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Eartha Kitt Who Was a Doting Mother Died without Knowing Her White Father's Identity

Oyin Balogun
Jun 22, 2021
04:10 P.M.
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Iconic American Entertainer Eartha Kitt was known for her curvy frame and angelic voice, with which she dazzled fans. But behind the scenes, the beautiful African-American nurtured a lifelong desire to find her father.

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Singer Eartha Kitt ruled the entertainment industry for more than six decades with breathtaking performances from Broadway stages to recording studios, movie and television screens.

The beautiful entertainer was once regarded as the most exciting woman alive. Still, the colorful character she portrayed on stage bears a stark contrast to her beginnings and the dark circumstances surrounding her birth.

A portrait of Actress, Eartha Kitt | Photo: Getty Images

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DIFFICULT CHILDHOOD

Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith in North Southern Carolina on January 17, 1927; a fact she did not know until 1997. Her birth resulted from an illegitimate relationship between her then 16-year-old mother, Anna Mae Keith, and a white man.

Eartha, who knew little about her father's identity, had a hard time growing up. As a young child, she worked in the same cotton field her mom did with a black family who insulted and called her "Yella" girl because she looked white.

When she was eight years old, Eartha was sent to live in Harlem, New York, with her aunt Marnie Kitt, who the young girl thought was her birth mother.

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Portrait of Eartha Kitt taken in November 1997 | Photo: Getty Images

Although there seemed to be a slight upturn in her fortunes because she was given piano and dance lessons, Eartha suffered abuse and was regularly beaten.

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The little girl would run away and later return to the house. Things didn't get better, and Eartha would work in a factory and sleep in subways and roofs of unlocked buildings as a teenager.

However, Eartha's life changed for good when she passed an audition for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company after a friend had dared her to attempt it.

Eartha Kitt photographed in the UK, on December 19, 1972 | Photo: Getty Images

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ENTERTAINMENT CAREER

Eartha Kitt started outperforming in the late 40s as a dancer in New York City. By her early 20s, she had become very popular thanks to her performance in Paris cabarets singing songs like "C'est Si Bon" and "Love for Sale."

On returning to New York, Eartha appeared in the 1952 Broadway production of "New Faces." She also released another popular song titled "Monotonous."

Shortly after that, she released her first best-selling albums and recorded her biggest hit, "Santa Baby." Her singing style became the template for other pillow-talky singers like Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, and Madonna.

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Eartha Kitt at the after-party for "The Public Sings: A 50th Anniversary Celebration" at the Time Warner Center January 30, 2006, in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

Eartha was a critic favorite from the beginning of her career, and they characterized her in feline terms. They labeled her as a "sex kitten" who "slinked" or was "on the prowl" across the stage.

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It was not surprising when she was suitably asked to play Catwoman in the 1960s Tv-series "Batwoman." She also appeared in movies like "The Mark of the Hawk" with Sidney Poitier in 1957 and "Anna Lucasta" in 1959 with Sammy Davis Jr.

She also made several television appearances, including a guest spot on "I Spy" in 1965, which earned her her first Emmy nomination. In 1978, the beautiful star made her first Tony nomination for her work in "Timbuktu!" an all-black remake of "Kismet."

Eartha Kitt attends the event in her honor hosted by M.A.C Cosmetics and Zac Posen at Cafe Carlyle on September 19, 2007 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images

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In 1984, Eartha fiddled in dance music, achieving a massive hit in 30 years with "Where Is My Man." The third of her three autobiographies, "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten," was circulated in 1989.

She also earned a Grammy nomination for "Back in Business," a collection of cabaret songs released in 1994. In 2000, Eartha received her second Tony nomination for best-featured actress in a musical in "The Wild Party." She is also the proud owner of two Emmy Awards.

Iconic actress and singer Eartha Kitt lying on her belly with a rug underneath during a photo session in 1965 | Photo: Getty Images

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PERSONAL LIFE

Eartha had an exciting life, and she even once referred to herself as the original material girl due to her flings with wealthy and famous men like the cosmetic tycoon Charles Revson.

She also had romantic relationships with banking heir John Barry Ryan 3rd and Orson Welles. She married real estate developer Bill McDonald in 1960, and the couple gave birth to daughter Kitt Shapiro before they separated in 1965.

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FINDING HER FATHER AND DEATH

Although Eartha grew up with lots of wealth and fame, there was always a void in her life. She wanted to know her father.

While all her efforts to find him seemed futile, there came a light at the end of her tunnel when in 1997, she was asked to make a benefit appearance at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.

Eartha made some jokes about finding her parents upon arriving at the event, and the students were keen on helping. They soon found her birth certificate, and there seemed to be a ray of hope for the actress.

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She petitioned the court to get her records and had to wait for about six to seven months to get the files she was allowed access to for only 15 minutes. Her daughter Kitt Shapiro told The Guardian about the ordeal:

"We had to get a lawyer and petition the court to get the records opened, and this took about six to seven months."

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Although she found her real date of birth, her father's name was blacked out of the document. It was illegal for his name to appear on the file because he was not married to Eartha's mother and her conception was unlawful.

According to Shapiro, the icon shed a few tears after seeing the file. Years later, in 2008, Eartha Kitt sadly died at the age of 81 from complications from colon cancer.

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KITT SHAPIRO SPEAKS ABOUT HER MOTHER

Eartha Kitt might have lived most of her life as a celebrity, but she was just a mom to her daughter Shapiro. Shapiro's memoir titled "Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter's Love Story in Black & White" revealed details about the loving home she shared with Eartha before her death.

Shapiro once told Fox News about how life was as a child and her special recollections of Eartha, who was always very proud of Shapiro.

Eartha was also very rigid and guarded because she wanted to instill proper teachings in Shapiro. Shapiro also alluded that her mother suffered emotional and physical scars all her life due to being mistreated as a child.

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She revealed the iconic star also taught her about race from a young age which is a topic that has stuck. Shapiro explained that Eartha, a victim of racism due to her mixed heritage, did not understand why she needed to be categorized based on her skin color.

Shapiro also recalled being on a South African theme park with her mother, who was asked to leave because the park was for whites only.

She and Eartha left without causing a scene because the music star was determined to use her fame and notoriety to make changes. When the park owner found out what happened, he was embarrassed.

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Eartha then asked him to contribute to a charity to build schools for Africa children, and she and Shapiro, together with a large group of mixed-race children, returned to the park.

Shapiro declared it was difficult for her to come to terms with Eartha's passing, and a part of her died when she lost her mother. She also hoped everyone who reads the memoir would see it as a love story between a mother and her daughter.

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