Thursday, December 25, 2008

Exit Sex Kitten, Stage Left

This is both sad and ironic news for Christmas Day: Singer and actress Eartha Kitt, whose renditions of the song “Santa Baby” were likely heard millions of times today, has died of colon cancer. She was 81 years old.

As The New York Times recalls:
Ms. Kitt, who began performing as a dancer in New York in the late ’40s, went on to achieve success and acclaim in a variety of mediums long before other entertainment multitaskers like Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was also, along with Lena Horne, among the first widely known African-American sex symbols. Orson Welles famously proclaimed her “the most exciting woman alive” in the early ’50s, apparently just after that excitement prompted him to bite her onstage during a performance of “Time Runs,” an adaptation of “Faust” in which Ms. Kitt played Helen of Troy.

Ms. Kitt’s career-long persona, that of the seen-it-all sybarite, was set when she performed in Paris cabarets in her early 20s, singing songs that became her signatures like “C’est Si Bon” and “Love for Sale.” Returning to New York, she was cast on Broadway in “New Faces of 1952” and added another jewel to her vocal crown, “Monotonous” (“Traffic has been known to stop for me/Prices even rise and drop for me/Harry S. Truman plays bop for me/Monotonous, monotone-ous”). Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times in May 1952, “Eartha Kitt not only looks incendiary, but she can make a song burst into flame.”
Among Kitt’s performance credits are roles in Burke’s Law, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, and Miami Vice. However, I probably remember her best as one of two women (Julie Newmar being the other) who played Catwoman on the 1960s series Batman. A purr-fect part for the sultry Kitt, whose last name suggested feline affinities.

Since it’s so incredibly apropos for this holiday, here’s Eartha Kitt’s rendition of “Santa Baby.” How could the fat man in the red suit have resisted her charms?

(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)

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