Eartha Mae Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008) was an American actress, singer, and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her 1953 Christmas song "Santa Baby". Orson Welles once called her the "most exciting woman in the world".. She took over the role of Catwoman for the 4th season of the 1960s Batman TV series, replacing Julie Newmar who was unavailable for the final season.
Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in Columbia, South Carolina. Her mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent and her father of German and Dutch descent. She also claimed she was conceived by rape.
Kitt was raised by her mother's sister, Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed was her mother. After Riley's death, she was 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 she had been born on. Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was "a poor cotton farmer".
Kitt claimed that she suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of a family to whom Anna Mae Riley entrusted her - "given away for slavery," as she described it in many interviews.
Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company and made her film debut with them in Casbah (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. She had some skill in other languages too, which she demonstrates with finesse in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performances.
In 1950, Orson Welles gave her 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. Welles and Kitt allegedly had a torrid affair during her run in Shinbone Alley, which earned her the nickname by Welles as "the most exciting woman in the world." In 1958, Kitt made her feature film debut opposite Sidney Poitier in The Mark of the Hawk. Throughout the rest of the 1950s and early 1960s, Kitt would work on and off in film, television and on nightclub stages. 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, however, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. It was reported that she made First Lady Lady Bird Johnson cry. The public reaction to Kitt's statements was much more extreme, both for and against her statements. Professionally exiled from the U.S., she devoted her energies to overseas performances. Read more...