skip navigation
Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Recent DVDs

 
 

Ill-Gotten Gains DVD An ancient spirit inspires a group of captive slaves to lead a blood-and-guts... more info $12.98was $12.98 Buy Now

And Then Came Love DVD A woman searches to make her anonymous sperm-donor not so anonymous in this 2007... more info $5.98was $5.98 Buy Now

The Feast Of All Saints... "The Feast of All Saints" (2001) is a vibrant and powerful historical drama.... more info $26.99was $26.99 Buy Now

Kronk's New Groove DVD A father's approval is the spark that ignites an adventure in Disney's animated... more info $14.99was $14.99 Buy Now

Living Doll DVD Prepare for a fright with this unusual horror-romance from producer Dick... more info $24.95was $24.95 Buy Now

Synanon DVD This hard-hitting, fact-based drama was filmed on location in the actual Synanon... more info $19.99was $20.99 Buy Now



Also Known As: Eartha Mae Keith-Fields, Eartha Mae Keith Died: December 25, 2008
Born: January 17, 1927 Cause of Death: colon cancer
Birth Place: North, South Carolina, USA Profession: singer, actor, dancer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Before Madonna, Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie, there was Eartha Kitt. The self-proclaimed "original Material Girl" purred her way to Hollywood stardom as fierce feline villain Catwoman on the campy television series, "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). She was also a star of the Broadway stage, cabaret performer, and a recording artist. Proving she was more than just a sex kitten, Kitt raised eyebrows and put her career on the line by speaking out about the Vietnam War - to First Lady Johnson - and becoming a fervent supporter of the gay community. The sultry and somewhat kooky artist received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, cementing her legendary status in theater, film, television, and music.Born on Jan. 17, 1927 in the cotton fields of South Carolina, Eartha Mae Keith was the illegitimate child of a white dirt farmer and a black Cherokee mother. At the age of eight, the girl, who was nicknamed "Kitty Charles," was given away by her mother to live with her aunt Mamie Kitt in Harlem. Her mixed heritage made life difficult for the young woman who endured racism, discrimination and abuse. At age 15, Kitt dropped out of school to work in a Brooklyn factory and started living with friends and...

Before Madonna, Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie, there was Eartha Kitt. The self-proclaimed "original Material Girl" purred her way to Hollywood stardom as fierce feline villain Catwoman on the campy television series, "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). She was also a star of the Broadway stage, cabaret performer, and a recording artist. Proving she was more than just a sex kitten, Kitt raised eyebrows and put her career on the line by speaking out about the Vietnam War - to First Lady Johnson - and becoming a fervent supporter of the gay community. The sultry and somewhat kooky artist received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, cementing her legendary status in theater, film, television, and music.

Born on Jan. 17, 1927 in the cotton fields of South Carolina, Eartha Mae Keith was the illegitimate child of a white dirt farmer and a black Cherokee mother. At the age of eight, the girl, who was nicknamed "Kitty Charles," was given away by her mother to live with her aunt Mamie Kitt in Harlem. Her mixed heritage made life difficult for the young woman who endured racism, discrimination and abuse. At age 15, Kitt dropped out of school to work in a Brooklyn factory and started living with friends and squatting in subways. New York's culture and flair brought out the entertainer in the young woman who, after a friendly dare, auditioned for the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe.

Winning a spot on the troupe provided Kitt with the opportunity not only to showcase her talent, but to also see the world. She toured Europe as a featured dancer and vocalist before turning 20. While performing in a Parisian nightclub, Kitt mesmerized the owner to such an extent that he offered her a solo contract. Becoming the toast of Europe - and mastering the French language to boot - Kitt soon caught the attention of Hollywood power players, including Orson Welles, who called her "the most exciting girl in the world," and ended up casting her as Helen of Troy in his production of "Dr. Faust" (1950).

When she moved back to New York City, The Village Vanguard booked Kitt for nightly performances, leading her to being discovered by a Broadway producer who put her in "New Faces of 1952," a musical revue and comedy show that also launched the career of Mel Brooks. The audiences loved Kitt's sultry renditions of her signature songs like "Monotonous" and "Bal, Petit, Bal" and she was able to perform these and many other numbers in a national tour of the show, as well as in the 1954 film, "New Faces."

With a voice that so many recognized and adored, Kitt was still at the peak of her Broadway career when she received a recording contract. She began turning out hit records that showcased her good-girl-turned-bad image such as "Love for Sale," "I Want to be Evil, and the naughty holiday classic "Santa Baby." Her spoken word album, Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa, released in 1952, earned Kitt a Grammy nomination. It was the first of many honors the star received in her illustrious career; she was one of few entertainers to ever receive multiple Tony, Grammy and Emmy award nominations.

Kitt opened up about her childhood and her rise to fame in her 1957 autobiography, Thursday's Child. During this time, she returned to the Great White Way in the play "Mrs. Patterson," a role that earned the actress her first Tony nomination. She spent the latter part of the decade appearing in films, co-starring with legends like Sidney Poitier in "The Mark of the Hawk" (1957), Nat King Cole in "St. Louis Blues" (1958) and Sammy Davis, Jr. in "Anna Lucasta" (1959). She also appeared in a handful of television shows - from an Emmy-nominated performance in "I Spy" (NBC, 1965-68) to "Mission Impossible" (CBS, 1966-1973) before getting a role that defined her career for years to come.

When "Batman" the series premiered, Adam West played the dark knight while Julie Newmar took on Catwoman. The actress held the role for two seasons until she left the show to film "Mackenna's Gold" (1969). Kitt was brought in to play the feline femme fatale, adding her own distinct voice and mannerisms to the comic book villain. Another actress, Lee Meriwether, was the third star to play Catwoman when she starred in the 1966 film version of "Batman," yet it was Kitt who left the biggest mark in pop culture because of her trademark - and often imitated - Catwoman growl.

Kitt was also known for being outspoken, particularly when it came to issues she was passionate about - such as the Vietnam War. Invited in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson to a charity lunch at the White House, Kitt was asked by the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, to discuss her views on juvenile delinquency. The multi-talented performer famously answered, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." Her remark got Kitt professionally blacklisted in the States for a time, forcing her to find work abroad. Six years after the White House incident, Kitt made a triumphant return to the U.S. stage with a concert at Carnegie Hall. She followed up with her second autobiography Alone with Me in 1976, and delivered another Tony-nominated performance in the 1978 musical "Timbuktu!" from George Forrest and Robert Wright. Her rendition of the line "constantly stirring with a long wooden spoon" became well known - if only for the star's distinctive purr.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Kitt became a cultural icon; often being referenced on TV and in film. The famous Monty Python sketch called "The Cycling Tour" centered on an amnesiac who believed he was Clodagh Rodgers, then Trotsky, and finally, Eartha Kitt. She recorded the song "Where Is My Man" in 1984 and got her first Gold record with the disco-heavy tune. The song also exposed the artist to a new fan base - gay males - and she welcomed them with open arms, frequently performing concerts that benefited HIV/AIDS organizations. Kitt had another minor pop hit in 1989 with the song "Cha-Cha Heels." That same year, the artist released her third book, I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten. The late 1980s also saw Kitt beginning to act more regularly in features, most typically in exotic or outlandish turns in films including "The Serpent Warriors" (1986), "Ernest Scared Stupid" (1991) and the Eddie Murphy vehicle, "Boomerang" (1992).

But it was the stage where Kitt felt the most at home, performing for most of the 1990s and 2000s in national touring productions of "The Wizard of Oz" (as the Wicked Witch of the West) and "Cinderella" (as the Fairy Godmother). She returned to Broadway in 2000 for the short-lived "The Wild Party," and again in 2003 when she replaced fellow Broadway legend Chita Rivera in "Nine." Although her acting appearances on film and television waned later on in her career, Kitt lent her famous voice for several animated projects. Everyone immediately recognized her raspy purr as Kaa the python in a 1994 BBC Radio adaptation of "The Jungle Book," and as Vexus in "My Life as a Teenage Robot" (Nickelodeon, 2003-08). Her most memorable animated role, however, was playing the villain Yzma in Disney's "The Emperor's New Groove" (2000). Kitt reprised Yzma a few years later in the DVD follow-up "Kronk's New Groove" and in the spin-off series, "The Emperor's New School" (Disney Channel, 2006-08), a performance that won her an Emmy award in 2008.

Kitt, who was married to Bill McDonald from 1960 to 1965, had one child, Kitt Shapiro. She resided in Connecticut near her daughter and two grandchildren Justin and Rachel. In 2007, Kitt celebrated her 80th birthday with a concert at Carnegie Hall titled "Eartha Kitt and Friends." On December 25, 2008, the world mourned the loss of the true legend when Kitt passed away from colon cancer at the age of 81.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
3.
 Holes (2003) Madame Zeroni
4.
 Anything But Love (2003) Herself
5.
 Emperor's New Groove, The (2000) Voice Of Yzma
6.
 Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, The (1998) Voice Of Bagheera
7.
 I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998) Cult Leader
8.
 Ill Gotten Gains (1997) Voice Of
9.
 Harriet the Spy (1996) Agatha K Plummer
10.
 Unzipped (1995) Herself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Grew up in rural South
:
Moved to Spanish Harlem to live with an aunt in the 1940s
:
Joined the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe
1945:
Made Broadway debut in "Blue Holiday"
1946:
Toured Europe in "Bal Negre" with the Katherine Dunham Troupe
:
Began career in Europe as dancer-singer-actress before returning to NYC and Hollywood in the 1950s
1951:
Appeared as Helen of Troy opposite Orson Welles in "Orson Welles' Faust"
1952:
Gained notice for her work in the Broadway revue, "New Faces of 1952"
1954:
Made film debut performing songs in the plotless musical comedy revue, "New Faces of 1952"
1955:
Earliest TV appearances include a guest spot on the NBC variety special, "Show Biz"
1957:
Film acting debut, "Mark of the Hawk"; also sang the song, "This Man Is Mine"
1958:
First top-billed acting role in a feature, "Anna Lucasta"
1965:
Returned to features to play a role in "Synanon"
1968:
Played role of Catwoman in the ABC series "Batman"
1969:
Starred in the syndicated one-woman concert, "The Eartha Kitt Show"
1972:
TV-movie debut, "Lieutenant Schuster's Wife"
1975:
Returned again to features to play a role in "Friday Foster"
1978:
Returned to Broadway after two decades in "Timbuktu," a revised, all-black version of the musical, "Kismet"
1978:
First role in a miniseries, "To Kill a Cop" (NBC)
1981:
Was the subject of the documentary film, "All by Myself"
1985:
Toured in the musical, "Blues in the Night," in the role of "Woman of the World"
1986:
Began acting more regularly in features with her role in "The Serpent Warriors"
1988:
Appeared on the London stage as Carlotta Campion in the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical "Follies"
:
Began annual concert appearances in New York City's Cafe Carlyle in the 1990s
1992:
Had a supporting role as Lady Eloise in the hit film "Boomerang" starring Eddie Murphy
1993:
Acted in the USA Network's action fantasy series, "Matrix"
1994:
Released first album in several decades, <i>Back in Business</i>
1995:
Appeared in the Isaac Mizrahi documentary "Unzipped"
2000:
Returned to Broadway as co-star of the musical "The Wild Party"; received Tony nomination
2000:
Provided the voice for the villainess Yzma in the Disney animated comedy "The Emperor's New Groove"
2001:
Toured in a stage production of "Cinderella"
2003:
Replaced Chita Rivera as Liliane in "Nine" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre
2003:
Voiced Queen Vexus on the animated TV series "My Life as a Teenage Robot" (Nicktoons Network)
2006:
Co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical "Mimi le Duck"
2007:
Appeared in the independent film "And Then Came Love" opposite Vanessa L. Williams
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

P S 136: New York , New York -
The School of Performing Arts: New York , New York -

Notes

For years, Kitt was unaware of her actual date of birth due to her adoption, so she chose her own birthday, January 26. In 1997, fans tracked down her birth certificate which indicated she was born January 17, 1927.

"I wasn't black enough to be black or white enough to be white, so I had no race, creed or color. I made my own race--me." --Eartha Kitt quoted in New York Press August 7, 1991.

"How can you understand what I've been through? . . . I have no mother. I have been the victim of racism. Every time I perform I have to deal with the terror of the tremendous pain of rejection. And then my career was so successful and then I nearly lost it all." --Eartha Kitt quoted in The Daily Telegraph, June 26, 2000.

"If the audience had never loved me, I would never have become Eartha Kitt." --from The Daily Telegraph, June 26, 2000.

She was given the Golden Rose of Montreux for "Kaskade" (1962).

Kitt was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1968.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Arthur Loew Jr. Reportedly wanted to marry Kitt but his wealthy family opposed the union.
companion:
Charles Revson. Cosmetics executive.
husband:
William McDonald. Real-estate dealer. Married in June 1960; divorced; father of Kitt Shapiro.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Keith-Fields. Caucasian; Kitt did not know him.
mother:
Mamie Reily. Half-Cherokee, half-black; gave Kitt up to live with foster parents.
daughter:
Kitt Shapiro. Real estate broker. Worked as Kitt's business manager; as of 1990 lived in Greenburgh, Westchester, New York.
grandson:
Jason Marshall Shapiro. Father, Charles Shapiro; mother, Kitt Shapiro.
granddaughter:
Rachel Shapiro.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Thursday's Child"
"Alone With Me"
"I'm Still Here" Sidgwick & Jackson
"Rejuvenate!" Scribner
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute