Legendary director Orson Welles once called Eartha Kitt ”the most exciting woman in the world.” Hyperbole? Maybe. But with her cat-like eyes, unmistakable raspy voice, and playful sex appeal, Kitt — who died at the age of 81 on Dec. 25 in Connecticut after a battle with colon cancer — was certainly one of entertainment’s most seductive leading ladies for more than six decades.
The siren of song, stage, and screen built her career on titillation, highlighted by her flirtatious 1953 hit ”Santa Baby,” in which she provocatively pleads for the jolly old man to ”hurry down the chimney tonight,” and a cunning performance as Catwoman on the popular 1960s TV series Batman. But Kitt wasn’t just a sex kitten. She was also an outspoken liberal at a time when that carried real risks. Her career nearly derailed when she brought Lady Bird Johnson to tears after making anti — Vietnam War remarks at the White House in 1968. In the aftermath, Kitt was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood and spent years performing mostly in Europe before making a comeback in the 1978 Broadway musical Timbuktu! ”She had success in a number of projects that will truly live forever,” says Reginald Hudlin, who directed her in the 1992 comedy Boomerang. ”Once you hear [her voice], you just go, ‘That’s amazing. How do we use that again?’ She had a persona that never got old.”