38. Eartha Kitt (Catwoman)
Born in the South of the US on a cotton plantation and raised in Harlem, the self professed sex kitten was one of the most distinctive entertainers in the history of cabaret, stage and film. Born on January 17 1927 , Eartha Kitt was raised by a woman called Anna Mae, who she believed was her mother. The singer later said her father was the son of a plantation owner and had been conceived by rape. She was named Eartha after a year’s good crop. She lived in poverty until her mother met a new husband who rejected Kitt because she was a mixed race child. Described by Orson Welles as the most exciting women in the world when she played Helen of Troy in Dr Faustus, Kitt’s most famous part came as the exotic feline, Catwoman in the Batman television series from 1967-8. Originally, Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company and made her film debut with them in Casbahin 1948. A talented singer with a raspy voice enriched with sultry tones, her hits included songs such as I Want to Be Evil, Just an Old-Fashioned Girl, C’est si bon and Santa Baby which was released in 1953. She possessed a strong, independent personality which matched her growling vibrato voice that lingered around the theatre long after she had finished singing. Her fierce personality erupted at the height of her fame at a White House luncheon party given by Lady Bird Johnson, the president’s wife, in 1968. Kitt was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War and erupted into a doomed speech. Kitt replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kid’s rebel and take pot”. She was promptly blacklisted and effectively forced to work abroad, particularly Europe.