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The Most Exciting Woman in the World
on 21 November 2013
John L. Williams is the first author to tackle Eartha Kitt head on in a biography - an astonishing fact when to get some measure of what she meant to the postwar era, we would have to imagine Beyoncé, Rhianna, Adele, Gaga rolled into one and then some. Kitt's achievement is all the more remarkable in that she was born dirt poor and illegitimate on a cottonfield in South Carolina. Only two generations away from slavery, in a nation in which many states denied her access to hotels and restaurants, she yet succeeded in capturing America's heart.
America fell in love with this fabulously talented woman (singer, dancer, accomplished actress and purring sex-kitten performer) and then ditched her as the 1960s rolled on. This pattern of romance and rejection was reflected in her personal life as one wealthy white man after another wooed her only to bail out at the prospect of interracial marriage. Kitt alienated conservative white America with a passionate denunciation of US involvement in Vietnam (famously reducing the First Lady to tears), yet was rejected by much of black America on the grounds that she seemed aloof from her own people. In fact, as Williams shows, she gave generously and bravely of herself in support of the civil rights movement.
Culture is the engine of change - something that Eartha Kitt understood long before white and black America woke up to what (in Williams's fine phrase) this "most feline of revolutionaries" represented. Tellingly, it took one world-beating woman to recognise another: while a poorly paid Kitt was reduced to performing to small cabaret audiences, Madonna covered "Santa Baby" (Eartha's most famous hit). America's Mistress is another great stride towards this rehabilitation. Read this landmark biography as soon as possible to find out why Orson Welles called Eartha Kitt "the most exciting woman in the world".