Eartha Kitt Catwoman

With the official announcement today of what had been rumored for months, that Warner Home Video would be releasing the much anticipated entire "Batman" TV series that was broadcast on ABC, from January 1966 to March 1968, I thought it would be a perfect time to go back and take a second look at a piece I wrote some two years ago.

But, as always, a little bit of background. It’s hard to believe it now, but the show was an absolute phenomenon at the time. It was broadcast in two parts every week, with the first episode followed the next day later by the conclusion. The entire country went Batman crazy.

However the frenzy wasn’t that long lasting, and, by late 1967, the popularity and ratings began to drop big time, and that was reflected by the poor and lazy quality of the shows by then. With no place to go but further down, as a result, the show was canceled soon after.

Despite its rapid rise and quick downfall, the show has always had its hard core devotees. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, it will finally be released on DVD, which it couldn’t be for years due to certain rights problems and legalities.

But with news of the, at long last, DVD release of the series, I've come to the main subject of this piece - Eartha Kitt, who played the role of Catwoman on the show, and who still is, for me, the best one ever in the role, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, of course, she's not the only or 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 no doubt, there are those who will say that Anne Hathaway in "The Dark Knight Rises" was the best.

And, oh yes, I haven’t forgotten (though I try to) that there was Halle Berry in that unspeakable "Catwoman" travesty, which one could argue she still 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 cliff).

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, 1960’s 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’ll have to it Google it). During those years, 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. Yes, you can say her performance was over-the-top and way too campy, but that was the point of her performance and the show. This wasn’t some dark, brooding, tortured, angst ridden Batman like in a Christopher Nolan film. The series was conceived as a campy comedy with broad oversized performances, 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 spring of 1968. But, to make matters worse, Kitt's career 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 opportunity to openly criticize then President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War policy, and practically overnight, became persona non grata in the business, and was spied on for years by the FBI under orders of the paranoid J.Edgar Hoover. It took her years to recover.

But now, as I mentioned at the beginning, the entire series run of "Batman," all 120 episodes, will be released by Warners on Blu-ray, Standard DVD and Digital HD download in November, later this year. So now you’ll soon be able to see the definitive Catwoman in her digitally remastered, sparkling, crystal clear glory.

I can't wait.