he late Eartha Kitt was an iconoclast if there ever was one. She could walk Hollywood’s tight-rope, alternating between stage, TV, a busy singing and recording career, and made it look as easy as a wardrobe change. But it was her fierce individualism that spoke loudest. As an African-American entertainer, she traversed racial boundaries, being cast as the first black villain ever on television when she replaced Julie Newmar as Cat Woman on Batman in 1967. And, her very public support of the Civil Rights movement and women's rights, as well as protesting the Vietnam War in the '60s made her the target for government surveillance.
She was even more focused on being a mother and lived to impart life-lessons on her only child, a daughter she named Kitt.
“My mother would always say, ‘waste not want not,’ said Kitt Shapiro, who was brought up in a green/eco-friendly household decades before recycling or eating organic was de rigueur.
“We were probably the only ones to have a compost pail sitting in the middle of the kitchen in Beverly Hills. We had a vegetable garden, we had chickens (for the eggs). If she knew where it came from, it was good enough to eat.”
Eartha Mae Kitt was born on January 17th, 1927 on a cotton plantation in South Carolina. She was the illegitimate child of an African-American/Cherokee mother and a father of European descent. Her light complexion made her the object of ridicule- white and black folks referred to her as a 'yella gal'- and young Eartha (her given name) lead a a solitary, but imaginative existence.
At age 8 she was sent to live with an aunt in Harlem; her showbusiness career was born after she auditioned and was accepted to the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. In 1950 Orson Welles cast her opposite him in his production of 'Faust,' and she was on her way to becoming one of the first widely known African-American sex symbols. A short marriage to Bill McDonald produced a child, Kitt.
"My mother often introduced us to people, saying, 'I'm Eartha and she's Kitt,' as if I completed her," said Shapiro. "And, in some ways, I guess I did."
Now on a mission to honor her mother, who died from colon cancer in 2008, Shapiro has introduced a lifestyle brand of eco-friendly coasters, plates, wall art, mugs, pillows, throws, and paperweights.
“When it came to finding materials for our pieces, it only made sense to use something organic, natural or recycled. The glasses I'm using are recycled glass … The throws and pillows are used from old t-shirts … The coasters are from tumbled stone, the imperfections, rough, give it that extra character. The desk pieces are made from repurposed wood."
Also included on the products are images of her late mother, featuring some of the witticisms Eartha Kitt scrawled on napkins, scraps of paper, post it notes, hotel stationery, legal pads, and leather bound journals.
"After she died in 2008, I could hear her saying to me (as she had all my life), 'Don't throw anything away. If I wrote on it or created it, I did it for a reason. You never know when or what you may be able to use it for,'" Shapiro told us.
"So, I started putting all her handwritten notes together. Many were words of wisdom that she had coined, 'Kittisms'. Not necessarily pearls she had made up, but once she said them, they were hers. It made perfect sense to incorporate the empowering messages my mother embraced and lived by."
Simply Eartha also honors the entertainer’s strong feeling that Americans should be making products in America--she refused to buy any product made outside the United States.The products are all created in the Southeast, primarily Alabama, not far from the cotton fields Eartha Kitt worked as a young girl in rural South Carolina.
"My mother gave me a beautiful solid foundation built on unconditional love and devotion. It is my turn to build on that foundation and continue to carry her legacy and spirit forward, giving her words a new voice. As I like to say, 'From my mother and me, Eartha and Kitt, to you.'
May they touch your heart as they do mine."
To shop for Simply Eartha products visit www.simplyeartha.com