In 1957, Eartha Kitt starred in the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Mrs. Patterson.”
She was already famous. The actor/singer/dancer had debuted on Broadway a dozen years earlier. Her 1953 recordings of “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby” both hit the Top 10. Orson Welles had called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”
She had homes in Beverly Hills and London. But in 2001 — after her daughter Kitt Shapiro had married Allan Rothschild, and moved into his Westport house — Eartha Kitt bought a home in Weston.
She loved it: the people, the river, the proximity to New York (and her grandchildren).
Kitt and her kids thrived here. She loves living in “a unique area, with eclectic people.” Three years ago she opened WEST, a very cool Post Road East boutique.
Eartha Kitt died in 2008. Kitt had worked closely with her, on business matters.
Now Kitt has written a book. Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love Story in Black and White details their wonderful relationship. And much, much more. It will be published May 4, just before Mother’s Day.
Eartha’s mother was of African and Cherokee descent. Eartha never knew her father; he may have been white.
“I was meant to be her daughter. I gave my mother roots and grounding,” Kitt — who was born in 1961, during Eartha’s 4-year marriage to John McDonald — says. “That’s not always easy, for people in that industry.”
Eartha Kitt was sometimes “too light-skinned for Black people, and too dark for white people,” Kitt Shapiro says.
Kitt herself has been attacked on social media for being “too light to be Eartha Kitt’s daughter.”
“The gene pool does what it does,” she says. “My mother thought that treating people a certain way just because of their skin color was preposterous. She couldn’t understand the need of society to pigeonhole people as one particular thing.”
In her early years in New York, Eartha had to be “either a jazz singer or a gospel singer. She couldn’t be just ‘a singer.’ She fought against that, and we’re still fighting that today.”
That’s one of the themes of Eartha & Kitt. Kitt felt this is “the right time to talk about race, and a woman who was a trailblazer. She was a Black woman, a role model who spoke out.”
Eartha Kitt certainly did that. In 1968 — at a White House luncheon — she sharply criticized President Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War. The CIA called her “a sadistic nymphomaniac,” and her career stalled in the US. She continued to perform, with great success, in Europe and Asia.
In 1978 she returned triumphantly to Broadway, in “Timbuktu!” She gained new generations of fans with voiceovers in movies like “The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story,” New York cabarets and much more.
Kitt Shapiro’s new book is “for anyone who had a relationship like we did — whether it was with a mother, a mother figure or a sibling.”
Its message, she says, will resonate with many: “We all have a right to be here. We are all unique. We can embrace and learn from each other. That was my mother’s philosophy, and it speaks to a lot of people.”
When Eartha Kitt died, her daughter says proudly, she had 200,000 Facebook followers. Many were women between 18 and 35 years old. They admired “a woman who never compromised who she was. She always spoke the truth.”
Now Kitt Shapiro brings that message to a new, even wider audience.
(Click here to order Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love Story in Black and White. Eartha Kitt died of colon cancer; Kitt Shapiro is raising funds for the American Cancer Society’s “Women Leading the Way to Wellness” project. Stop in to WEST at 117 Post Road East; for $125 you get a signed copy of her book, a scented candle, and beaded bracelet.)