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Eartha Kitt

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Also Known As: Eartha Mae Keith-Fields, Eartha Mae Keith Died: December 25, 2008
Born: January 17, 1927 Cause of Death: colon cancer
Birth Place: North, South Carolina, USA Profession: singer, actor, dancer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Eartha Kitt was a glamor figure of Hollywood's golden age, with a career that extended into the 2000s. She was born on a South Carolina cotton plantation and was apparently a mixed-race child; it was rumored that her father was the son of the plantation's owner and had conceived her by rape. She entered the Katherine Dunham Company of singer/dancers in her late teens, her elegant beauty standing out from the start. She became an accomplished cabaret singer and scored her first hit with the Cole Porter song, "Let's Do It." She was discovered in 1950 by Orson Welles who cast her as Helen of Troy in his staging of Doctor Faustus; this began a long string of film, television and nightclub work. The 1954 film "New Faces" was her first screen success, and spawned a vinyl EP that included her two signature songs: "C'est Si Bon" (the first U.S. hit version of the French pop standard) and "Santa Baby," the playfully vampish Christmas song that remained a seasonal fixture decades later. Her fame grew in the '60s with a recurring roles in "Batman" (ABC 1966-68) (where she took over the Catwoman role from Julie Newmar) and guest-starring roles in other popular series and her own TV variety special in 1967....

Eartha Kitt was a glamor figure of Hollywood's golden age, with a career that extended into the 2000s. She was born on a South Carolina cotton plantation and was apparently a mixed-race child; it was rumored that her father was the son of the plantation's owner and had conceived her by rape. She entered the Katherine Dunham Company of singer/dancers in her late teens, her elegant beauty standing out from the start. She became an accomplished cabaret singer and scored her first hit with the Cole Porter song, "Let's Do It." She was discovered in 1950 by Orson Welles who cast her as Helen of Troy in his staging of Doctor Faustus; this began a long string of film, television and nightclub work. The 1954 film "New Faces" was her first screen success, and spawned a vinyl EP that included her two signature songs: "C'est Si Bon" (the first U.S. hit version of the French pop standard) and "Santa Baby," the playfully vampish Christmas song that remained a seasonal fixture decades later. Her fame grew in the '60s with a recurring roles in "Batman" (ABC 1966-68) (where she took over the Catwoman role from Julie Newmar) and guest-starring roles in other popular series and her own TV variety special in 1967. However she stirred controversy in 1968 for speaking out against the Vietnam War when invited to a White House lunch by President Lyndon Johnson. She was investigated by the CIA and effectively blackballed from U.S. film and TV work for years afterward, though she had success in London's West End where she starred both in the musical Follies and a later one-women show. In 1976 she made a triumphant Broadway return in the musical Timbuktu!, which earned her a Tony nomination. Her next comeback came in the disco era, when she had a hit with "Where Is My Man" and a Bronski Beat collaboration, "Cha-Cha Heels," both of which led to her being embraced as an icon by the gay community. She later became an advocate for LGBT rights and a regular at fundraisers. She continued to tread the boards in the next two decades, returning to London for a Follies revival in the late '80s and touring America as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz during the '90s while also making annual cabaret appearances in New York. A performer to the end, she returned to the UK for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2008, releasing a DVD of the performance. She died on colon cancer on Christmas of that year, in her Connecticut home.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
3.
4.
 Holes (2003)
8.
 Ill Gotten Gains (1997) Voice Of
9.
 Harriet the Spy (1996)
10.
 Unzipped (1995)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

2006:
Co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical "Mimi le Duck"
1955:
Earliest TV appearances include a guest spot on the NBC variety special, "Show Biz"
1957:
Film acting debut, "Mark of the Hawk"; also sang the song, "This Man Is Mine"
1952:
Gained notice for her work in the Broadway revue, "New Faces of 1952"
2000:
Provided the voice for the villainess Yzma in the Disney animated comedy "The Emperor's New Groove"
2003:
Replaced Chita Rivera as Liliane in "Nine" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre
2000:
Returned to Broadway as co-star of the musical "The Wild Party"; received Tony nomination
1965:
Returned to features to play a role in "Synanon"
1988:
Appeared on the London stage as Carlotta Campion in the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical "Follies"
1986:
Began acting more regularly in features with her role in "The Serpent Warriors"
1958:
First top-billed acting role in a feature, "Anna Lucasta"
1975:
Returned again to features to play a role in "Friday Foster"
1972:
TV-movie debut, "Lieutenant Schuster's Wife"
1993:
Acted in the USA Network's action fantasy series, "Matrix"
2007:
Appeared in the independent film "And Then Came Love" opposite Vanessa L. Williams
1978:
First role in a miniseries, "To Kill a Cop" (NBC)
1992:
Had a supporting role as Lady Eloise in the hit film "Boomerang" starring Eddie Murphy
1945:
Made Broadway debut in "Blue Holiday"
1954:
Made film debut performing songs in the plotless musical comedy revue, "New Faces of 1952"
1968:
Played role of Catwoman in the ABC series "Batman"
1994:
Released first album in several decades, <i>Back in Business</i>
1978:
Returned to Broadway after two decades in "Timbuktu," a revised, all-black version of the musical, "Kismet"
1969:
Starred in the syndicated one-woman concert, "The Eartha Kitt Show"
1946:
Toured Europe in "Bal Negre" with the Katherine Dunham Troupe
2001:
Toured in a stage production of "Cinderella"
1981:
Was the subject of the documentary film, "All by Myself"
1951:
Appeared as Helen of Troy opposite Orson Welles in "Orson Welles' Faust"
1995:
Appeared in the Isaac Mizrahi documentary "Unzipped"
:
Began annual concert appearances in New York City's Cafe Carlyle in the 1990s
1943:
Joined the Katherine Dunham Company
1985:
Toured in the musical, "Blues in the Night," in the role of "Woman of the World"
2003:
Voiced Queen Vexus on the animated TV series "My Life as a Teenage Robot" (Nicktoons Network)
:
Known for such albums as "Miss Kitt To You" and "My Heart Belongs To Daddy"
:
Popular songs include "Santa Baby" and "This Is My Life".
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Education

P S 136: New York, New York -
The School of Performing Arts: New York, New York -

Notes

For years, Kitt was unaware of her actual date of birth due to her adoption, so she chose her own birthday, January 26. In 1997, fans tracked down her birth certificate which indicated she was born January 17, 1927.

"I wasn't black enough to be black or white enough to be white, so I had no race, creed or color. I made my own race--me." --Eartha Kitt quoted in New York Press August 7, 1991.

"How can you understand what I've been through? . . . I have no mother. I have been the victim of racism. Every time I perform I have to deal with the terror of the tremendous pain of rejection. And then my career was so successful and then I nearly lost it all." --Eartha Kitt quoted in The Daily Telegraph, June 26, 2000.

"If the audience had never loved me, I would never have become Eartha Kitt." --from The Daily Telegraph, June 26, 2000.

She was given the Golden Rose of Montreux for "Kaskade" (1962).

Kitt was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1968.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Arthur Loew Jr. Reportedly wanted to marry Kitt but his wealthy family opposed the union.
companion:
Charles Revson. Cosmetics executive.
husband:
William McDonald. Real-estate dealer. Married in June 1960; divorced; father of Kitt Shapiro.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Keith-Fields. Caucasian; Kitt did not know him.
mother:
Mamie Reily. Half-Cherokee, half-black; gave Kitt up to live with foster parents.
daughter:
Kitt Shapiro. Real estate broker. Worked as Kitt's business manager; as of 1990 lived in Greenburgh, Westchester, New York.
grandson:
Jason Marshall Shapiro. Father, Charles Shapiro; mother, Kitt Shapiro.
granddaughter:
Rachel Shapiro.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Thursday's Child"
"Alone With Me"
"I'm Still Here" Sidgwick & Jackson
"Rejuvenate!" Scribner
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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