Memories Of Eartha
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
December 29, 2008
She was sexy. She was seductive. She was talented. She was confident.
She was Eartha.
I have three distinct memories of Eartha Kitt, who passed away on Christmas Day at age 81.
The first was back in the 1970's on re-runs of the 1960's television series "Batman". Ms. Kitt was clad in that leather skin-tight outfit, a feline foe of the Caped Crusader of Gotham City, as Catwoman -- a frisky fantasy of mine, despite purring as the bad gal villain. Even so, I always wanted her to win the day against Batman and Robin, and if looks and sex appeal alone were the variables of power and might, Ms. Kitt's Catwoman would have won every day of the week.
The next memory was of my walking alongside her in New York City in 2005 as several journalists and fans crowded her and shook her hand and wished her well as she walked towards her car in 2005 following the funeral of Ossie Davis at the Riverside Church in Harlem. Unlike her Catwoman character she was unmasked but was no less sprightly, looking exactly as she does below in a 2007 photo. She smiled politely at local well-wishers, saying no words except quiet thank yous. I knew then (as did the well-wishers) that she wasn't well -- or rather, I could see that she didn't look well -- even though she was the same lean, diminutive lady that I had seen many times on television way back when.
I had heard her unmistakable voice in a New York City taxicab over the course of several years too, when she urged passengers in a recording to "buckle up . . . grrraaawwlll!" That raspy, sexy voice was penetrating, even -- dare I say -- haunting, but in a real feel good way. Her voice -- it really hit your soul.
And when you saw her, those eyes -- her eyes alone could eat you up.
Devour you whole.
The third memory I have of Eartha was in 2006 when she performed in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. She was 80 years young then, and still looked like she was in her forties. I was there with my then-girlfriend, and for two hours I simply couldn't take my eyes off Eartha. She had that 5,000-strong audience eating out of the palm of her hand. That night she shook what the good Lord gave her. She sashayed. Those legs of hers. Sex goddess. Seductress. Beauty. Great entertainer. Her energy was unbelievable.
As I would later say that night, it was the best concert I had ever witnessed in person.
Eartha Kitt was born in South Carolina. She spoke four languages, sang in six, including in French for the famous song "C'est Si Bon". She and Edith Piaf were practically contemporaries and their voices sounded so similar. Except Ms. Kitt was a sex symbol, a far less tragic symbol despite suffering through some tough early hardships, a legend who for all her charm, seduction and skill on stage, film and television, never did get the kind of credit that surrounded Ms. Piaf and Marilyn Monroe. Ms. Kitt starred in a number of films alongside notable film idols like Sidney Poitier, and musicians such as Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis, Jr. and box office hit makers like Eddie Murphy. She won awards of numerous kinds, including an Emmy just last year. Ms. Kitt was an activist, outspoken against the Vietnam War, and in 1968 had let Lady Bird Johnson, the then-First Lady at the White House, know what she thought about the unpopular war: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot."
Eartha Kitt influenced many, including Madonna and Tina Turner, who is still rocking on in her 60's right now on tour. Ms. Kitt can be favorably compared with such showstoppers as Josephine Baker (whom like Ms. Kitt was exiled in Europe), Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and others. She was a siren.
Last Thursday, Christmas Day, Eartha Kitt died of colon cancer. I thought she could live forever.
And she will.
Eartha Kitt in 2007 (and at top, in 1960) (Photo: Judith Pszenica)
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