Everyone’s favorite Catwoman, Eartha Kitt, died yesterday. (Did you know she only appeared as Catwoman three times?) She was 81. Her life’s story sounds like a work of fiction. She was born in South Carolina to a part-black, part-Cherokee woman who had been raped by a white plantation owner. Her mother gave her up at age eight to relatives in Harlem. Eartha ran away from them at 15 and spent some time living in the subways. Then she joined a dance troup and, like many other black entertainers of the era, found freedom of expression in Paris. She began cutting records with Henri Rene’s orchestra and cultivated the sultry, kittenish persona for which she would become famous. (Many of those early records were in French and English; ultimately, she would sing in 10 languages.)
Echoes of her teasing style, like “Santa Baby” and “C’est Si Bon”, can be found in all sorts of places, such as the semi-naughty Christmas songs of Kay Martin, and in Blazing Saddles‘ Lili Von Shtupp.
I was going to post a few MP3 songs made from her old 78s, but all but one are easily found elsewhere. Instead, I decided to post this YouTube video of a 1962 television performance of one of my favorite Eartha songs, “I Want to be Evil”. One of the reasons I chose this particular video is that you can tell she’s just having a carefree ball with it, and that’s how I want to remember her.