Santa singer and Hollywood icon Eartha Kitt, famous for her sultry performance as Catwoman in the ’60s Batman series, died on Christmas Day 2008 from cancer.
She was one of the biggest stars in stage and film, performing hit singles including “C’est Si Bon” and providing vocal work for films such as The Emperor’s New Groove.
Orson Welles even once described her as “the most exciting woman in the world,” while Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon cosmetics, gave her name to a lipstick called Fire and Ice.
However, the singer has had a wild and turbulent life – from her nightlife debut, until being called a “sadistic nymphomaniac” in the sixties and embarking on an award-winning career before her heartbreaking death.
The first days at the hot bar
Before Eartha Kitt rose to fame, the singer was performing at a steamy Parisian nightclub called Carrolls, which was run by a former lover of Marlene Dietrich.
A star in the making, the audience couldn’t get enough of Eartha and as fate would have it, sitting in the audience was none other than Orson Welles.
After seeing her on stage, Welles asked her to play the role of Helen of Troy in his production of Time Runs in 1951, with Eartha telling The Independent that he was one of the “best types of men. “.
She said: “After rehearsing all night, Orson was walking me down the Champs-Elysees to my hotel with the sun coming up. We were looking at the sights, window shopping and he was reciting Shakespeare to me.”
However, despite making a name for herself on the cabaret scene, she couldn’t recreate the success she enjoyed in Paris at New York Club La Vie En Rose, with a review in Variety saying, ” Miss Kitt seems to have a lot of confidence, but she lacks rhythm and needs to be routine. “
She wasn’t discouraged, as two months later she performed at another club in town called The Blue Angel, where one of her hits “C’est Si Bon” began to be part of her set list. .
From there, her star was cemented, The Herald describing her as “a feline singer who does inexplicably pleasurable things with a little bit of French lyrics, ‘Bal Petit Bal”, and brings home a sulky number called ” Monotonous “at the top of the second act.”
Now making a name for herself, Eartha landed roles on Broadway and made her film debut in Mark of the Falcon in 1958, before playing one of her most iconic roles – Julie Newmar, the Catwoman, in the series. 60s Batman.
The role has become synonymous with Eartha Kitt and the singer has always been associated with an image of a “sex kitten”, but Eartha’s daughter, Kitt Shapiro, revealed that outside of the stage her character was not not at all one of the “sexual kittens”.
She told L’Express: “On stage she was a strong and attractive sex symbol with jewelry and furs, but off stage she was shy, never obscene or rude, and avoided profanity.”
During the 1960s Eartha became part of the civil rights movement and on January 18, 1968 Eartha was invited to a lunch, asking what could be done to help eradicate crime from the streets.
At the end of lunch, the First Lady asked attendees for their comments, on how openly Eartha condemned the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
Her condemnation of the Vietnam War is reported to have led the CIA to label Eartha Kit a “sadistic nymphomaniac”, and her comments are reported to have harmed her career in America as the singer is unable to find other jobs. or roles.
Speaking in the United States today, Eartha’s daughter Kitt Shapiro said: “It was really heartbreaking for her and very upsetting that her own government turned on her for something so simple. than simply giving an honest answer to a question.
“And it was really something, I think, that she really never let go, that disappointment.”
After divorcing her husband Bill McDonald, Eartha and her daughter Kitt moved to London, where Eartha relaunched her career.
Speaking of their move to London, Kitt told The Guardian: “We lived in Knightsbridge and later in Fulham.
“I went to school in London and spent many years in England. My mother considered England a home from home.”
Eartha then returned to America to host a performance of the musical Timbuktu on Broadway in 1978, and was subsequently invited to the White House by President Carter that same year.
From there, she continued to work across the globe, earning two Tony nominations, one Grammy nomination and three Emmy awards during the day.
When Eartha was not on stage to entertain audiences, the singer was known for her love of tapestry and needlework.
However, years of needlework had caused carpal tunnel syndrome in her hands, but when she went to a doctor in 2006 for treatment, doctors also found Eartha had cancer.
After doctors found out that she was bleeding internally, they performed a colonoscopy, which allowed the singer to be diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer.
Eartha’s daughter, Kitt, told Cancer Today Magazine: “We were amazed, as if we had been under the spell that she was invincible.
However, she added that her mother was calm after the diagnosis, saying, “She believed everything happened for a reason.”
Shortly after, in 2007, Eartha underwent surgery at Presbyterian Medical Centers in New York and Columbia University in New York, to remove part of her colon and nearby lymph nodes.
During the surgeries, doctors removed all signs of cancer from her body, and the singer then underwent chemotherapy.
After the surgeries and a series of chemotherapy, Eartha Kitt learned that her cancer was in remission and the singer continued to perform on stage.
After Eartha’s cancer remission, the singer was planning new concerts, with longtime friend and publicist Andrew Freeman telling Reuters after her death: “She’s come back strongly.
“She had played until two months ago. We had dates booked until 2009.”
However, in November 2008, Eartha had returned to the hospital for follow-up tests, where doctors found the singer was suffering from a new internal bleeding.
After learning that her cancer had returned, the singer underwent another surgery, where doctors found the cancer had spread throughout her body.
Eartha returned home for hospice care, but died a month later, on December 25, 2008, with her daughter by her side.
Speaking to The Express, Eartha’s daughter Kitt said that at the time of her death: “Tears were streaming down her face. It was an incredibly moving moment. I told her, ‘This is well, you can go, it will be fine. ‘
She added: “Even when she left this earth, it showed who she was deep inside: always fighting, never giving up.”
Tribute to an icon
After Eartha Kitt’s death, stage and movie stars paid tribute to singer Dame Shirley Bassey calling her a “guiding light”.
In a statement, she said: “Eartha Kitt was one of the guiding influences in the art of cabaret in the 20th century. She had an influence that will last well beyond her 81 years.
“Eartha has provided entertainment to millions of people and spending six decades working in so many genres is remarkable.
“My condolences and deep thoughts go out to all of his family and friends at this tragic time.”
In the years since her death, Eartha’s daughter also revealed that it was difficult for her to hear Santa Baby on the radio, but now finds solace in the song, telling The Express: “Now when I hear her her voice is always a source of comfort.
“I smile instead and say, ‘Thanks, Mom! Thank you for being my mother. “