I was going to post today a column by Charles Busch about his late friends Joan Rivers and Marian Seldes along with a one-act play he wrote with them as the characters. But I realized that today is Eartha Kitt’s birthday so I’m going to post the Busch pieces on Monday. That gives you something to look forward to.
When I have played the party game of saying who you want to play you in the movie of your life, I have always said that if she were still alive that there would only be one choice: Eartha Kitt. Orson Welles once called her “the most exciting woman in the world.”
Here are some curated images.
A few videos.
And a poem written by Michelle Peñaloza.
She stumps the panel on What’s My Line in 1959. It starts at the 19:28 mark.
A scene from 1958’s St. Louis Blues with Nat King Cole and Ruby Dee and Cab Calloway Kitt. Synopsis: W.C. Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can’t stay away from the music of the streets and workers. After he writes a theme song for a local politician, Gogo, a speakeasy singer who is portrayed by Kitt, convinces him to be her accompanist. Will – as Handy is known in the film – is estranged from his father for many years while he writes and publishes many blues songs. At last the family is reunited when Gogo brings them to New York to see Will’s music played by a symphony orchestra.
When My Mother Was Eartha Kitt
by Michelle Peñaloza
Along the bottom of a forgotten banker’s box:
a pair of black patent stiletto boots,
knee-length and, somehow, once my mother’s.
The woman who bought these boots:
twenty and nubile, she smokes Capris
and throws back her head, laughing at off-color
men who broadcast their broken attempts
to woo in languages just as foreign to her—
konnichiwa, ni hao ma.
She is impervious and breezy and says things like,
“Now I bet you’d never try that with Julie Newmar!”
Her world, onomatopoeic: heels staccato
upon Detroit’s salt-ground pavement; men drop
their highballs of bourbon—Bam! Pow!
Kaboom!—as her slight frame slinks
past rows of wooden barstools. She purrs.
When I found those boots in the sixth grade, I knew
my own feet would never unlock their magic.
My own body monstrous and lumbering
compared to the petite contours from which I came.
I knew men would never whimper to tongue my boots.
Eartha Kitt mother, what would you say
to the woman before you today?
Would you understand your daughter’s
self-fulfilling prophecies? Her needf
or distance, her proclivity for
the third person. Her intoxication with
the power of a man she cannot name
emptying himself inside her,
the hollowness of his embrace.