Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Shannon’

 

Eartha Kitt and I Go Way Back

Saturday, August 7th, 2004

The AP story was short and to the point:

WESTPORT, Conn. — Eartha Kitt, the original Catwoman on the Batman television show, suffered minor injuries when the vehicle she was driving collided with another car and flipped over, police said.

Kitt, 77, was treated at Norwalk Hospital and released, hospital officials said.

The accident occurred Thursday morning, said Sgt. Jerry Shannon. Kitt’s all-terrain vehicle was crossing an intersection when it collided with a car, causing Kitt’s vehicle to roll over onto its roof, police said.

Her two toy poodles, who were in the actress-singer’s car, escaped injury.

The cause of the crash was under investigation.

I’m glad she’s out of the hospital. I’m surprised she lives here in Connecticut. To mention Eartha Kitt and not mention her one-of-a-kind voice and amazing jazz perfomances is tragic.

I first ran into Eartha Kitt in 1967 at CBS on West 57th Street in New York. Since I was in high school at the time, you might be wondering how I got there? It was not where most 16 year olds got to hang out.

In high school, I was a radio actor. My junior and senior year, instead of taking English in the conventional way, I was a member of the New York All City Radio Workshop. The workshop members, drawn from high schools across the city, were cast in radio plays which ran on WNYE-FM, the Board of Education’s station.

Even in the late 60s this was an anachronism. Drama on radio had been dead for a decade or more. On the other hand FM radio was a underdeveloped technology that few people listened to. We were the worst of both worlds!

At the same time, somehow, the Board of Education ‘sponsored’ a weekly public affairs program, “Dial M for Music,” which ran on WCBS – TV. Why the Board of Education would care about this was, and still is, beyond me. It seemed then, as it does now, like a weasel deal for Channel 2 to get some sort of FCC Brownie points.

“Dial M” brought jazz acts into the Broadcast Center and then taped their performances in front of high school kids. That’s where I came in. Instead of rounding up random kids and then letting them roam free through the CBS studio complex (which is what we did, as the show taped 2-3 episodes on a Saturday afternoon), they called on members of the All City Workshop. I guess the idea was, we already knew a little about broadcasting and would be less troublesome.

I got to see some jazz legends – people like Lionel Hampton, Mongo Santamaria and Hazel Scott. And, I got to spend 6-7 Saturdays a year at CBS, poking around the studios and signing for food in the cafeteria. I remember visiting “The Treasure House” set from Captain Kangaroo, some soap opera studios, and an elaborate set-up for a Barbra Streisand special. The center core of the Broadcast Center was a circular ramp, loaded with props and sets.

One Saturday we came in to see Eartha Kitt. I knew the name and recognized the voice, but wasn’t a fan. Her core audience was around my parent’s age.

Before the show started, the director (as I remember a laid back man with a Southern accent) came and gave us the drill. Don’t look at the cameras. Applaud with your hands cupped to sound a little louder. Pay attention to the artists.

So as Eartha Kitt started to sing, I watched with rapt attention. The studio was small and there weren’t more than 15 or 16 of us in the audience, sitting on low stools.

Eartha looked at me. She looked at me deeply.

The more she sang, the more intently she looked into my eyes. I was 16 – and a young 16 at that – what did I know? But she was mentally undressing me! Though it may have been enjoyable for her, it was unnerving to me.

I remember her performance was great. I also remember being as uncomfortable as is humanly possible. I should have been flattered, but it totally weirded me out.

If she’s 77 now, she was about 40 then and overtly sexy. She was a catwoman before she played Catwoman on TV. I’d like to think I helped her performance.

She probably forgot about me as she left the studio. I’ll never forget her.