Eartha Mae Kitt was an American actress, singer, and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 hit Christmas song “Santa Baby”. Orson Welles once called her the “most exciting woman in the world.” She took over the role of Catwoman for the third season of the 1960s Batman television series, replacing Julie Newmar, who was unavailable for the final season.
Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in the town of North, South Carolina, a small town in Orangeburg County near Columbia, South Carolina. Kitt’s mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent and her father of German or Dutch descent. Kitt claimed she was conceived by rape.
Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed to be her mother. Anna Mae went to live with a black man when Eartha was 8. He refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion.
Kitt lived with another family until Riley’s death. She was then sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, who she learned was her biological mother; she had no knowledge of her father, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was supposedly a son of the owner of the farm where she had been born. Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was “a poor cotton farmer.”