I feel a special connection t0 Eartha Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008). As a teenager, I remember walking in downtown Columbus, Ohio in the mid 70s and having two men in the same day tell me I looked like a young Earth Kitt--one man on the street and another in a shoe store. I couldn't relate at the time. Sadly, I don't think I had even laid eyes on Ms. Kitt. I only remember seeing her in later years when she performed, for example, in Eddie Murphy's 1992 film Boomerang. I was very young when she gained notoriety for her 1960s stint as cat woman in the Batman television series. And her career spanned more than 60 years.
As a high school student, Kitt developed a passion for reading and later enjoyed contemplating the works of philosophers such as Plato and Nietzsche. Kitt became interested in the Katherine Dunham Dance Company (the first African-American troupe to gain a major reputation in the world of ballet) after seeing them in a movie. Kitt gained an audition with Dunham and landed a spot with the troupe. In 1947 Kitt toured France and England with the Dunham Company earning rave reviews. She recalls being called a "beautiful creature" rather than a "beautiful woman." In about 1950, Kitt left Dunham's troupe and began performing in an upscale nightclub in Paris.
I remember my mother telling me that Ms. Kitt had been blackballed for speaking her mind about the Vietnam War while a guest at the White House when Lyndon Johnson was President in 1968. Kitt told Lady Bird Johnson that "" "When the people who are responsible for our country ask you a direct question, I expect them to accept a direct answer, not to be blackballed because you are telling the truth," Ms. Kitt would later say. When Ms. Kitt was blacklisted in the U.S., she found work in Europe, and would only be welcomed back in the US in the late seventies. She would also return to the White House to sing as the invited guest of President Jimmy Carter.
Other things Ms. Kitt said:
"We're not thought of in terms of color because we are entertainers. We are there to entertain you not because we are black, white, pink, or green or gay or straight or because we are Catholic or Protestant."
"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."
"Just because you are different does not mean that you have to be rejected."
"Let's take care of the necessities first: give people jobs, and find a way to get us out of poverty."
"My house was bugged. They couldn't find any information on me being a subversive because I happen to love America; I just don't like some of the things the government is doing."
"My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions."
"The river is constantly turning and bending and you never know where it's going to go and where you'll wind up. Following the bend in the river and staying on your own path means that you are on the right track. Don't let anyone deter you from that."