Eartha Kitt Tim Geary And she's still performing her seductive routine, as Tim Geary discovered Win tickets to see Eartha Kitt and a night in a country house hotel The story began with what was most probably a rape.
It was in South Carolina in The victim was a cotton-picker: The man was white - the son, probably, of the cotton fields' owner. But the baby that was born, unwanted and unloved in , grew up to be a quite extraordinary artist, once described by Orson Welles as "the most exciting woman in the world" - the singer and actress, Eartha Kitt.
Now, 81 years later, Eartha Mae Kitt is still performing, having carried her audiences with her, from her stage debut in Paris in the s to the present day. The reason for such endurance, says Kitt, is that she has always given the people what they want.
When I started, I just stood there and looked out in absolute silence because everyone was talking and eating and I couldn't remember what the hell I'm supposed to be doing. But then the audience told me what they liked.
So I thought, I'd better keep doing that. And I still am! Famous for playing Catwoman in the beloved TV Batman of the late Sixties, Kitt has incorporated a feline mystique into her act. Stroke me, she urges - but watch out for my claws. Because her act is so camp and comic, with frequent intervals to joke with the crowd, it's easy to underestimate the subtlety of her song interpretations, the ease with which she sings in so many languages and the occasional delicacy she uses to break your heart.
Because Kitt is more than a cabaret singer. She's a stage actress whose three Tony nominations have been separated by 50 years. Legendary producer Ahmet Ertegun tried to transform her into, as she tells it, "the biggest blues singer in the world". More recently, Kitt has given her voice to such characters as Yzma in Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, and she continues to sell out cabaret clubs on both sides of the Atlantic.
But this juggernaut of a career might never have started rolling. After the poverty and humiliation of life in South Carolina, where Kitt was neither white enough for the whites nor black enough for the blacks "I was just called 'yella girl', which is worse than nigger" , Kitt was finally abandoned by her mother at the age of six or seven. She was sent to Harlem, "to live with someone who may have been my aunt or maybe she was my mother.
I was considered an ugly duckling. I had bushy brownish red hair and freckles and I was just this shy outcast, so shy I wouldn't even talk. So my teacher made me learn this long poem and sent me to audition at the New York School of Performing Arts.
And I got a full scholarship. And that was all by accident, on a friend's dare. Soon, she says, "the newspapers were picking me out of the company. Dunham was so jealous. She told me, 'I'm the queen of this beehive! If I see you with any of your men, you're fired! In , Orson Welles cast her as Helen of Troy in his Parisian production of Dr Faustus, famously calling her "the most exciting woman in the world". The two were rumoured to be lovers, which Kitt denies.
He was a genius, but he needed a lot of discipline. When he was directing, he needed someone to control. But he couldn't control himself. And James was like that, too. He had something in him that he didn't understand. I was in a play and he'd just done his first film so we were both becoming known at that time. It was a good time. Although she calls herself "dangerously shy, so much that people think I must be a snob because I don't even talk to them", the Kitt of the Fifties wore enough of her sensuality offstage to attract a string of high-powered lovers.
Even Albert Einstein, to whose office she went in Princeton, was, Kitt remembers, "excited to meet me. Although probably because his secretary told him I was one of the hottest things around!
The man I wanted to be the father of my daughter was [cinema magnate] Arthur Loew Jr, but his mother said, 'I'll shoot him in the foot before he marries a brown-skinned woman. She even continues to love the country that blacklisted her following comments she made against the Vietnam War in response to a question at a Ladies Lunch with Lady Bird Johnson.
For eight years she lived abroad, much of the time in England, before being welcomed back by Jimmy Carter to the White House in It gives me strength. Maybe I'll cry because I've been insulted or hurt, but I have to laugh because - nyah-nyah-nyah - I'm still here! She's smaller than her persona, both physically and in manner.
She is relaxed and mild-mannered when you would expect her to be exuberant and self-centred. She is engaged and engaging, quick to laugh, keen to make one feel welcome. And, at a sprightly 81, dressed in tight blue jeans with black shoes that seem small enough to be a child's, she remains striking without make-up or, notably, plastic surgery.
She eats foods that give her energy and exercises in moderation, walking with weights and stretching those legs she loves to show off. I wonder, then, how the ugly duckling feels now that she is a swan? I don't think I've ever thought of it as being me. I can go into being Eartha Kitt once I have the make-up and wigs and eyelashes, but very often I don't think of myself as being anything but a character in a fairyland.
And I don't mind not knowing who I am so long as I keep trying to find out. It's been a wonderful, exciting journey and I never want to come to the end of it. Eartha Kitt, meanwhile, plays two shows, on April 28 — the opening night — and April