Tag Archives: Kitt Shapiro

Eartha & Kitt: A Love Story In Black And White

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.”

Eartha Kitt and her 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.)

“Santa Baby” Sequel: Weston’s Eartha Kitt Lives On

Once upon a time, Christmas music was — well, Christmas music.

“Silent Night.” “Adeste Fidelis.” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  You know — songs about Jesus, the Magi and the manger.

In 1953, Eartha Kitt released “Santa Baby.” It was — well, earthy.

Eartha Kitt

The 26-year-old entertainer sang seductively about gifts from a sugar daddy Santa — you know, a yacht, sable and ’54 convertible.

Despite being banned in parts of the South, it was the best-selling Christmas song of the year.

In the nearly 70 years since, it’s been covered by dozens of artists, including Madonna, Kylie Mingoue, Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Michael Bublé, RuPaul and Homer & Jethro.

It’s been found on lists of the best — and worst — Christmas songs of all time.

And it opened the door for an entire new category of offbeat holiday tunes. Had it not been for “Santa Baby,” we might never have known the singing chipmunks, the Kinks’ violent “Father Christmas,” or the song that truly is the worst of all time — in any category — “The Christmas Shoes.”

Eartha Kitt died in 2008 — fittingly, on Christmas Day — in her Weston home. Her daughter Kitt Shapiro has lived in Westport for 20 years. She owns WEST, the great boutique on Post Road East.

“Santa Baby” sure has legs. Last Friday, Sony Music released a new, animated video version of the song.

It’s quite a story. Directed by Kelly Jones (founder of a Black-owned visual media and design house) and produced by Cousins (a queer-owned production studio), it’s an homage to Eartha Kitt’s life and career. Smooth, sexy animation draws viewers right into the singer’s dreamy wish list.

In this COVID-stricken year of 2020, Santa may be paring down his gift list. He might be careful about how many homes he visits.

But if Eartha Kitt has her way — wherever she is now — Santa will hurry down her chimney that night.

Westport Means Business

The event was called “Westport Means Business.”

But the crowd that packed the Westport Country Playhouse barn Tuesday night enjoyed plenty of laughs — plus wine and food — as 4 women described the many highs and few lows of owning a local business.

They ranged in age from 30s to 50s. They’ve been in operation from 20 years to just 1. Yet the quartet share joy in what they do, gratitude for the opportunity to do it — and a firm belief that Westport is a great place to pursue their dreams.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt motto — “Be Bold” — set the tone for the evening.

The evening was sponsored by the Westport Library, with support from the town. Second selectman Jennifer Tooker moderated, with ease and grace.

Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily — founders of The Granola Bar — are rock stars on the entrepreneurial scene. In 6 years they’ve gone from making desserts in their kitchens to owning 6 restaurants, here and in Westchester.

Interrupting each other, finishing their partner’s sentences and laughing often, the pair talked candidly about the challenges women face, from banks to stereotypes. They even pulled the plug once before they started, then forged ahead after Dana’s husband encouraged them to follow their dream.

When a mentor suggested that their planned granola manufacturing facility include something in the “front of the house,” they did not know the term.

Today they do. Proof of their success came a couple of weeks after they opened their first restaurant. It was filled with people they didn’t recognize. Their friends and family had supported them along the way — but now they had real customers.

Julie and Dana are proud to be setting an example for their young children, as “stay around” — rather than “stay at home” — moms. As they grow their business, there will be more obstacles — family and professional — to overcome. But they’re confident, excited, and proud that their journey began in their home town.

Jamie Camche has owned JL Rocks for 3 times as long: 18 years. Opening a jewelry store was a leap of faith. But her husband has supported her. She’s developed a strong and loyal clientele.

She noted the importance of having local ties too. Jamie was on a buying trip in Europe last September, when heavy rains flooded her Post Road East store.

Thankfully her landlord Mike Greenberg was there, hoisting buckets and bailing her out. He was at the Playhouse barn on Tuesday as well, supporting Jamie.

Participants in the “Westport Means Business” event included (from left) Kitt Shapiro (West), Jamie Camche (JL Rocks), 2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker, and Dana Noorily and Julie Mountain (Granola Bar).

Kitt Shapiro is 57. Yet she calls herself “the new kid on the block.” She’s owned West — the cool Post Road East clothing store — for only a year.

She’s been a 20-year resident of Westport, though. Those ties propelled her “leap of faith” into something she’d never done before.

“I feel so committed to this town, to small businesses, to being part of the tapestry of the community,” Kitt explained. “It’s my home.

West is just around the corner from Main Street, on Post Road East.

“We all know retail has changed,” she added. “But I truly believe local retailers are not going away. People want to touch, see and feel merchandise. They want to interact with other human beings. They’ll seek out people who are kind and smile.”

When Tooker asked for questions, an audience member wondered why none of the 4 businesses were on Main Street.

“We can’t afford it,” Julie said. “But we can’t afford a lot of Main Streets.”

“A town is more than Main Street,” Kitt added.

Third selectman Melissa Kane agreed. Getting the word out about options beyond that small, chain-dominated stretch of downtown is important to retailers and town officials alike, she said.

“We have not done a great job of that,” she admitted. “We need a professional initiative.” Kane said the town is working with a national wayfaring firm, developing signage and strategies to help residents as well as visitors realize the wealth of small, local businesses surrounding Main Street — and where to park, and walk to find them.

Julie praised Westport officials from departments like Fire and Health, for making life easy for entrepreneurs. Westport is the easiest to work with, of their 6 locations (Westchester is the toughest).

“The first health inspection could have been the scariest experience of our life. It wasn’t,” she said.

In her opening remarks Tooker noted that the town, library, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce are all spreading the news: Westport is a great place to live, raise a family — and grow and launch a business.

Or, as Julie Mountain, Dana Noorily, Jamie Camche and Kitt Shapiro reiterated: Westport is open for — and to — business.