Eartha Kitt: Singer, Actress, and Iconic Catwoman
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Eartha Kitt, born Eartha Mae Keith on January 17, 1927, in North, South Carolina, was an American singer, actress, and dancer renowned for her distinctive voice and captivating performances. Overcoming a challenging childhood, Kitt rose to international fame with hits like "Santa Baby" and iconic roles such as Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series, earning acclaim across stage, screen, and music.

 

Kitt's Early Life and Struggles

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Eartha Kitt's early life was marked by significant hardship and adversity. Born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina, she was the daughter of a Cherokee and African American mother and an unidentified white father. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, Kitt was left in the care of abusive relatives and forced to work in cotton fields. Her mixed-race heritage led to rejection and mistreatment from both black and white communities. At the age of eight, she moved to Harlem, New York, where she lived with an aunt and began to flourish. Despite these early challenges, Kitt's talent and determination propelled her to success, starting with her involvement in Katherine Dunham's dance troupe and later as a celebrated nightclub singer in Paris.
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Eartha Kitt's Broadway Breakthrough and Hits

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Eartha Kitt's rise to fame began with her Broadway debut in the revue New Faces of 1952. Her standout performance in the show, particularly her rendition of "Monotonous," garnered significant attention and helped launch her career in the United States. The success of New Faces of 1952 led to a film adaptation in 1954, further cementing her status as a rising star. Kitt's recording career took off with the release of her first album in 1954, which included hits like "C'est Si Bon" and "I Want to Be Evil." However, it was her 1953 recording of "Santa Baby" that became a perennial holiday favorite, showcasing her distinctive voice and playful style. These songs not only topped the charts but also solidified her reputation as a versatile and captivating singer. In addition to her music career, Kitt made significant strides in film and television. She starred opposite Nat King Cole in the 1958 biopic St. Louis Blues and received an Academy Award nomination for her role in Anna Lucasta the following year. However, one of her most iconic roles came in the 1960s when she portrayed the villainous Catwoman in the Batman television series. Her portrayal of Catwoman was marked by a unique blend of charm, wit, and seduction, making her a memorable character in the show's history. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Kitt continued to build her career with various theater productions, television appearances, and hit recordings. Her ability to captivate audiences across different mediums showcased her immense talent and versatility as an entertainer.
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Kitt's Singing Career and Hits

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Eartha Kitt's singing career was marked by her distinctive voice and a series of memorable hits that showcased her versatility and unique style. Below is a summary of her most notable achievements and top songs:
  • Kitt's career began in the 1940s as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, where she performed traditional and burlesque shows, eventually becoming fluent in multiple languages due to her extensive travels.
  • Her breakthrough came with the 1953 recordings of "C'est Si Bon" and the Christmas novelty song "Santa Baby," both of which became iconic hits.
  • Other notable songs include "Uska Dara" (1953), "I Want to Be Evil" (1953), "Under the Bridges of Paris" (1954), and "Just an Old Fashioned Girl" (1956).
  • Kitt's ability to sing in seven languages and her captivating cabaret performances further solidified her reputation as a versatile and talented singer.
  • In the 1980s, she made a successful return to the music scene with the hit "Where Is My Man" (1983), which became a favorite in dance clubs.
  • Throughout her career, Kitt released numerous albums and live recordings, consistently showcasing her unique vocal style and theatrical flair.
Kitt's singing career not only brought her fame but also left a lasting impact on the music industry, with her songs continuing to be celebrated and enjoyed by new generations of fans.
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Eartha Kitt's Legacy (Photos)

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Awards and Nominations

Eartha Kitt's illustrious career was recognized with numerous awards and nominations across various entertainment mediums. Below is a summary of her most notable accolades:
YearAwardCategoryWork
1960Hollywood Walk of FameStar on the Walk of FameRecording
1966Primetime EmmyOutstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a DramaI Spy
1996Image Award (NAACP)Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy SeriesLiving Single
2000Tony AwardBest Featured Actress in a MusicalThe Wild Party
2001Annie AwardOutstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature ProductionThe Emperor's New Groove
2006DVDX AwardBest Animated Character Performance (Voice and Animation in a DVD Premiere Movie)Kronk's New Groove
2007Daytime EmmyOutstanding Performer in an Animated ProgramThe Emperor's New School
2008Daytime EmmyOutstanding Performer in an Animated ProgramThe Emperor's New School
2010Daytime EmmyOutstanding Performer in an Animated ProgramWonder Pets! (posthumously)
Kitt's achievements reflect her versatility and enduring impact on the entertainment industry, spanning from her early days on Broadway to her celebrated voice acting roles in animated films.
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Eartha Kitt's Film Roles

Eartha Kitt's filmography spans several decades and showcases her versatility as an actress. Below is a summary of her most notable film and television roles:
YearTitleRole
1954New FacesSelf
1958St. Louis BluesGogo Germaine
1958Anna LucastaAnna Lucasta
1958The Mark of the HawkRenee
1965The Rise and Fall of SynanonBetty Coleman
1975Friday FosterMadame Rena
1991Ernest Scared StupidOld Lady Hackmore
1992BoomerangLady Eloise
1993Fatal InstinctFirst Trial Judge
1996Harriet the SpyAgatha K. Plummer
2000The Emperor's New GrooveYzma (voice)
2003HolesMadame Zeroni
2005Kronk's New GrooveYzma (voice)
2007And Then Came LoveMona
Kitt's roles ranged from dramatic performances in films like Anna Lucasta to memorable voice acting in animated features such as The Emperor's New Groove.
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Eartha Kitt's Legacy

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Broadway Comeback and Voice Acting

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Eartha Kitt experienced a significant career resurgence in the 1970s, beginning with her triumphant return to Broadway in the musical Timbuktu! in 1978, which earned her a Tony Award nomination. This marked the start of a new phase in her career, where she continued to captivate audiences with her theatrical performances. In the 1980s, she starred in the London West End production of Follies and later performed a one-woman show at the Shaftesbury Theatre to critical acclaim. Kitt's versatility extended to voice acting, where she found a new generation of fans through her role as the villainous Yzma in Disney's The Emperor's New Groove (2000). Her performance was widely praised, earning her an Annie Award and two Daytime Emmy Awards for the subsequent series The Emperor's New School. This period of her career highlighted her enduring talent and ability to reinvent herself across different entertainment mediums.
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Activism and Controversy

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Eartha Kitt was deeply involved in social causes and civil rights activism throughout her career. In the 1950s and 1960s, she supported various initiatives, including the Kittsville Youth Foundation and the "Rebels with a Cause" group, which aimed to improve conditions for underprivileged youths in urban areas. Her activism extended to her outspoken criticism of the Vietnam War, which culminated in a controversial incident at a White House luncheon in 1968. Invited by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, Kitt candidly expressed her views on the war's impact on American youth, stating that young people were rebelling and turning to drugs as a response to being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Her remarks shocked the attendees and led to significant backlash, including being blacklisted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which severely impacted her career in the United States. Despite this, Kitt continued to use her platform to advocate for peace and social justice, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to her principles.
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Struggle and Family Bonds

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Eartha Kitt's personal life was marked by a profound struggle with her identity and an unrelenting search for her father's identity. Born to a Cherokee and African American mother and an unidentified white father, Kitt faced rejection and mistreatment from both black and white communities due to her mixed-race heritage. Her daughter, Kitt Shapiro, revealed that Kitt died without ever discovering her father's identity, a mystery compounded by a cover-up in the American Deep South that thwarted her attempts to obtain her birth certificate. This unresolved aspect of her past left a lasting scar, as Kitt carried the pain of rejection throughout her life. Despite these challenges, Kitt found solace and fulfillment in her relationship with her daughter. Shapiro noted that her arrival provided Kitt with a sense of family and completion that she had never experienced before, helping to heal some of the emotional wounds from her tumultuous past.
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Kitt Shapiro: Award-Winning Writer's Memoir

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Eartha Kitt's daughter, Kitt Shapiro, has emerged as an award-winning writer, capturing the essence of her mother's life and legacy in her memoir, Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter's Love Story in Black & White. The book, a blend of memoir and cultural history, offers an intimate look at Eartha Kitt through the eyes of her daughter, revealing the personal and professional facets of the iconic entertainer. Shapiro's writing vividly brings to life Eartha's journey from a poverty-stricken childhood in South Carolina to international stardom, highlighting her resilience and strength. The memoir also delves into Eartha's profound impact on social issues, including racial equality and LGBTQ rights, and her enduring influence on contemporary artists. Shapiro's portrayal of her mother is both heartfelt and revealing, providing readers with a deeper understanding of Eartha Kitt's multifaceted persona and the strong bond they shared.
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Closing Thoughts

Eartha Kitt's legacy as a gay rights ally and civil rights activist underscores her remarkable impact as a woman who transcended the challenges of her time. As a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, Kitt viewed it as a fundamental civil right, advocating for equality and the recognition of partnerships. Her activism extended beyond LGBT rights, as she was deeply involved in various social causes, including youth advocacy and anti-war efforts. Kitt's resilience and determination as a single mother and a pioneering figure in the entertainment industry during the 20th and 21st centuries continue to inspire and resonate with new generations.
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