I was a big fan of the Batman TV show back when it was on in the Sixties. As my hormones were just starting to roil, I looked forward to the episodes where The Caped Crusaders matched wits with Catwoman. If you’ve read the comics, you know that there’s a “thing” between Batman and Catwoman (they hate each other, and yet are attracted to each other), and this was being played out on the show. That all changed in the third season, when Julie Newmar was no longer available to play the part and was replaced by Eartha Kitt, our featured artist today. The relationship changed: while Eartha did a superb job of playing Catwoman (perhaps because her catlike persona onstage as a singer was a perfect match for the character), there was no longer the spark; they hated each other. I realize now that was a sign of the times: TV stations all over the country, particularly in the South, would refuse to show any program that showed an attraction between a white man and a black woman. It just wasn’t done. Sad, too: I’d have liked to have seen that.
Ms. Kitt had a tough life. She was born out-of-wedlock, a child of rape (she was part African American, part Cherokee, and part white) and her mother gave her up when she was nine. She moved to Harlem, and dropped out of high school at 15 to work in a factory, living in friends’ homes and in the subway. But, by the Fifties, she had become the toast of Europe, dancing with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe and singing in Paris nightclubs. She came back to the US, but ended up returning to Europe after she spoke out against the Vietnam war at a luncheon given by Lady Byrd Johnson in 1968, saying “I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my gut. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”
Ms. Kitt recorded “C’est Si Bon” in 1953 with Henri Rene and his Orchestra. Even though Jerry Seelen wrote English lyrics for it, she sang it in French. This was a Top Ten hit for her in 1953.
Ms. Kitt was a real performer, not content to simply stand there and sing all the time. This rendition of “I Want To Be Evil” is an example of her style, and shows just how perfect she was for the Catwoman part.
Eartha Kitt died of colon cancer on Christmas Day 2008, a couple of weeks shy of her 82nd birthday, leaving behind an impressive body of work in film, the stage, and in recordings.
Eartha Kitt, your Two for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.