I was planning on saying something about some of the very talented people who’ve died this year, but I think that one that I’m the most upset about right now is Eartha Kitt.
The woman, whom Orson Welles called “the most exciting woman in the world,” died on Christmas day, losing a long fight with colon cancer at 81 years old. It’s painfully ironic that that was the day she died since one of the many things she was known for was her 1953 song, “Santa Baby,” a song that’s probably been covered a million times since then. It’s the exact opposite of a present.
If you don’t recognize her almost feline from the role of Catwoman on the 1960s Batman show, a role she took over from Julie Newmar. Now, I should say that to me, Julie Newmar was Catwoman in that show, that she was just perfect and so incredibly sexy in that role, and to me, she’ll just always be Catwoman in my head to a certain degree because she was my first notion of that role realized (kind of like how the first James Bond or Doctor Who or Star Trek incarnation you encounter is the one you feel belongs to you), but I can’t stress nearly enough that Eartha Kitt was equally perfect in the role. She was the perfect embodiment of strong without losing a kind of feminine softness and purringly seductive and as you were watching her, despite the horriblly camp writing, you were equally terrified and kind of secretly hoping to get her claws in you.
And mind you, that was the 60s to, which doesn’t seem that long ago today, but when you think about how horrible the state of civil rights was back then, it feels like it was hundred of years ago. And there was an incredibly talented woman, a product of mixed race rape by the son of an owner of a southern plantation, rising up to a role of serious prominence in a major television franchise. And what I loved about her taking over that role was that no one stopped to say, “Hey, isn’t there something a little different about Catwoman all of a sudden?” No, because once Earth Kitt pounced onto the set in her sexy black catsuit and domino mask, she owned the place.
I was mesmerized to a certain degree from the first time I saw and heard Eartha Kitt sing, which was, of course, her song “I Want To Be Evil,” but in my life I’ve been lucky enough to know three different women who’s not only sung the song for me, but acted it out. And if you know the song (and if you don’t, you will in a moment), it’s a song that really has to be performed. Seeing this performed by Miss Kitt as a kid was amazing, just to see a woman in such command of music and performance with a song that was sweet and innocent and tough and naive and knowledgeable and self deprecating and beautiful all at once. Long story short, it changed my life, and it’s incredibly sad to know that the person responsible for it is no longer on the planet with us.