By MARYELLEN FILLO, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
December 25, 2013
It was five years ago Christmas Day, that the world lost iconic singer, actress and stage star Eartha Kitt. The longtime Connecticut resident succumbed to colon cancer but left behind a legacy that included a range of serious and not-so-serious art, including Broadway and movie roles, her TV stint as the mysterious "Catwoman" on TV's '60s "Batman," and of course, her torchy rendition of the holiday classic "Santa Baby."
But signature images of the star, as well as her words of wisdom, called "Kitt-isms" are alive and well thanks to a new line of home products recently developed by her daughter Kitt Shapiro. The "Simply Eartha" line not only highlights the late actress and singer's images and philosophies, but also benefits the Colon Cancer Coalition. Shapiro, also a Connecticut resident, recently shared memories and information on the line celebrating her mom as she Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: I thought it was so interesting that it was your mother's words, not housework or decorating that prompted the development of the line of your home products. She is best known as an actress/ singer/entertainer, not a philosopher. So how did this all happen?
A: My mother's words were very important to her. She would not let me or others forget her words. She wanted whatever was to be said to be said clearly and succinctly. I remember her listening to people and saying "too many words." She wanted no details or elaboration. Her attitude was if you have something to say, just say it. She had these sayings, we called them "Kitt-isms" and she would write them on post-it notes or napkins or scraps of paper and then put them away in drawers. She always said to me, 'anything I have written or touched, do not get rid of it.' I wasn't surprised when I found so many pieces of paper when I was selling her house in Weston after her death. I didn't dare throw any of them away because I was afraid she'd have the house fall on me or slap me in the head. So I stored everything. They ended up being these little pieces of wisdom that could be shared.
Q: But why perpetuate her "Kitt-isms" on things for the home, why not a book or a fashion line or jewelry?
A: My mother was so connected to her home. A home is all she really wanted. She loved her house. She cleaned it herself. When we lived in Beverly Hills, we had a vegetable garden and chickens. She was very eco-conscious and health-conscious long before it was fashionable. She composted, she recycled. Her attitude about food was that if it came from the earth there was no reason to add chemicals or mask the natural of it. Her attitude was Mother Nature has done all the work, no need to mess with it. She was also all about repurposing, thinking twice before buying something without a good reason. She couldn't tolerate filling up the earth with things you didn't need. So with all that in mind, developing a line of home goods from natural and recycled products and featuring her image and writings seemed to be exactly what she would have wanted.
Q: You seem unusually connected to her. Were you?
A: It was like the day I was born someone said, 'here give her this one. This baby the perfect fit.' I think that is why she named me Kitt. She would introduce us by saying "I'm Eartha and this is Kitt.I think that is why she named me what she did. We were like one." We had a relationship that went much deeper than mother and daughter, except for maybe when I was a teenager, and that's when you think you have stopped needing anyone. As I became adult and then a mother I realized the greatest gift my mother gave me was letting me know how much she loved me.
Q: What else do you think people would be surprised to know about your mother? Most of us automatically think about her singing career, especially this time of year when her sizzling rendition of "Santa Baby" is helping set a holiday mood.
A: She did a lot of needlepoint. She loved candles and incense. She was not a diva and loved the quiet. Like I said, she had no tolerance for people who just talked on and on. She believed too many people didn't take the time to listen to others, and that sometimes it was best to say nothing, to just listen to the birds or a cricket or listen to your own body. That's why I think a lot of people are relating to the sayings of hers that are part of the home line. They are little messages in her handwriting that have a lot of meaning. She was such an amazing icon inside and out and it just made sense to incorporate her classic images on the products as well. Some of the products that have her sayings on them are in her own handwriting. It just gives a nostalgic spin to the products.
Q: Christmas must be a difficult holiday, especially this year as you mark the fifth anniversary of her death on Christmas Day 2008. How do you spend the holiday now that she is gone?
A: It's been so hard every Christmas since her death. But each year our family goes away that week. We rent a house somewhere in the world and just go. My mother loved Christmas. I remember buying a tree with her each Christmas which was often hysterical. We celebrated not so much for religious reasons but because it was family time together. Now the holiday is clouded and it's sad because it has become another memory. The nice thing is that I was blessed at the end of my mother's life. We did not have to make any great big speeches to each other. She knew how I felt about her and I knew how she felt about me.
Q: Where do people find your "Simply Eartha" products?
A: They can go to the website, simplyeartha.com or to Bungalow in Westport or to Lillian august stores.
Q: Of all the products in the line, which would your mother have enjoyed the most?
A: She would like the throw which are made from recycled tee shirts that have her handwriting on them. She would have like to envelope herself with something I had done.
Q: As we prepare for another Christmas, tell me about "Santa Baby." Was it her favorite?
A: It is so much fun to walk through a store and hear her rendition of the song. I'll be shopping and hear it and feel like she is trying to tell me 'you don't need to buy that.' I heard the song so much when I traveled with her and loved when she sang it. I think her favorite though, was "Here's to Life." She never got mad that "Santa Baby" became her signature song but "Here's to Life" is the one she always closed her concerts with and I think you could tell she was so connected to it when she sang. But she appreciated her fans and whatever they liked of hers from singing "Santa Baby" to being "Catwoman" on the "Batman" TV series. She knew that without loyal fans for whatever reason, she would not have had a career. As far as "Santa Baby," and her role as "Catwoman."
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