Eartha Kitt Never Knew About Her Origins
In life, there are certain privileges that so many people take for granted, such as knowing your parents and your birthday, which a young Eartha Kitt didn’t have the luxury of experiencing, according to The Guardian.
Born in South Carolina in the 1920s and raised in poverty, Kitt’s early days were shrouded in a thick cloud of mystery that she’d never quite penetrate. What happened, to her best understanding , was that she was the product of a white plantation owner’s son raping her black mother, Anna Mae. Anna Mae raised Kitt in her first few years but never told her when she was born or who her father was, and this subject would pain Kitt throughout her life. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1998, when she was 71 years old, that she’d finally be able to lay eyes on her own birth certificate a process that necessitated a massive, protracted legal battle on her part and even then, the authorities chose to black out the name of her father, leaving him forever unknown.
As Eartha’s daughter, Kitt Shapiro, would later write, the South Carolina authorities were still “protecting” the name of white plantation owner, even at the dawn of the 21st century, at the cost of the mixed race daughter he sired.
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The only daughter of Kitt, Shapiro, who admits she has been criticized for ‘white passing’ recalled a trip to a South African theme park.
I was allowed to be there, and not questioned and when I came with my mother, she was asked to leave, because it was a whites only park, she shared,
Shapiro said she couldn’t understand at the time why her mother left without causing a scene.
“She didnt react, because she knew at some point she would be able to hopefully make a difference given that she had some fame and notoriety,” Shapiro said. “When the owner of that park found out what happened, he was very embarrassed. She said ‘We would like you to contribute to this charity that were doing to build schools for Africa children, as well as my daughter would love to come back with some of her friends.'”
When Kitt and Shapiro returned to the park, they brought a large group of mixed-race children with them.
“Did she affect huge change in the country at the time? No, but she knew it takes just enough small impacts to make big changes, Shapiro said.
Eartha Kitt Was The Catwoman Of Her Era
Between “Santa Baby” and Broadway, Eartha Kitt’s popularity was a game changer, as she was a black woman who commanded the stage, the radio, and the TV screen whenever she appeared. Of course, one of Kitt’s most immortal roles will forever be that of Catwoman, the famed Batman villain whom she portrayed in the classic Adam West series of the ’60s. Kitt was the third actress to portray the leather-clad femme fatale, but as ComicsVerse argues, she was the Catwoman that mattered most.
Her portrayal was smart, sleek, and intelligent, electrifying the screen whenever she appeared, and she regularly outsmarted the dynamic duo at every turn. Kitt’s version of Selina Kyle has continued to influence portrayals of the iconic character, and her casting as a woman of color, playing a role traditionally considered white charted the course for the casting of future Catwoman performers like Halle Berry in 2004’s Catwoman, and Zoe Kravitz in 2021’s The Batman.
As amazing as Kitt’s Catwoman was, though, it’s important to remember that her legacy runs far deeper than that. In her time, as Vice explains, she was a subversive role model when it came to feminism, civil rights, and sex positivity. Looking back, when it comes to these achievements, she can rightfully be considered an icon.
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Eartha Kitt’s Harlem Days
When Eartha Mae Keith was eight years old, her life started to take a different direction. After the death of her mother, the young girl was sent to live with her New York City “aunt,” Marnie Kitt, according to The New York Times. And later, the singer came to believe that this woman might’ve secretly been her true, biological mother. Eartha took Marnie’s surname, going from Keith to Kitt, and in contrast to the cotton-picking demanded of her in South Carolina, her new life involved piano lessons, dance lessons, and according to Biography, an enrollment in the New York School of Performing Arts.
This portrait, sadly, wasn’t as rosy as it first looked. As with all of the previous adult figures in Kitt’s life, Marnie eventually became abusive to her. Kitt fell into a cycle of being beaten, running away from home, and then returning. This pattern reoccurred until she was a teenager, at which point she left Marnie’s home for good, becoming homeless. During this time, as she worked in a New York factory, she would sleep on rooftops or in the subway.
Why Was Eartha Kitt Blacklisted
Eartha Kitt was blacklisted after she publicly criticized the Vietnam War at a 1968 White House luncheon in the presence of the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Her career in the U.S. went into a severe decline. In the 1970s it began to recover after news surfaced that she had been subjected to U.S. Secret Service surveillance.
Eartha Kitt, in full Eartha Mae Kitt, , American singer and dancer noted for her sultry vocal style and slinky beauty who also achieved success as a dramatic stage and film actress.
Kitt was the daughter of a Cherokee and Black mother and an white father she never knew, and from the age of eight she grew up with relatives in an ethnically diverse section of Harlem, New York City. At 16 she joined Katherine Dunhams dance troupe and toured the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe. When the Dunham company returned to the United States, the multilingual Kitt stayed in Paris, where she won immediate popularity as a nightclub singer. She made her acting debut as Helen of Troy in Time Runs, an Orson Wellesadaptation of Faust, in 1950. With her appearance in the Broadway revue Leonard Sillmans New Faces of 1952 and with early 1950s recordings such as Cest Si Bon, Santa Baby, and I Want to Be Evil, Kitt became a star.
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Final Years And Death
Throughout her adult life, Kitt had a tremendous work ethic. She kept up a busy work schedule well into her 70s. In 2000, Kitt netted a Tony Award nomination for her work in The Wild Party with Toni Collette. She picked up a Daytime Emmy Award for her vocal performance on the animated children’s series The Emperor’s New School that same year, and again in 2007.
For many years, Kitt performed her cabaret act at New York’s Cafe Carlyle. She continued to wow audiences as she had so many decades before, when she was the toast of Paris. With her voice, charm and sex appeal, Kitt knew how to win over a crowd.
Kitt learned that she had colon cancer in 2006, a disease that ended up taking her life on December 25, 2008.
Eartha Kitt Was Blacklisted By The Cia
In 1968, Eartha Kitt was furious about the messed-up war in Vietnam. So when she was invited to a special White House luncheon held by Lady Bird Johnson, according to The Telegraph, she decided to speak out. While watching white woman after white woman give placid speeches regarding “flower pots on the windowsills of poverty,” according to Vice, Kitt repeatedly raised her hand to speak and was ignored until the end. Finally, she stood atop her chair, faced the 41 polite dinner guests surrounding her, and said, “I have lived in the gutters. That’s why I know what I’m talking about. You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. … They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”
This speech reportedly caused Lady Bird Johnson to break down in tears, but after Kitt left the White House, the CIA got to work. The agency assembled documents, on the request of the president, full of gossip and hearsay regarding the celebrity, which accused her of being a “sadistic nymphomaniac.” The CIA used this dossier to sling mud at Kitt’s reputation, making it impossible for her to find work. Venues and contracts were lost. The gossip grew louder. This smear campaign forced her to leave the country, in search of jobs in Europe.
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Catwoman And Controversial Comments
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. Her popularity took a significant hit after that, and she spent several years mostly performing abroad.
In 1978, Kitt enjoyed a career renaissance with her performance on Broadway in Timbuktu!. She earned a Tony Award nomination for her role in the play, and received an invitation to the White House by President Jimmy Carter. In 1984, Kitt returned to the music charts with “Where Is My Man.” She continued to win acclaim for her music, including scoring a Grammy Award nomination for 1994’s Back in Business.
Eartha Kitt’s Overseas Journey And Later Career
After running afoul of Lyndon B. Johnson and the CIA, Eartha Kitt was driven into exile. However, while the U.S. government had tried to end her career, she’d never been one to give up or stay quiet. Going to Europe, she went on tour across over 100 countries, singing in 12 languages, and continuing to work steadily. According to The Guardian, Kitt’s daughter even went to school in London, to the point where she now considers England like a second home.
Kitt worked this way for a decade, but according to The New York Times, the late ’70s saw her make a huge U.S. comeback. She returned to Broadway to star in Timbuktu!, earning her first Tony Award nomination. President Jimmy Carter personally invited her back to the White House as an apology for her past treatment. And after that, she never slowed down. She created dance music in the ’80s and wrote three autobiographies, including I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten. She earned a second Tony nomination for The Wild Party musical, a Grammy nomination for her cabaret collection Back in Business, and she nabbed two Daytime Emmy Awards in the 2000s for her voice acting role as Yzma in The Emperor’s New School. Kitt continued taking risks, challenging the status quo, and trying new roles well into her elderly years.
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What Was Eartha Kitt Known For
After success performing in nightclubs, Eartha Kitt made her acting debut in Orson Welless Time Runs in 1950. Her appearance in the Broadway revue Leonard Sillmans New Faces of 1952 and her early 1950s recordings secured her stardom. Notable television roles included Catwoman in the 1960s series Batman and the voice of Yzma in the childrens television program The Emperors New School.
Throughout Her Life Kitt Carried The Scars Of Her Past With Pride They Made Her The Woman She Became
“The father’s name was blacked out,” Shapiro recalled of the emotional moment. “My mother shed a few tears, and then the 15 minutes were up.”
At the time of Kitt’s birth, if a man wasn’t married to the woman he impregnated, it was illegal for his name to appear on the birth certificate. Not to mention that interracial relationships were penalized as well, and mixed children were treated like scum.
Kitt was appalled by the fact that seven decades later, the law was still protecting a white man who probably abused a black woman, even though he was dead.
She mentioned once that she had to start another legal process to learn her father’s identity, but that never came to fruition, according to Shapiro, who said:
“The courts still held it as legal to withhold the documentation. We were amazed. My mother assumed it was their dirty little secret.”
EARTHA KITT’S DAUGHTER
Throughout all of her life, Kitt considered herself an orphan. So, when the time came for her to have her own family, the singer was more than happy to offer all the love and attention that she lacked to her only daughter.
Shapiro became the center of Kitt’s life they were inseparable from the moment Shapiro was born. Although their relationship was an enviable one, it also dabbed on the toxic side at times, especially when Shapiro was a teenager.
“I remember thinking in that moment, as horrifying and as difficult as that was, thinking ‘wow, she really was born a fighter and a survivor,'” Shapiro admitted.
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The White House Incident
In January 1968, during Lyndon B. Johnson‘s administration, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt was asked by First LadyLady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:
The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson we raise children and send them to war.
She Was A Lifelong Advocate For Civil Rights
Eartha Kitt is often remembered for her showbiz work, and while that was her career, her legacy is defined by so much more than that. From early on, Kitt was a big supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and while she and Dr. Martin Luther King weren’t close, they did exchange letters of mutual admiration. She was also connected to Malcolm X, and though she expressed that they had some ideological differences, they oncecame together to speak at a rally event put together by Jackie Robinson following a church bombing in 1963. Her last encounter with Malcolm X was the Sunday before his death.
According to the National Visionary Leadership Project, Kitt often used her fame to advocate for social justice causes. During the ’60s, her contracts strictly required that, for any performance she gave, the audience couldn’t be segregated. If she got there and they were, she would send a “bus boy” out to integrate the audience before she went onstage. In later years, according to Black History in America, Kitt fervently championed the cause of LGBTQ+ rights and same-sex marriage.
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Eartha Kitts Daughter Shares Her Moms Story In New Book
Kitt captivated audiences in the U.S. for nearly six decades with her iconic voice and beauty. Once dubbed the most exciting woman in the world, the Emmy winner and Tony and Grammy nominee was most proud of her daughter.
She was always a mother first, Shapiro said. She was proudest of me and I dont say that in an egotistical way.
Though Kitt passed on Christmas Day in 2008 from colon cancer, Shapriro said the lessons she learned from her mother starting at a young age have stuck, particularly when it comes to race.
She felt that boxes keep you apart, Kitt shared of her mother, who faced racism because of her mixed-race heritage. She didnt understand why it was necessary to be categorized as gospel or jazz, because she was Black.
Shapiro explained that her mother didnt feel the need to pigeonhole or categorize people.
“When you ask questions of others and you learn about their beliefs and their traditions, then you have the ability to have more compassion,” she said. “Were all on this planet…and entitled to be here. We dont have the right to treat each other differently just because of the color of our skin.”
Shapiro Revealed That Her Mother Had Passed Away Without Knowing Her White Father’s Identity
The snap saw Shapiro dressed in an orange-colored winter jacket, which she paired with a beanie and sunglasses. On the other hand, Rachel opted for a cream-colored coat with a green beanie while Jason looked handsome in an all-black winter outfit.
With Rachel cozying up to her mom, and Jason standing right next to them, the trio smiled as they posed for the camera. While adding a caption, Shapiro wrote: “A mom and her babes. What’s not to love. ?”
Shapiro was born in 1961 to iconic African American singer, Eartha Kitt, and her ex-husband, John William McDonald, who was white.
Interestingly, rather than being a mixed child, as in most cases of biracial marriages, Shapiro was born white and even had blonde hair. She looked nothing like her mother.
In a 2014 blog post titled“Why don’t you look like your mother,” written by Shapiro, she discussed how Eartha had taught her to always be confident in her skin despite the racial identity conflict that might arise.
Eartha perhaps taught Shapiro this critical life lesson because she struggled with trying to find out about her paternal ancestry.
Following Eartha’s death, Shapiro revealed that her mother had passed away without knowing the identity of her white father.
Born in the tiny hamlet of St Matthew’s, South Carolina, Eartha grew up searching for her father after being abandoned by her mother at an early age.