News for 1/8/2007

Still in the Limelight, on Her Own Terms

The New York Times

''If I had any regrets, it would mean I had not learned anything,'' Eartha Kitt said, sitting in the empty New World Stages theater on 50th Street. Between performances as Madame Vallet in the Off Broadway musical ''Mimi le Duck,'' Ms. Kitt, who will turn 80 in January, talked about a busy year in which she was featured in the musical, appeared at the Café Carlyle and released a new album of live songs. And now, on Thursday, she will be at the White House's Christmas tree lighting and will sing ''Santa Baby'' and ''Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,'' all while battling colon cancer.

Snuggled in a plush blue seat, Ms. Kitt, wearing a flowing red print robe and a pixie haircut that showcased her huge eyes, gave a short preview of one of the songs she intends to sing. For those with long memories, the invitation might seem surprising. Her most famous visit to the White House was nearly 40 years ago during another unpopular war (Vietnam); her unexpectedly pointed comments about American involvement reportedly made Lady Bird Johnson cry and nearly derailed her stage, film and singing career.

''When I was against Vietnam I was asked in the White House itself, by Mrs. Johnson, what the problem was among our young people,'' Ms. Kitt explained, saying that she responded based on what she was told by youths. She had no regrets about speaking honestly, she added, even after being forced to work abroad for a number of years afterward.

So does Ms. Kitt plan on commenting on current policy? It depends on who is asking what, she replied. She does not believe in setting up a soapbox: ''I think now it's gotten somewhat out of hand, because I don't believe in blurting out whatever you feel,'' she said, referring to celebrities who have recently expressed antiwar sentiments. ''Whether you believe in the war or not, we still have to support our boys.''

If she's worried about anything concerning the visit, it's probably stage fright. Even after all these years, she admits.

''I get so nervous,'' she said. Ms. Kitt traces her anxiety back to her upbringing as a biracial child in South Carolina, rejected by both blacks and whites: ''I am always afraid of being rejected. You never get away from it. I am very glad the public has made me who I am because I can feel I'm worthwhile when I hear the applause and I'm still wanted.''

She added, ''I am extremely lucky to be in show business and have earned my own way with the help of the public without having to feel that I want a man to take care of me for the rest of my life.''

Does that mean she considers herself a feminist? She roared in response. ''No, I don't believe in all that nonsense,'' said Ms. Kitt, who was married once and has been linked to famous men like Porfirio Rubirosa, Charles Revson and Arthur Loew Jr. ''When they started that nonsense, nobody sent me roses anymore, let alone the diamond rings. I used to get furs and diamonds from men, and they'd open doors for me, lay out the red carpet. Now, I don't even get a petal.''

Still, Ms. Kitt, whom Orson Welles once called ''the most exciting woman in the world,'' says she is content to be without a man. Ms. Kitt said she would probably spend her birthday quietly with her only child, Kitt Shapiro, and her two grandchildren.

''Aging is a natural process, so enjoy it,'' she said, adding that she has never resorted to anything other than exercising, eating right and keeping a positive attitude to look good. ''I don't believe in chopping up my face in order to look like something I might have looked like when I was 30.''

The diagnosis of cancer in the lower part of her colon this spring came as a surprise. She found out as she prepared for surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands from constant needlepoint and boxing (which she said she had taken up for fun and exercise). When the doctors did blood work, they found she was dangerously anemic and bleeding internally.

''I advise everybody to get a colonoscopy,'' Ms. Kitt said. ''I was walking around with no pain at all, and I felt weak from time to time.'' When the doctor told her that she had to go to the hospital right away, she recalls responding, '' 'No, I've got two concerts to do.' I only canceled one thing, and that was a private party.''

Ms. Kitt said she was not afraid of the operation to remove the cancer. ''It's like five bullet holes in my stomach,'' she said and laughed. She took an oral chemotherapy medication and described herself as being at the end of her treatment. ''They said you can be on this pill, and it can give you three more years of your life, and it may not; we don't know. In three weeks time I'll get another examination and find out if I'm O.K.''

In any case, retirement is not a word in her vocabulary, she said. ''In many ways I'm still playing Catwoman,'' she said, referring to her famous stint on the 1960s television series ''Batman,'' ''no matter how old I get.''

Ms. Kitt and the cast of ''Mimi le Duck,'' which closes tomorrow, are recording the songs from the musical. On June 25 she is planning to appear at Carnegie Hall, singing some old standards and new tunes.

''If there's one seat empty, I'm going to feel 'O.K., it's time for me to go home now,' '' she said, gracing the empty theater with one of her familiar and long Catwoman laughs.

News for 5/18/2005

The following article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Savoy Magazine

News for 8/9/2004

Actress Eartha Kitt Injured in Car Crash

WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) - Actress and singer Eartha Kitt, the original Catwoman on the "Batman" television show, suffered minor injuries when the vehicle she was driving collided with another car and flipped over, police said.

Kitt, 77, of Weston, was treated at Norwalk Hospital and released, hospital officials said.

The accident occurred at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Compo and Post Roads, said Sgt. Jerry Shannon. Kitt's Land Rover was crossing Post Road when it collided with a car, causing her car to roll over onto its roof, police said.

Kitt's two poodles were in the car but escaped injury.

The cause of the crash was under investigation.