RIP Eartha Kitt

Illustration for article titled RIP Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt, the alluringly feline entertainment icon, has died at the age of 81.


Starting in the 1940s, the South Carolina-born Kitt was a triple-threat sex symbol in a time when few women of color attracted mainstream success. Despite a famously soigne image, Kitt came from a hardscrabble background: the product of a black sharecropper mother and a white father whom she never knew, as a child Kitt worked in the fields, suffered abuse and later lived homeless in New York. She started as a dancer and quickly moved to a career as a cabaret singer and actress in movies and on TV. Dubbed “the most exciting woman alive” by a smitten Orson Welles, Kitt was known for an over-the-top, pragmatist persona in songs like "Monotonous," "Love For Sale," "C'est Si Bon" and "Santa Baby" - a persona reinforced by her numerous offstage love affairs. In the 60s, she played a memorable Catwoman on the Batman TV series.

Kitt was also known for being tough and outspoken. She caused a major scandal by telling First lady Ladybird Johnson, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot,” - an utterance that led Kitt to work for the next few years in Europe. Later she courted more criticism by touring South Africa under apartheid (for integrated audiences.) Despite a diagnosis of colon cancer, Kitt continued to perform until last year, launching a smoking show at the Cafe Carlyle which, let me tell you, was something to see for a woman of any age. Kitt was a true original: a tough, independent lady riffing on a sex kitten image, playing with sexual dynamics on her own terms. Her contradictions and her talent will be missed.

Eartha Kitt, a Seducer of Audiences, Dies at 81 [NYT]
Eartha Kitt: A sex symbol born to confront the world. [Obit]



The icons of yesteryear are so often just another pretty face. Eartha was so much more. Here's to you, good lady!