Eartha Kitt

By:Marie McAden


South Carolina native Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt

Name: Eartha Kitt

Born: Jan. 17, 1927

Died: Dec. 25, 2008

Background/Significance:  Eartha Kitt was a recording artist, dancer, actress and cabaret star. Actor-director Orson Welles once called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”

Ostracized at an early age because of her mixed-race heritage, Kitt overcame her difficult and impoverished childhood to win a scholarship at the age of 16 with the famed Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe. After several years touring with the group, she became a nightclub singer in Paris, where Welles discovered her. He was so taken with her talent that he cast her as Helen of Troy in his fabled 1950 production of “Dr. Faust.”

Two years later, she starred in the Broadway revue “New Faces of 1952.” Her show-stopping performance of “Monotonous” led to more work in theater, film and television and a succession of best-selling records, including “C’est Si Bon,” “Love for Sale” and the electrifying “I Want to Be Evil.” Her vampish version of “Santa Baby” remains a Christmas favorite today.

But it was her role as “Catwoman” in the television series “Batman” that immortalized her as a beguiling sex kitten.

After being blacklisted for making anti-war statements at a White House luncheon in 1968, Kitt moved to Europe where she lived and worked for the next 10 years. She made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1978, earning a Tony nomination for her performance in “Timbuktu.” She garnered a second nomination in 2000 for her role in “The Wild Party.”

For years, she performed at the Café Carlyle, selling out shows in the Manhattan jazz club. The versatile star also provided the voice for Yzma in Disney’s animated film, “The Emperor’s New Groove,” as well as the TV series, “The Emperor’s New School.”

Kitt died on Christmas Day in 2008 at the age of 81.

South Carolina connection: Kitt was born on a cotton farm in North, the illegitimate child of a half-black, half-Native American woman and a white man. Her father deserted the family when Kitt was a young child, leaving them in abject poverty. At age 8, she was taken in by an aunt in Harlem. It was there she got her first break in show business.

She knew little about her family or when she was born until 1997 when she returned to South Carolina to perform a benefit concert at Benedict College in Columbia. Students at the school tracked down her long-lost birth certificate and presented her with it, along with a key to the town of North.

Discover more: To learn more aboutEartha Kitt, visit her official website at

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