
  • Synanon (1965)
  • Up the Chastity Belt (1971)
  • Friday Foster (1975)
  • All by Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story (1982) (documentary)
  • The Serpent Warriors (1985)
  • The Pink Chiquitas (1987)
  • Dragonard (1987)
  • Master of Dragonard Hill (1989)
  • Erik the Viking (1989)
  • Living Doll (1990)
  • Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
  • Boomerang (1992)
  • Fatal Instinct (1993)
  • Unzipped (1995) (documentary)
  • Harriet the Spy (1996)
  • Ill Gotten Gains (1997)
  • I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998)
  • Jungle Book: Mowgli’s St

    ory (1998) (direct-to-video)

  • The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) (voice) (Yzma)
  • The Making and Meaning of We Are Family (2002) (documentary)
  • The Sweatbox (2002) (documentary)
  • Anything But Love (2002)
  • Holes (2003)
  • Preaching to the Choir (2005)
  • Kronk’s New Groove (2005) (voice) (direct-to-video) (Yzma)
  • And Then Came Love (2007)

Short Subjects:

  • All About People (1967) (narrator)

  • I Spy – “Angel” (1965)
  • Mission: Impossible (1967) (Tina Mara, Season 1, Episode 27)
  • Batman (recurring cast member from 1967 – 1968)
  • The Eartha Kitt Show (1969)
  • Lieutenant Schuster’s Wife (1972)
  • The Protectors – Episode – A Pocketful of Posies (1973)
  • To Kill a Cop (1978)
  • A Night on the Town (1983)
  • The Nanny (1996)
  • The Feast of All Saints (2001) (miniseries)
  • Santa Baby! (2001) (voice)
  • Holes (2003) (Madame Zeroni)
  • Living Single (2004) As her self
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Vexus (recurring from 2003 – 2009)
  • The Emperor’s New School: Yzma (2006 – 2008)
  • The Simpsons (season 21, Once Upon a Time in Springfield) (2010) [22]
  • Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child: The Snow Queen (voice)
  • Sailor Moon:Queen Beryl (Voice)

Main article: Eartha Kitt discography

  • “C’est Si Bon” (1954)
  • “Santa Baby” (1954)
  • “Under the Bridges of Paris” (1955) (UK #7)
  • “Just an Old Fashioned Girl” (1958)
  • “Che Vale Per Me” (1968)
  • “Where Is My Man” (1983) (Sweden #5; US Dance #7; Netherlands #20; UK #36)
  • “I Love Men” (1984) (UK #50)
  • “I Don’t Care” (1986)
  • “This Is My Life” (1986) (UK #73)
  • “Arabian Song” (1987)
  • “Cha Cha Heels” (featuring Bronski Beat) (1989) (UK #32)
  • “If I Love Ya Then I Need Ya” (1994) (UK #43)
  • “Santa Baby” (2007) (UK #84)

  • Blue Holiday (May 21 – May 26, 1945) (Broadway)
  • Carib Song (September 27 – October 27, 1945) (Broadway)
  • Bal Negre (November 7 – December 22, 1946) (Broadway and European tour)
  • Time Runs (1950)
  • Dr. Faustus (1951) (Paris and European tour)
  • New Faces of 1952 (May 16, 1952 – March 28, 1953) (Broadway)
  • Mrs. Patterson (December 1, 1954 – February 26, 1955) (Broadway)
  • Shinbone Alley (April 13 – May 25, 1957) (Broadway)
  • Jolly’s Progress (December 5 – December 12, 1959) (Broadway)
  • The Owl and the Pussycat (1965 – 1966) (national tour)
  • The High Bid (1970) (London)
  • Bunny (1972) (London)
  • A Musical Jubilee (1976) (national tour)
  • Timbuktu! (March 1 – September 10, 1978) (Broadway and national tour from 1979 – 1980)
  • New Faces of 1952 (Revival) (1982) (Off-Off-Broadway)
  • Blues in the Night (1985) (national tour)
  • Follies (1987) (London) (replacement for Dolores Gray)
  • Eartha Kitt in Concert (1989) (London)
  • Yes (1994) (One Woman Show) (Edinburgh)
  • Sam’s Song (1995) (Benefit Concert) (Unitarian Church of All Souls)
  • Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (1996) (Chicago)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1998) (national tour)
  • The Wild Party (April 13 – June 11, 2000) (Broadway)
  • Cinderella (2001) (Madison Square Garden)
  • Nine (replacement for Chita Rivera from October 5 – December 14, 2003) (Broadway)
  • Mimi le Duck (2006) (Off-Broadway)

  • ^
  • ^ “Singer-actress Eartha Kitt dies at 81”. MSNBC. Associated Press. 26 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ a b Polly Anderson (25 December 2008). “Eartha Kitt, sultry singer and dancer, dies at 81”. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Kate X. Messer (2006-07-21). “Just An Old Fashioned Cat”. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  • ^ a b c James Bone (2008-04-11). “Legendary seductress Eartha Kitt — The Original Pussycat Doll”. The Times (London). Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  • ^ “News From Indian Country – Eartha Kitt, Chanteuse, Cherokee, and a seducer of audiences, Walked On at 81”. 1927-01-17. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  • ^ Weil, Martin (2008-12-26). “Bewitching Entertainer Eartha Kitt, 81”. The Washington Post: pp. B05. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Phil Hall (January 4, 2001). “New Faces”. Film Threat. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  • ^ George Wayne (June 2001). “Back to Eartha”. Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ The Broadway League. “Internet Broadway Database. Eartha Kitt”. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  • ^ A.D. Amorosi (27 February 1997). “Eartha Kitt”. City Paper. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Frank James (26 December 2008). “Eartha Kitt versus the LBJs”. The Swamp. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Rob Hoerburger (25 December 2008). “Eartha Kitt, a Seducer of Audiences, Dies at 81”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ “Eartha Kitt – Where Is My Man:”. Chart Stats. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Joel Whitburn (2004). Hot Dance/Disco 1974–2003, (Record Research Inc.)
  • ^ Staff writers (12 May 1960). “Eartha Kitt to Be Married”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ “Kitt McDonald is Wed to Charles L. Shapiro”. The New York Times. 14 June 1987. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ Chamoff, Lisa, “Eartha Kitt no stranger to local stages”, The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, December 26, 2008, retrieved same day
  • ^ Staff writers (29 December 2008). “Eartha Kitt, Actress and Gay Rights Ally, Dies at Age 81”. PageOneQ. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  • ^ “Seductive singer Eartha Kitt dies at 81”. Reuters. 2008-12-26. Retrieved 2010-05-18. 
  • ^ “Eartha Kitt tickets competition”. The Telegraph. 2008-01-24. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  • ^ “‘The Simpsons’: Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Sarah Silverman among season 21 guests”. Hollywood Insider. 2009-07-24. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 


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