[dropcap1]T[/dropcap1]hat’s right. I said it, I wrote it, I got it published. All hail Eartha Kitt, queen of liveaction Catwoman actors and a whole lot else. I mean, let’s be honest here, I’d originally planned on creating an individually ranked list of Catwomen, but it’s a bit like ranking the singers in Destiny’s Child: why bother when you know you’re just gonna put Beyoncé at the top anyways? But I get it, sometimes you need to remind yourself what exactly makes us so blessed to live in a world where Eartha existed. So sit back my friends and get ready for your friendly neighborhood Catwoman cosplayer to reveal what makes this legend among feline fatales just… purrfect (you knew that was coming).
Right down to her name Eartha Kitt seems destined for the part. As Batman producer Charles Fitzsimons once commented, “She was a cat woman before we ever cast her as Catwoman. She had a cat-like style. Her eyes were cat-like and her singing was like a meow.” Let’s go ahead and address the tiger in the room, though:
Hell, even a seemingly unscripted Lee Meriweather revealed that she thought, “Eartha, for my money, was the best Catwoman” in a 1994 episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a full two years after Batman Returns had been released. Now don’t get me wrong, Lee, Julie Newmar, and even Anne Hathaway are excellent actresses, but all three share an instinct for a seductive coyness more befitting Selina’s early days when that kind of flirting covered up her insecurity. At the point where she’s collaborating/ordering around the rest of Batman’s formidable rogue gallery Catwoman should no longer be dependent upon cute, kitten-like teasing to get her way. Eartha gives us a villainess whose threat has matured from charm to shrewd calculations and quick wits. In fact, the closest the Batman franchise as a whole has come to replicating this kind of powerful presence comes from Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Fish Mooney, arguably the only tolerable part of a show that’s down to its last viewer.
As for the other two (since I know someone’s bound to bring them up), I’ll just go ahead and say it: awful as it was, at least Halle Berry’s behavior can be explained by her one bizarre cat voodoo resurrection, unlike certain other nine-time offenders channeling Harley Quinn in a catsuit.
Admittedly I’ve been a diehard shipper of the BatCat romance for a minute, but the fact that nearly every iteration of Catwoman depends upon this relationship for excitement tends to undermine the independent strength of the character. At their best I believe the two should create an irresistably witty flirtationship and at worst, psychological manipulation. However, because of racist TV standards at the time, Eartha’s Catwoman was free to flirt with whomever she chose without undergoing the unfortunate chickification process of her predecessors because Black woman + white man romance = preposterous and most unorthodox! Honestly, there’s also something satisfying about seeing a Catwoman undeniably out of Batman’s league for once.
That being said, you know what things you can do when you’re not fretting over your feelings for the man who’s still going to put you in jail anyways? Actually come up with a good plan to avoid said man.
You don’t need to Cat unless you live what you talk
Perhaps Eartha herself said it best in an interview regarding her role: “If you are interested in doing a character then that character automatically becomes you. And you automatically become that character.” Eartha’s cutting quips and solid self-esteem as Catwoman were no act as one of her most infamous scandals proved. In 1968, after being invited to a luncheon by Lady Bird Johnson to discuss juvenile delinquency Eartha found herself blacklisted by the president of the United States for speaking out against the thoughtless atrocity America was committing against both Vietnam and the young men drafted to serve. No, wait, it gets better. When the media attempted to drag Eartha by commenting on the fact that her words “made the First Lady cry,” she simply replied:
To top it all off, the New York Times later discovered that Eartha had already been under surveillance by the CIA anyways since 1956. You could not create a more perfect real life Catwoman if you tried.
4) To the K-I prrrrrrrr, cat like a semi/Joker want my car, why’nt you get mine
Look, y’all, I don’t know what your barometer of peak badassery looks like but if it doesn’t include being able to believably pull a gun on the Joker while rolling up in a chartreuse vehicle with giant cat ears and tail, then clearly you need to raise your standards.
Ultimately what claws Eartha to the top is her timelessness. Can the performance be enjoyably campy? Obviously. But beneath the exaggeration and puns is a modern Catwoman with the strength to survive a league of gruesome circumstances courtesy of the post-Frank Miller era and the backbone needed to protect Gotham’s East End with an unflinching determination (just consider her impressive history of activism which includes advocating for urban youth organization Rebels with a Cause as well as membership in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom). As a Black woman Eartha also pioneered the way for Blerd girls to come, the Nichelle Nichols for television audiences who weren’t sci-fi fans. You just can’t argue with a legacy that large, and really, who would try?