My first reading of the day was below the fold of the Washington Post newspaper: actress, cabaret singer, dancer, performer Eartha Kitt (1927 – 2009), and Nobel laureate playwright Harold Pinter (1930 – 2009) took their final bows during the Christmas Holiday. Both died of cancer.
My first introduction to Eartha Kitt was through the “Batman” television series of the 1960s. Was it just coincidence she had that last name or was she really a feline fatal? She was no Julie Newmar for sure, and in many ways I thought Eartha’s “sex kitten” Catwoman was more woman than Batman could handle. She made even Michelle Pfeiffer’s interpretation look anemic.
Looking back at the old TV series, I had no idea the cast of villains represented the best and brightest stars of Hollywood’s Golden era. They may have been past their glamorous prime as Hollywood was as well, but still pro enough to give 110%. In comparison Batman, Robin, and Bat Girl (was she 12 years old or what? – I digress) were the supporting cast compared to the body of work and talents of Eartha Kitt; Cesar Romero aka The Joker; Burgess Meredith aka The Penguin; Otto Preminger aka Mr. Freeze (also a director). But in the world of Batman, it’s always about the villains. There would be no Batman without them.
The second intriguing factoid about Eartha was her professional and maybe personal relationship with Orson Welles. Director, producer, writer, genius Orson Welles spotted Eartha Kitt at a performance of the Katherine Dunham dancers, and later in a Paris nightclub. He wanted to cast her as Helen of Troy in his 1950 production of “Dr. Faustus” [with music by Duke Ellington]. The role was already cast, but Orson decided he wanted to make a creative change.
Orson’s second creative move was to kiss Eartha in that way that would leave its mark: he bit into her lip causing her to bleed before the next scene. She reproached Orson and asked “Why did you bite me?” He said, “I got excited.” The role made her a star. Today’s obits carry Orson Welles’ quote that Eartha Kitt was “the most exciting woman in the world.” Eartha said of Orson…”Orson Welles really introduced me to a marvelous gourmet type of living.”
Eartha’s growl could leave its own mark. In 1968 she was invited to the White House for a luncheon party hosted by Lady Bird Johnson. During the event, she criticized the Vietnam war. She was immediately blacklisted by Johnson. Eartha Kitt returned to Europe as an artist in exhile at least until that war was over.
I had less interactions with British playwright Harold Pinter and his work, but nevertheless I can’t say I didn’t have impressions. I do remember in the days when I was writing plays, many new and more diligent playwrights were greatly influenced by his work. In fact, the greatest compliment was to be told your writing was “Pinteresque.” I saw this distinction as a mountain that had to be climbed by every playwright at some point in his/her career.
Harold Pinter wrote 29 plays. Pinter never held his tongue in regards to art or politics. He was praised and criticized on both fronts.
In 1958, he said:
“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”
and later added:
I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
This became the subject of his lecture, “Art, Truth & Politics” when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. You can hear or read the entire lecture at the Nobel Prize site: