Yesterface was inspired by my fascination with beauty’s rich history and all its glamorous icons, including singer, actress and cabaret star Eartha Kitt who sang the enduring 1953 Christmas smash hit (and one of my favourite singles of all time) Santa Baby.
From her feline features to her striking name, everything about Eartha Kitt oozed charm, beauty and charisma. Kitt embodied a type of glamour specific to the 50s, where female Hollywood screenstars were feminine, dough-eyed and softly-spoken yet had an abundance of sass, humour and sex appeal too – Marilyn Monroe being an obvious example.
Kitt, who was actually conceived of rape, was of African-American descent on her mother’s side and German on her father’s. She spoke four languages, sang in seven, and was politically outspoken; her anti-war statements were met with extreme divided opinion in America.
When asked about the Vietnam War at a White House Luncheon, Kitt remarked to President Johnson’s wife: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” What a gal. She also became a vocal advocate for homosexual rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage. Cool just does not cover it when it comes to Kitt.
Before marrying, Kitt dated cosmetics magnate Charles Revson, who created and managed Revlon for five decades, and a banking heir (apt choices for someone who sang about wanting sables, yachts and Tiffany decorations). It was also alleged that Kitt had an affair in 1957 with Orson Welles who once called her “the most exciting woman in the world”, but she categorically denied this in a 2001 interview with Vanity Fair.
Kitt eventually married real estate associate John William Mcdonald, with whom she had her only child, Kitt Mcdonald, but they divorced in 1965 and Kitt went on to have other lovers. During her long and successful career, the self-proclaimed sex kitten played the role of Catwoman and was also the spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics’ Smoke Signals collection in 2007, for which she re-recorded “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”.
Eartha Kitt died from colon cancer on Christmas Day in 2008 at her home in Conneticut, a fitting date perhaps for somebody who sang one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. But while she may be gone, every Christmas when Santa Baby comes on the radio I’m reminded of her unique voice, remarkable character and unforgettable beauty.