Best Known For
Singer and actress Eartha Kitt is best known for her holiday song "Santa Baby," and for playing Catwoman in the 1960's TV show Batman.
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Born in 1927 South Carolina, Eartha Kitt became popular in Paris as a nightclub singer, then returned to the U.S. to appear in films and on Broadway. Her 1953 recording of "Santa Baby" is still a favorite today. In the 1960s, Kitt had a recurring role as Catwoman on TV's Batman, but her career waned after she criticized the Vietnam War during a luncheon with Lady Bird Johnson.
Born in North, South Carolina, famed singer and actress Eartha Kitt had a difficult childhood. Her mother abandoned her, and she was left in the care of relatives who mistreated her. Kitt was often teased and picked on because of her mixed-race heritage—her father was white, and her mother was African-American and Cherokee.
Around the age of 8, Kitt moved to New York City to live with an aunt. There, she eventually enrolled in the New York School of Performing Arts. Around the age of 16, Kitt won a scholarship to study with Katherine Dunham, and later joined Dunham's dance troupe. She toured with the group for several years before going solo. In Paris, Kitt became a popular nightclub singer. She was discovered in Europe by actor-director Orson Welles. Welles, who reportedly called her "the most exciting woman alive," cast her as Helen of Troy in his production of Dr. Faustus.
Kitt became a rising star with her appearance in the Broadway review New Faces of 1952. In the production, she sang "Monotonous." Her performance helped launch her music career with the release of her first album in 1954. The recording featured such signature songs as "I Want To Be Evil" and "C'est Si Bon," as well as the perennially holiday classic "Santa Baby."
On the big screen, Kitt starred opposite Nat "King" Cole in the W. C. Handy biopic St. Louis Blues (1958). She netted her one and only Academy Award nomination the following year, for her role as the title character in Anna Lucasta. In the film, Kitt plays a sassy young woman who is forced to use her womanly wiles to survive. She stars opposite Sammy Davis Jr.
In the late 1960s, Kitt played one of her most famous parts—the villainous vixen "Catwoman." She took over the role, on the TV series Batman, from Julie Newmar. Remarkably, Kitt only played Catwoman on a handful of episodes of the short-lived campy crime show, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, but she made the role her own with her lithe, cat-like frame and her distinctive voice. The series found a second life in reruns, and it remains on the air today.
Known for being blunt and short-tempered at times, Kitt found herself in a media firestorm in 1968. She attended a luncheon on the subject on juvenile delinquency and crime hosted by Lady Bird Johnson at the White House. At the event, Kitt shared her thoughts on the matter, telling the First Lady that "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed," according to the Washington Post. "No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." Her remarks against the Vietnam War offended Johnson, and made headlines.
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