Eartha Kitt (1929 – 2008). Kitt was born in North, SC to a sharecropper mother. When she was 9 her mother sent her to live with relatives in Harlem. At 16 Kitt became a member of the prestigious Katherine Dunham dance troupe, and toured with them all over the world. The multilingual Kitt later left the troupe to become a nightclub singer in Paris. While there she caught the eye of Orson Welles, who dubbed her “The most exciting woman in the world”. Kitt made her acting debut as Helen of Troy in Welles adaptation of Faust.
Kitt continued to gain fame and popularity as a recording artist. Some of her hits included “C’est si bon”, “Santa Baby”, “I Want to be Evil”, and “Love for Sale”. She made her Broadway debut in the revue Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952. She received her first Tony nomination in 1955 for her role in the play Mrs. Patterson.
Kitt made the jump from stage to screen, starring in The Mark of the Hawk (1957), St.Louis Blues (1958) and Anna Lucasta (1959). In the 1960’s she joined the cast of Batman as Catwoman, taking over the role from Julie Newmar. Her Catwoman was became a pop culture icon, as was her trademark growl.
In 1968 Kitt was invited to attend a luncheon at the White House with Lady Bird Johnson. While there she spoke out against the Vietnam War. Her career took a hit, and Kitt was blacklisted in the United States. She continued performed overseas during this time.
Kitt staged a US comeback in 1974 with a concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1978 she was cast as the lead in the Broadway show Timbuktu, and received a Tony nomination for her role. Eartha Kitt continued to work until the end of her life. She received her third Tony nomination for her role as Delores in the 2001 production of The Wild Party. In 2003 she played Lilane Le Fleur in the revival of Nine, the Musical.
On screen Kitt voiced YZMA in the animated film The Emperor’s New Groove. She reprised the role in the sequel and popular children’s TV series. Eartha Kitt passed away on December 25th, 2008, and left behind an extraordinary legacy.