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Eartha Kitt discusses her music career ; part 3

BROADCAST: Jul. 10, 1962 | DURATION: 00:08:56


Studs Terkel continues to interview actress and singer Eartha Kitt. Part 3 of the interview begins with Kitt discussing the following; her career; her international travels; and linguistic abilities.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Eartha Kitt So ever since then, when he made this statement, I began to think about myself. Not that I think of myself in terms of such a, a wisdom, this aged person, but it does make me curious and it does make me curious about other things in life so that I want to constantly learn and be aware. I think that's the most wonderful thing, when you are aware. That's when you pick up much more than you think you, than you realize you're picking up. Knowledge-wise.

Studs Terkel Well, Welles obviously is a very perceptive artist, and in choosing you for this role, Welles himself, we think of this flamboyant, highly imaginative, creative, guy, was he interesting to work with? Welles?

Eartha Kitt He was very interesting to work with. As a matter of fact, he is probably one of the, at that time to me, he was one of the strongest, most wonderful personalities of our time, and I think that he would have gone on to be even more strong and more wonderful and more of a genius than he was at the time, but people did not understand it, because I think here again we are afraid of individuals, and if you are an individual, you know you're sort of an outcast. It's like having talent today. Talent is no longer an asset to a person. It is now a hindrance because of the vast amount of monies that are being made by people with no talent. And it may be harsh of me to be saying this, but it happens to be, in my opinion, terribly true. And there's so many people who realize this, so we don't do anything about it. You know, like we don't do a thing about a lot of things that we feel something should be done about. As a result, the business has been sort of turned over to teenagers who haven't matured and haven't gotten any sense of values as yet except the monetary things in life, and here we are.

Studs Terkel And so it's pretty much an industry, rather than an art form. It's an

Eartha Kitt That's right. That's why our theaters seem to be closing up rapidly, and television with the bang bang bang, the cowboys and everything is a cowboy and everything is a Doctor Kildare, and everything is, you know, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

Studs Terkel Someone like Welles then who is an individual, who does not say yes automatically, is a dangerous man in a way to the formula makers. Knowing Welles.

Eartha Kitt Yes, because

Studs Terkel He disturbs them! He disturbs them.

Eartha Kitt Yes, therefore they become frightening creatures and they have to be gotten rid of. And you have to be terribly strong to survive.

Studs Terkel A question, Eartha Kitt, I'm sure that people are thinking of, your capacity, your facility with language. How did this come about? This facility you have with various languages.

Eartha Kitt Well, you know, when I came up north, that is, from the South. My aunt lived in various neighborhoods, and one of the neighborhoods that we lived in was a Puerto Rican, Cuban, Negro, Italian neighborhood, and it was predominantly Spanish-speaking. And if you did not speak Spanish, believe me, you did not belong. Therefore, in order to belong, you had to learn the language.

Studs Terkel Out of necessity.

Eartha Kitt Out of necessity, that's right. So out of Spanish, it became very easy to learn another Latin language, which was French when I went to Europe, and being in France for a great length of time, I think we played in Paris for about six months, and after being there for two or three months, I was getting along very well in French, and the other languages came very easily.

Studs Terkel Just came along.

Eartha Kitt Yes.

Studs Terkel And so the story of Eartha Kitt, I don't mean to make this seem like a, the story of, but nonetheless the picture of Eartha Kitt as one who always observing, and -- I hate to use that phrase "adjusting," because you don't really adjust. You are adjust, you say you adjust to audiences

Eartha Kitt Well, you apply yourself to the circumstances, to the situations, to the environment, just like you apply yourself to different personalities that you meet. You're never the same person with any, any different person, are you? You're never the same person twice, so you have to apply yourself to situations and life accordingly.

Studs Terkel And thus we have a certain look at you. We know of you, of course, appearing since then, after European triumphs as they say and new faces, and I'm looking at this clock, it's, it's sometimes we're slave to it. We shouldn't be, but now and then the clock, you -- I know you have to be elsewhere 15 minutes ago.

Eartha Kitt You know, that's like when I was asking for permission to have dinner with Nehru, when I was getting ready to go on one of my world tours, I just got so curious one day, I said, "I'm going to take a trip around the world on my own," and this was back in 1957, and I went to -- I happened to have been in London at the time, I had just come out of Africa, and the kind of life that I saw in Africa became much more curious about the rest of the world. So I decided before I came back to America, I was going to go around the world. And I went to the American Consulate and I said, "Well, while I'm in India, do you think that you could ask the Prime Minister Nehru to have dinner with me? Or that I could come to his home and have dinner?" He said, "My goodness, Eartha Kitt, why on earth do you think that Nehru of all people would want to have dinner with you?" I said, "Because I'm very curious. I just want to meet him. I want to know what kind of person he is. And from what I've read in the papers, that doesn't tell me anything. I want to be and see and feel spiritually myself." Anyway, as he sat and talked to me, he couldn't figure out why I would want to see Nehru, so immediately he started to say, "Now, we don't know if we can get you permission to have dinner with Nehru or not, because he's a terribly busy man. Even some of the"

Studs Terkel Diplomats.

Eartha Kitt "Diplomats are not able to obtain audience with him, and I'm sure he's going to say 'No,'" and I said, "Well, all you have to do is ask. All that he can do is say no." Anyway, the message came through, "Yes, I would be delighted to have dinner with Miss Kitt." When we got the permission to have dinner with him, then the American consulate decided to sit me down and give me a briefing, and they said, "Now, we" -- because they are still curious, you know, as to why I want to have dinner with this man, said "Now that Mr. Nehru might want to ask you certain things about Americana, and we would like you to be such and such and such and such." So I said, "Now, please. I'm spending my own money to go to these countries. I am going as an individual. I am going as a human being, and of course I am an American. I will defend my country to the best of my ability, but I would not like you to have me briefed, because it will make me feel very uneasy. Now, if you're going to give me the visa, give it to me. But if you think that you have to put words in my mouth, then I'd rather not have the visa." But anyway, he gave me the visa and I had, I had dinner with Nehru and it was quite an experience. Then from there on, well, one of these days I'll tell you about my experiences in India.

Studs Terkel I hope we can hear before you leave town, I hope we can have

Eartha Kitt As they say in dear old England, "When I was in India." My dear, it was a very exciting -- do you know that I went to see the Taj Mahal all by myself? It was quite an experience. I took movies of it. It was about six o'clock in the evening. Of course the sun was going down. And what, do you know, the most fascinating part of the Taj Mahal was the other end that no one ever sees?

Studs Terkel What was that end?

Eartha Kitt The gate. When you come in to see the Taj Mahal, that's beautiful gates. Outside of it has a, there is a lake, sort of a, well, I don't know if it's a lake or not, but it's a type like a little tiny river that runs through. This is where they throw all the dead bodies. This is where all the poor people are running around in rags and they're dirty and they're begging, and oh, life is absolutely miserable. They have nothing. And you walk through these gates and you find one of the most beautiful pieces of architect and constructions in the world.

Studs Terkel So here you have the incongruity, or the two extremes.

Eartha Kitt That's right.

Studs Terkel The poverty of today and the architecture of centuries ago.

Eartha Kitt Yes, and the thing about it is all of that money was spent on a monument to the dead. As beautiful as it is. Sad, isn't it?

Studs Terkel So you think of monuments to the living would be kind of in order, don't you?

Eartha Kitt Well, I do think that people should be more concerned about those who are running around the Taj Mahal starving to death. And I often wonder what they do with the money that you pay in order to get in to see the Taj Mahal, if that goes to the poor or not. I don't know. I have to think about that.

Studs Terkel Well, let's do that. First, Eartha Kitt, obviously you think about many things, and as far as this audience is concerned, I think all of us are deeply affected by the, by this program. But more than that, I think they could see you in action. And having heard this, seeing you perhaps adds even more dimension and enjoyment to the audience seeing you do these songs. Eartha Kitt, artist. [Let's say for now?], Part One. Shall we call this Part One of our get-together? Thank you very much. you're to be seen, of course, at Mister Kelly's for the next two weeks. Thank you very much.

Eartha Kitt Thank you. The pleasure's been mine.