Eartha Kitt passed yesterday, December 25, at the age of 81. She had fought a long battle with colon cancer. Kitt was a star of recording, stage, and screen, perhaps best known for singing the holiday standard "Santa Baby."
Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on Jan. 17, 1927 in North, South Carolina. She was born outside marriage to a mother of Cherokee and African American descent and a father of German and Dutch descent. When she was eight years old she was sent to live with her Aunt Marnie Kitt in Harlem. While young she was given both piano and dance lessons. Her career in show business started on a dare, when a friend dared her to try out for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. She passed the audition and so began her long career in entertainment. Kitt would make her debut on Broadway in Carib Song in 1945. With the Katherine Dunham Dance Company she would make her film debut in Casbah in 1948. She would also appear on Broadway in Bal Negre in 1946.
Kitt would leave New York to play in cabarets in Paris. There she first sang the songs "C'est Si Bon" and "Love for Sale," both of which would become identified with her. Upon returning from Paris she was cast in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952. In 1953 she would have two albums released, RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt and Bad Eartha. That year would also include her the biggest hit of her career, "Santa Baby." When New Faces of 1952 was adapted to the screen as New Faces (released in 1954), "Santa Baby" was included along with the songs from the original Broadway revue.
It was also in 1953 that Eartha Kitt would make her debut on television, with an appearance on The Red Buttons Show. She would go onto appear on Your Show of Shows, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Nat King Cole Show, What's My Line, The Ed Sullivan Show, Burke's Law, Ben Casey, I Spy, and Batman (on which she took over the role of Catwoman from Julie Newmar). In movies Kitt appeared in The Mark of the Hawk, St. Louis Blues, Anna Lucasta, Synanon, Friday Foster, Erik the Viking, Harriet the Spy, and Holes. She was the voice of Yzma in both the movie The Emperor's New Groove and the animated TV series The Emperor's New School.
On Broadway Eartha Kitt appeared in Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley, Jolly's Progress, Timbuktu, The Wild Party, and Nine. She would also tour with The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella. More recently she would regularly appear in Manhattan cabaret. Kitt also continued recording for her whole career, released such albums as Down to Eartha, Bad But Beautiful, Thinking Jazz, and She's So Good.
Eartha Kitt was one of the last of the multimedia stars, appearing on stage, in the movies, and on television, all the while maintaining a recording career. There can be little wonder as to why. Eartha Kitt was talented as both an actress and a singer. What is more, she simply oozed with sex appeal, to the point that critics not only labelled her a "sex kitten," but Orson Welles called her 'the most exciting woman alive." Indeed, it must be pointed out that while many have covered "Santa Baby (including Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift), no one ever matched Kitt's sultry tones. Kitt was also tireless as a performer. She continued to perform well into her Seventies. Even after she learned she had colon cancer, she opened New York City's Cafe Carlyle in 2006. In the whole of show business history Eartha Kitt was unique. It is doubtful we will ever see her like again.
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