Friday, July 20, 2018

Catwoman of Heart and Mind

Here we go again, as promised, with another of a whole bunch of stuff from me as the month struts stealthily towards its conclusion like a cat on the prowl.
Today (and tomorrow) we interrupt the blatant sausagefest that is my page with a 20-minute segment of footage to blow the mind, featuring a woman so far ahead of her time she's gonna reach Peak Relevancy sometime this Fall.
She began as a chanteuse in the early 1950s and became, before too long, one of the most incredible and multitalented performers around. Filmmaker supremo Orson Welles was so obsessed with her, he referred to her in interviews as "the most exciting woman in the world".
She could sing like a smoky, diabolical angel, do stand-up comedy, and act... one of the original showbiz triple threats at the height of that culture in the 1950s and '60s.
Her theatrical prowess landed her the role for which most people remember her: as perhaps the greatest, best-played villain of them all on the original, still-beloved Batman TV series in the second half of the Sixties.
Her activism and propensity to utter plainspoken, unvarnished truths about things turned people's heads upside down and sideways, and if she were here today I can only imagine what she would say about what has happened to us.
In 1968, she was asked to a luncheon in the White House, where she got right up in Lyndon Johnson's face and lit him up like a Fourth of July fire.... uh.... cracker.
Then she started in -- from the podium!!!! -- on Johnson's wife, the First Lady Bird. By the time her comments were through, she had been blacklisted from ever working in the United States... a condition that lasted a full decade in exile in Europe.
What did she say that got those powerful knickers in such a mighty twist? Let's let her speak for herself, as she had no hesitation in doing, ever.
EK: The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don't have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons – and I know what it's like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson – we raise children and send them to war.
The story goes that her further comments -- about how the war was causing kids and returning soldiers to do hard drugs to escape the thought of it -- caused LBJ's wife to burst into tears right there in the ballroom.
She was, she said, blacklisted before she left the room that day. They wouldn't even let her return to her hotel in the limo that had borne her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She had to take a cab. But Eartha Kitt -- one of the unsung legends of American music and theater if ever there were one -- didn't miss a beat.
She split to Europe and spent most of the 1970s performing there, quite successfully in fact. It wasn't until 1978 that the new president, Jimmy Carter, worked it out so the blacklist would be lifted and she could return, triumphantly, to star in a hit Broadway musical.
Today we have something truly awesome and rare to honor this incredible woman, who passed away in 2008. It's from Norwegian TV and documents a performance at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and was first aired on NRK-TV exactly 50 years ago today.
Eartha Kitt
Spotlight
Tivoli Gardens
Copenhagen, Denmark
likely 7.11.1968
first aired 7.20.1968 

01 Take What You Can
02 If You Go Away
03 interview (conducted by Arne Hestenes)
04 C'est Si Bon 

Total time 20:29

Eartha Kitt - vocals
orchestra and conductor unidentified

HD FLV file sourced from a recent rebroadcast on the NRK-TV website
461 MB FLV here
There's a tremendous interview midway through the segment where she gets into some of her philosophies and what was then going on in the world, which in addition to the three full tunes makes this must-see vintage TV fasho.
I'll be right back tomorrow and Sunday with yet more essential archival fare from the vaults -- you're not gonna wanna miss tomorrow, trust me -- but for now let's celebrate the 50th anniversary of this tremendous TV program. And of course its star, the über-legendary Eartha Kitt, who was never afraid to say what she wanted to say, even back in a time when such things could destroy your career within 15 seconds of saying them.--J.
1.17.1927 - 12.25.2008