My Lunch With Eartha Kitt

12.29.2008

By Out.com Editors

Eartha Kitt, the actress and singer perhaps best known for playing the role of Catwoman on the campy '60s live action series Batman died after a long battle with colon cancer on Christmas Day. She was 81. What follows is a tribute posted to Justin Bond's personal website in honor of the late, great entertainer.

Eartha Kitt was, without a doubt, one of the greatest inspirations of my life. I remember first seeing her as Catwoman and recognizing her tantalizing "otherness." She wasn't like any other creature I had ever seen before but I knew if she was possible so was I.

This is the story of how I met and had lunch with Eartha Kitt.

For my birthday in 1994 the lovely man I was dating at the time took me to see Miss Eartha Kitt perform at Kimballs East in the East Bay outside of San Francisco. I can't remember if it was a surprise or not because it was a long time ago and I've had a lot of champagne since then. I remember he told me I should get dressed up. I'm sure I was wearing the blue gardenia print shift dress my friend Scott Pimentel made for me out of some gorgeous vintage 50's fabric his grandmother had given him. And I'm sure I felt like Samantha Stevens because at this point I was heavily into my Bewitched phase.

The idea of seeing Eartha Kitt live was one of the most thrilling experiences I could imagine. Not only had I been a fan of her as Catwoman when I was a child, but also several years later when she was making the rounds of talk shows after her return to America. I remember being mightily impressed by her story of having performed exclusively in Europe for several years prior because she was blacklisted after confronting Ladybird Johnson about the Vietnam War at a White house luncheon in the late 60s.

For some reason I think a lot of people are under the misconception that blacklisting only happened during the communist witch hunts of the 1950's but that isn't true and Eartha Kitt, along with many other people suffered for speaking out against the war. Even today it's very dangerous to speak your mind -- or to throw your shoes in protest. What's the latest on the Iraqi shoe tosser? He may be an international hero, but I haven't heard much of an outcry for his release here in America.

But I digress.

Kimball's East:

Eartha took the stage with a rousing rendition of 'I'm Still Here' which got me so excited I spontaneously (rather embarrassingly for my very gentlemanly boyfriend) jumped out of my seat screaming with delight. That would have been appropriate behavior at a rock concert and to me Eartha Kitt was much bigger and more wonderful than any rock star so I was slightly offended that the rest of the audience of older, bourgeois people weren't following suit (or cocktail dress as the case may be). Quickly my date grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into my seat. After sussing out the situation I realized I'd better calm down.

The rest of the show is a total blur but I remember the divan, the flirting, the stunningly precise physicality, total command of the audience, her voice and something else -for lack of a better expression I would have to call it a Divine Feminine mystic spell she as casting. A challenge. I feel that everyday she walked the Earth, Eartha Kitt was a challenge to the status quo. That's why she was so powerful. Her gaze was fierce and unflinching.

Before the show Blake, my lovely fellow, had sent one perfect rose in full bloom and an engraved invitation to join us for drinks after the show at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco.

We went and stood in line to meet her in her dressing room. I was so nervous. I didn't know what I was going to say until finally, when we were shaking hands I blurted out, 'Thank you for teaching me that it is possible to be both glamorous and political. You taught me a very valuable lesson at an early age.' She cocked an eyebrow and Blake asked if she had received our invitation. She had. She demurred on joining us for drinks which was a bit of a disappointment but countered by asking if we would like to take her to lunch the following day as she was supposed to have with a dear friend named Christobel who had recently gone through a bitter divorce. Maybe we could all try and cheer her up?

I gave Miss Kitt my phone number and Blake and I continued our evening by slipping off into the night for fancy birthday drinks at the Clift.

The following morning I woke up to the sound of a decidedly over-enthusiastic knocking at my door and a pounding in my head.

At the time I was living in the Upper Haight in a house with four lesbians, two cats and a very anxious canary.

'Come in!'

Through the door burst our friend David, a very adorable young queen who was staying with us at the time. He was in a terrible state of agitation and was practically bouncing up and down' the way he was shaking and quaking' I was terribly alarmed. 'What is it?'

'Justin, um... This may sound weird but' EARTHA KITT IS ON THE PHONE!!!'

Oh. My. God.

Maybe I had thought she was just being nice, or that I had dreamed the whole thing -- I don't know what I thought. I certainly never expected that the fantastical events of the night before would carry through into into the morning light in my bedroom on a decidedly hungover and very real Saturday morning.

I grabbed the phone.

'Good morning Justin, this is Eartha Kitt''

And with those words a great adventure began. Evidently her girlfriend Christobel, the down-in-the-dumps-divorcee, lived in a very difficult to find house in the hills near Sausalito so we would need to pick up her friend Jerry, who was in a more convenient and easy to find location, and he would direct us up the windy roads to Christobel's house where we could pick up Christobel and then drive to the hotel in Oakland where Ms. Kitt was staying. Then we could take them all to lunch at Trader Vic's. It looked like we were in for what promised to be a very expensive Polynesian themed tiki-rific! luncheon for five.

'See you at one o'clock!'

It was 11.

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