Chances are you've heard the Christmas song, "Santa Baby."
Chances are, it was Madonna's version.
Which means you ain't heard it at all. Because nobody--nobody--can hold a candle to the the incomparable Eartha Kitt, who recorded "Santa Baby" first, in 1953. My parents had a record of it, and I grew up listening to Eartha every Christmas. Years later, when I heard Madonna's cover, I couldn't help but think--sorry, Madge--what a flat, thin thing she made of the song, next to Eartha's glorious, throaty purr.
As a kid, I was fascinated with Eartha Kitt. Her name, for one. Her accent. Her beauty and most of all, the air of wildness that came through our TV screen like a beating pulse. I was raised in a strict Catholic household, went to strict Catholic schools, and here was a woman who...how can I put this? It wasn't just that she seemed not to obey The Rules. It was more like The Rules wouldn't dare set foot in her universe. That was Eartha. She was thrilling, she was completely beyond my ken, and she was just the teensiest, tiniest, eensiest bit scary. Whenever I saw her on TV--as Catwoman, as a guest on someone's variety show or talk show--I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was mesmerizing. If you want a little taste of what made Eartha great, this is one of my favorite videos of her:
Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas Day, at the age of 81. Performing to the end. In interviews, she said that as an orphan, her only family was her fans; she was grateful to them for embracing her, and she loved them.
We love you too, Eartha. We'll miss you.