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Eartha Kitt has left us at the age of 81. Ironic she died on Christmas when you consider that "Santa Baby" is her best known song.

I guess the old Hollywood saw that "death comes in threes" is true -- Eartha Kitt, Van Johnson and Bettie Page all died within weeks of each other.

2008 was also a bad year for former villains on Batman -- Van Johnson (The Minstrel) and Eartha Kitt (Catwoman) both died. (I would put Eartha Kitt in third in the all-time "great portrayals of Catwoman" rankings -- behind Julie Newmar (1st) and Michelle Pfeiffer (2nd) but ahead of Lee Merriwether (4th) and Halle Berry (5th).)

She was certainly a courageous lady -- speaking out at a White House luncheon against the Vietnam War and social injustice and getting blacklisted by the Johnson administration for her trouble.

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In 1972, Ms. Kitt entertained at a political fundraiser I (a volunteer) attended. She sang "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" while circling the man who was our candidate. She let the word "love" go silent while she threw him an unmistakable look, and by the second chorus, the straight-laced midwesterner was blushing.

After the fundraiser, a friend of mine who was on staff sneaked me into the private VIP party. Kitt was seated alone on a sofa, and my friend, more as an observation than a suggestion, said, "Someone should go over and talk to Eartha Kitt." I must have been feeling pretty nervy, because I went over, introduced myself, thanked her for her performance and sat. For the next two hours, she unburdened herself to me -- mostly about the ostracism that followed her courageous statement to Mrs. Johnson, but also the pain she suffered for the racism directed at her daughter. She was, at least that night, a bitter, unhappy woman, but clearly one with a spine of steel. She repeatedly stated that she was proud of having spoken truth to power and would not have done otherwise if given another chance, even knowing the consequences.

Here's a page with a link to an excerpt of an interview conducted just this past September by Gwen Ifill. Scroll down just past the screen's midway point -- past the Santa Baby video to the end of the article, just above the comments section.

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I saw that same production - no surprise, but Kitt stole the show and I still remember her singing that number.

Oh, and I'm sorry to have missed it. What perfect casting!

I was talking with a friend about Kitt and her place in the development of powerful sexual females. I thought it was appropriate that Madonna recorded a cover of "Santa Baby" in the 1980s (for an AIDS charity) -- each one of them a very telling performance.

Madonna is nothing if not ironical -- singing the song and commenting on its contents at the same time. Kitt's version is much more forthright, dealing with the realities of her world.

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An appraisal from the Times.

It is no accident that Ms. Kitt’s seesawing career reascended during what has been called the new gilded age, now suddenly behind us. Especially in the 1970s age of feminist consciousness, the very term “gold digger” was considered offensive, along with “cat fight,” “chick” and a whole dictionary of sexist slang that has since roared back into style. For a while at least, Ms. Kitt’s catwoman persona seemed a nostalgic, camp artifact.
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