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Eartha Kitt - The Greatest Catwoman Of Them All

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by Sergio
July 15, 2012 7:34 PM
27 Comments
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With the much anticipated The Dark Knight Rises coming out this Friday, there has been a ton of PR hype for the film, and naturally, many articles and media segments about Anne Hathaway, who plays the role of Catwoman in the film.

Of course, she's not the first actress to play the role. There was Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, and former Miss America winner Lee Meriwether, who played the role in the 1966 film version of the ABC TV series. 

And oh yes there was Halle...whatshername in that unspeakable Catwoman film travesty, which one could argue she has yet to recover from, career-wise; the film that the originally-cast Ashley Judd bailed out on, when she saw that the project was headed off a ciliff.

But there was, perhaps most memorably, Eartha Kitt, who played Catwoman several times during the final season of the Batman TV show, from 1967-68. She replaced the previous Catwoman, the Amazon-built, 1960s sex bomb, Julie Newmar, who played the role during the first two seasons of the show, but decided not to continue.

Needless to say, when Kitt was cast in the role, it was a big deal. I mean a HUGE deal. It got a lot of publicity, and there was a lot of anticipation.

First of all, there weren't many black actresses on TV back then with regular TV roles, with the exception of Diahann Carroll and her NBC show Julia, which premiered in the fall of 1968 (I have previously written about it on S & A). You would have a black actress in an occasional guest role here and there, but having a black woman playing Catwoman, and, no less than Eartha Kitt, was a major event.

And being the great performer that she was, Kitt made the role uniquely hers, with her own special charisma. To this day, she is, to me, the definite Catwoman. I don't care what Anne Hathaway does, or what special Bat Bike she rides on in the film. All I'll be thinking is, she doesn't quite measure up to Kitt. Yes, you can say her performance was campy, but that was the point. The TV show was a campy comedy, and Kitt went into it with everything she had.

Unfortunately for Kitt, it was a short-lived triumph. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, the Batman TV series ended its run in late spring of 1968. But, to make matters worse, Kitt's carrer was seriously set back when she got caught up in a political controversy.

That same year, she was invited to a luncheon at the White House and used the opportuniity to openly criticize then President Lyndon Johnson's Vietman war policy, and practically overnight, became a persona non grata in the business. It took her years to recover.

But still, to this day, when I think of Catwoman, I think of Ms. Kitt.

Anybody want to disagree?

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27 Comments

  • Carol | November 19, 2012 1:58 PMReply

    Michelle's Catwoman was sexy, Anne's was competent... but the only real cat is Eartha.

  • bob buckley | August 8, 2012 6:40 PMReply

    eartha kitt sucked as catwomen

  • scorpionbuc | July 29, 2012 6:49 PMReply

    @RJ
    Hathaway was the 2nd worst of the 6 total. The worst being Halle (Unfortunately)! Eartha Kitt was and IS PURRRRR-FECTION, and in my opinion the best Cat Woman - BY FAR!


    If I were the casting dude, Zoe Saldana would have been stellar in the role... Slim, beautiful, a hell-of-a-lot more athletic AND exotic and looks tons better in tights (see Columbiana for reference).

  • Anon | June 4, 2013 3:43 AM

    Looks good blue, you forgot that one.

  • RJ | July 17, 2012 3:28 AMReply

    Yeah. I disagree.

    Michelle Pfeiffer easily was the best Catwoman. Normally, I'd say the campiness could be a factor in the argument, but seeing how you chose Kitt as the better Catwoman, it shouldn't make a difference in the argument, that is, of course, until we get to Hathaway.

    To understand Catwoman, is to know your comics history. There are two main categories of Catwoman. There is the Gold/Silver Age Version Catwoman and the Modern Age Version Catwoman. The Gold/Silver Age Catwoman is what Eartha Kitt was playing. More specifically, the Gold Age. This Catwoman was complete camp. There wasn't really any sort of character development and this was common for the Golden Age story of the week scenario. The storytelling was all about the action, and was written with that in mind; entertainment.Eartha Kitt's Catwoman served the same function. There was no motivation, origin, or backstory, and really no character development.

    And then in 1986, Catwoman was introduced into the Modern Age of Comics. Frank Miller was responsible for basically writing the official Catwoman. He took her traits, sexy and sultry, a love interest and a cat burglar, and completely took a "character" and made it into an extended, fully realized character with depth and motivation, in a comic book world that became just as more about the characters than the action. This is the character that Michelle Pfeifer played.

    Eartha Kitt played nostalgic villain. Michelle Pfeifer played Catwoman, an anti-hero. There is just no competition.

    This Catwoman was written steeped in the Modern Age, and yes, I'm ignoring the campy puns of Burton. I'm not going to compare who played campy better because Catwoman's character in Batman Returns was not written to be a complete camp character. She had backstory and motivations, and most of all, had a brilliant relationship with Bruce/Batman that is commonly explored in the Modern Age comics. Its what makes Catwoman, Catwoman. The chemistry between her and Keaton in this film is just off the charts. She plays that fully realized Catwoman. The character is concerned with the duality of identity and plays this off of Batman, who equally is as concerned with the duality of himself and Batman and the trials of his past. Michelle played her with depth and all the complexities that make Catwoman tick. She became the character, even when Burton made her do stupid crap. The scene between her and Bruce's date at his house is just brilliant. That scene alone is case closed for me.

    As for Hathaway, I think she is a bad choice. She's an actress much like Julia Roberts, who can try to play character outside of her range, but can never quite get there. She looks as is she is trying hard. The way Nolan writes this Catwoman, will no doubt, be a strictly Modern Age Catwoman minus the cat camp. The character's success will depend upon what he does with her in terms of what she has to do with the plot and Batman. What Burton did with the relationship between Bruce/Selina, and Batman/Catwoman in Returns will be hard to beat. Then, you've got Pfeiffer in Returns, in the moments of just normal character exposition and relationship, where Burton doesn't interfere with cat puns or style. That is going to be hard to beat for me. Because Pfeiffer gets Catwoman and delivers on what makes the Modern Age Catwoman so great. She plays the character brilliantly.

  • Donella | July 17, 2012 1:35 PM

    Michelle Pfeiffer is my favorite Catwoman portrayal as well.

  • RJ | July 17, 2012 3:29 AM

    I had this in paragraphs...

  • Ava | July 16, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    When the Batman with Michelle Pfeiffer was being promoted, I remember being miffed because they didn't chose Robin Givens for the role. If anyone know the finer points of being catty, it was her. And with Prince doing the title song for the movie soundtrack that year, how you could you not go for a Sista?

  • JMac | July 16, 2012 8:21 PM

    Prince did the soundtrack for Burton's first Batman film. Catwoman was in the second film.

  • dallas daniel hessler junior | July 16, 2012 6:41 AMReply

    all catwomen r sexy

  • pete | July 16, 2012 3:10 AMReply

    I loved Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, but I hear Anne Hathaway is very good as Catwoman. After seeing Hathaway as Catwoman, people are saying they forget about all the other women that portrayed Catwoman.

  • PammieG | July 16, 2012 3:09 AMReply

    Purrrrfect! Yes Sergio, Eartha Kitt was the best. She even lived at 32 Pussyfoot road! Doesn't get any better than this.

  • Ava | July 16, 2012 5:01 PM

    Eartha Kitt's version made me want to purrfect my 'purrr-ing'.

  • Ade | July 16, 2012 3:01 AMReply

    Get to 32 PussyFoot Rd.
    Kitt purrfectly camped it up. The whole show was a campy affair. I didn't see Michelle do CatWoman but of all the actors to take on the role, Miss Kitt 's take reigns supreme in my book.
    A fierce, feline, femme fatale of a CatWoman, Miss Eartha Kitt.

  • Curtis | July 16, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    Newmar was dope as Catwoman, no doubt, but I gotta agree with Sergio in saying that Eartha Kitt still is the best. And it really has nothing to do with race, she was just playful and believable and sexy. Loved her body language especially.

  • mantan | July 15, 2012 10:48 PMReply

    the claws are out!!! arggggghhhh @ jamie and renee!!! lololol....

    but i agree with jamie about michelle pfeiffer. i'm not familiar with the other cat women besides hale berry and eartha kitt so i may not be as informed as i could/should be...

  • AccidentalVisitor | July 15, 2012 10:18 PMReply

    Kitt was far too campy and only distinguished herself with that silly over-the-top "purrrrrrring" that she did on the show. To be fair the entire series was campy and the less said about that 60s show the better. But Kitt, IMO, only stood out because of her color. The selection of her must have been somewhat of a huge deal at that time. That may have been the first example of blind-color casting in Hollywood considering Catwoman was a well known white character in the comic books. Let us not forget there were three women to play Catwoman for that campy show. Two of them were white, the name of one of them escapes me. But the standout was Julie Newmar, considered by most fans to be the best Catwoman of the show and the sexiest too. I can't argue that. She filled that uniform better than any actress since and it is no surprise that with her the showrunners played up the sexual chemistry between Batman and Catwoman. Despite how horrible that show was she set the gold standard. Pfeiffer was pretty damn good for her turn in that role during the 90s but two things are a strike against her as far as I'm concerned: 1)the movie wasn't any good, just another overrated Tim Burton flick which was hurt even further because Burton was far more interested in the creepy strange bad guys than he was in Bruce Wayne/Batman and 2)Pfeiffer is blonde and Catwoman was always meant to be a brunette just as much as Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane were. Halle's Catwoman was an abomination. But I can write it off in that at least she wasn't playing Selina Kyle or anything recognizable to the established character of the comics and cartoons. They essentially created a new Catwoman character that existed outside of the Batman universe. Still it was a bad move on Halle to take that part. Even with at times the limited opportunities afforded her she (or her agent) typically made bad choices when picking and turning down movies. For example turning down the Bulloch role in "Speed" remains and awful one on her part. Picking Hathaway looks to be a great decision by Nolan based on the scenes I've seen and the early buzz I'm hearing. I know that will disappoint all the fanboys who almost had a revolt when she was chosen. Good. Fanboys are always the worse to go by in these casting choices. They had a fit when Heath was cast as the Joker.

  • misha | July 16, 2012 12:30 PM

    Goody, it's best not to try and reason with AV, as he holds irrational animosity towards black women. Anyhow, I would say that Kitt is definitely the most memorable Catwoman. The best Anne Hathaway can do is not be a complete distraction. Nolan choosing her for the role is disappointing but not at all surprising, considering his previous leading lady choices. The man is quite the writer/director but his taste in actresses leaves much to be desired.

  • Goody | July 15, 2012 10:40 PM

    Campy? It's based on a comic, not historical facts. How else should she have done it?

  • Walter | July 15, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    I wouldn't really compare any of the Catwomans of that period to the modern ones. They had to act far differently than the Catwomans of today, who take a more serious approach to the character. I have a feeling Hathaway will pay homage to Pfeiffer's Catwoman more than any of the others.

  • Laura | July 15, 2012 8:44 PMReply

    No doubt. She blew my mind when I saw her as a kid in the syndicated shows.

  • NUMA | July 15, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    THE ONE - THE ONLY - EARTHA KITT - EAT YOUR HEART OUT.

  • Jamie | July 15, 2012 7:50 PMReply

    She was good for her time, but Pfeiffer took the character to a whole 'nother level and was simply brilliant. She nailed the Catwoman from the comics and injected her own unique flavor into it, creating a character that was memorable, sexy, convincing and disturbing in equal measure. Do you really think anything Kitt did in that series comes close to Pfeiffer's scene where she first becomes Catwoman; that wasn't acting.

  • Jul | November 19, 2012 2:03 PM

    HAHAHAHAHA

  • renee | July 16, 2012 7:33 PM

    you poor thing... you really need help don't ya....

  • Jamie | July 15, 2012 9:18 PM

    @ Renee - Fuck you. Don't call someone an idiot for having a different opinion than you, bitch.

  • renee | July 15, 2012 9:14 PM

    idiot

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