Eartha Kitt Biography

Eartha Kitt, a multi-faceted American singer, actor, dancer, comedian, activist, and author, left an indelible mark in every sphere she touched. Despite facing severe hardships in her early days, Kitt’s love for music led her to the renowned ‘The High School of Performing Arts.’ Starting her career as a singer with the ‘Katherine Dunham Company,’ Kitt’s unique voice garnered attention and propelled her into acting. She gained fame for her portrayal of ‘Catwoman’ in the popular series ‘Batman,’ captivating audiences with her trademark growl. However, her career suffered a setback after making an anti-war statement at the ‘White House,’ leading to defamation by the ‘Central Intelligence Agency.’ Nevertheless, Kitt made a triumphant comeback on Broadway with the musical ‘Timbuktu,’ earning a ‘Tony Award’ nomination. Throughout her life, she remained active in her profession and as an activist, supporting causes such as women empowerment and same-sex marriage. Kitt’s legacy lives on, and she was honored with a “star” on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Eartha Mae Keith
  • Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: John W. McDonald (m. 1960-1965)
    • Mother: Annie Mae Keith
    • Children: Kitt McDonald
  • Born Country: United States
  • African Americans
  • Dancers
  • Height: 5’4″ (163 cm), 5’4″ Females
  • Died on: December 25, 2008
  • Place of death: Weston, Connecticut, United States
  • U.S. State: South Carolina, African-American From South Carolina
  • Cause of Death: Colon Cancer

Childhood & Early Life

Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith, on January 17, 1927, in North, or St. Matthews, South Carolina. Her mother, Annie Mae Keith, was of Cherokee and African descent and worked in a cotton plantation. There is no information available about her father. It is believed that Kitt was born out of wedlock.

Kitt had a difficult childhood. Her mother left Kitt with a relative, Aunt Rosa, in order to live with her boyfriend. When her mother expired, Kitt was sent to another relative, Mamie Kitt, who lived in New York City. She attended the ‘The High School of Performing Arts’ in New York.

Career

In 1943, Kitt started her singing career with the ‘Katherine Dunham Company.’ She recorded several hit songs, such as ‘Monotonous,’ Let’s Do It,’ and ‘Love for Sale.’ Her song ‘Santa Baby,’ which was released in 1953, is a popular Christmas song to this day. Kitt remained a part of the troupe till 1948. She traveled around the world with the company.

Kitt was a popular singer at the nightclubs of Paris. Due to her unique voice, she was widely noticed and appreciated. In 1950, famed American director Orson Welles offered her the role of ‘Helen of Troy’ in his play ‘Dr. Faustus.’ In 1952, she was cast in the musical revue ‘New Faces of 1952.’ Kitt performed songs such as ‘Monotonous’ and ‘Bal, Petit Bal’ on the show.

In 1953, Kitt sang the song ‘Santa Baby,’ which is one of the most popular Christmas songs ever sung. During the 1950s, Kitt performed at several nightclubs and cabaret events. She performed in major roles in movies such as ‘New Faces,’ ‘St. Louis Blues,’ and ‘Anna Lucasta.’ She was also part of ‘Broadway’ plays such as ‘Shinbone Alley’ and ‘Jolly’s Progress.’

In 1967, Kitt was chosen to portray the character ‘Catwoman’ in the American TV series ‘Batman.’ Although Kitt played the character only for a limited period, she immortalized her performance with her distinct voice and growl.

In 1968, Kitt suffered a setback in her career due to her vocal nature. While attending an organized luncheon at the ‘White House,’ she spoke against the Vietnam War. Kitt expressed her sentiments using strong words. This caused significant displeasure among the officials. Following this, Kitt found it difficult to get employment in the US. She was branded a “sadistic nymphomaniac” by the ‘CIA.’

In the 1970s, Kitt concentrated on her performances in Europe and Asia. In 1975, she played a prominent role in the Blaxploitation movie ‘Friday Foster.’ In 1978, Kitt made a tremendous comeback on ‘Broadway,’ with the musical ‘Timbuktu.’ Her performance in the play earned her a nomination for the ‘Tony Award’ for the ‘Best Actress in a Musical.’

In 1992, Kitt appeared as ‘Lady Eloise’ in the romantic comedy ‘Boomerang.’ She worked as a voice actor, too. She lent her voice to animated series such as ‘The Magic School Bus’ and ‘The Wild Thornberrys.’ In 1998, Kitt lent her voice to the character ‘Bagheera’ in the movie ‘The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story.’

In 2000, Kitt performed in the ‘Broadway’ musical ‘The Wild Party.’ Kitt’s performance earned her a nomination for the ‘Tony Award’ for the ‘Best Featured Actress in a Musical.’ She was also nominated for the ‘Drama Desk Award’ for ‘Outstanding Featured Actress in Musical.’ The same year, she voiced the character ‘Yzma’ in the animated comedy movie ‘The Emperor’s New Groove.’ She won an ‘Annie Award’ for this performance.

Activism and Personal Life

Eartha Kitt was an activist. She was associated with the group ‘Rebels with a Cause.’ She worked for several social causes, such as women empowerment and acceptance of gay marriages. She authored three autobiographies. They were ‘Thursday’s Child,’ ‘Alone with Me,’ and ‘I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten.’

Kitt was always in the news for her romantic relationships. She was in relationships with businessman Charles Revson and banking heir John Barry Ryan III. In 1960, Kitt married John William McDonald, who was an associate of a real-estate company. They have a daughter, Kitt McDonald. The couple divorced in 1965.

Kitt died on December 25, 2008, at her home in Connecticut. She was suffering from colon cancer. Her daughter recalls that Kitt was screaming at the top of her voice when she passed away. Her performance as a voice actor in the series ‘Wonder Pets!’ earned Kitt a posthumous honor at the 2010 ‘Emmy Awards’. In 1960, she was also honored with a “star” on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’

Leave a Comment