In Alone with Me: A New Autobiography Eartha Kitt recounts memories of her childhood, her rise to fame, and the people who impacted her life. Eartha Kitt wrote several autobiographies in addition to Alone with Me (Thursday’s Child , I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten , as well as a health book with some autobiographical elements, Rejuvenate! It’s Never too Late ).
Alone with Me begins with Eartha Kitt’s early childhood memories in the South. Her childhood was difficult and it is hard to read—she was in multiple physically and mentally abusive situations, she only saw her father once, and her mother left her with another family, only to die in mysterious circumstances. It wasn’t until after she moved with her aunt in New York that she discovered her love for performing.
Eartha Kitt has many interesting anecdotes of her rise to stardom, which include playing Helen in Orsen Welles’ Dr. Faust while in Europe; the time a mob in Istanbul mistook her for an Egyptian princess; and 4 am motorcycle rides with James Dean. While the bulk of her writing describes several romantic relationships with white men (which all seem to end with the men not wanting to go against their family’s wishes) there are three non-romantic stories that stood out .
The first involves her health issues. During particularly stressful moments in her career, Eartha Kitt suffered from what appears to have been menorrhagia, and she would hemorrhage during her menstrual cycle. She mentions that there were times she had to completely stop working because of this, but that the taboo of mentioning menstruation publicly meant that the story had to be kept secret. “Exhaustion” was the term used, and Eartha Kitt expresses frustration that this was a perceived excuse not to work, rather than a legitimate health problem. She also mentions her experiences with doctors, and one cannot help but feel that even though she was an adult woman capable of making her own choices, the doctors treated the producers as though they were in control of her life. At one point, it took her fighting off a doctor trying to give her a shot backstage of a show before the show was finally cancelled. (She never knew what was in the syringe but Eartha Kitt tells us that the doctor later had his license revoked for medical malpractice).
I suppose these particular stories struck me because of the gender and racial bias that continues in healthcare today. Black women in the US have higher mortality rates during and after giving birth, and right now COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting black populations. Eartha Kitt had to keep performing when she was so sick her hair began to turn yellow, evidence of the long-standing history of medical professionals (and society as a whole) ignoring Black women’s health and pain, while also working their bodies to death.
Another anecdote that resonated with me is the story of Lady Bird Johnson “bursting into tears” when Eartha Kitt expressed anti-Vietnam war views during a luncheon. As both Eartha Kitt and Johnson have stated, the First Lady never did actually break down into tears—but the news printed it anyways. In the book Eartha Kitt expresses continued confusion over the incident—she was asked for her opinion, she gave it, and the the other attendees became defensive. She left DC immediately afterwards, as the story of the First Lady’s tears became a national headline. This incident made me think of white women’s tears being used to silence BIPOC voices. Eartha Kitt’s points about the war were overshadowed by the false story that she had made the First Lady cry.
The last anecdote from the book that I want to touch upon is about Marilyn Monroe. As a fan of both women, it was exciting to see Eartha Kitt discuss their friendship. Sometimes, Marilyn would call her in the early hours of the morning. Eartha Kitt also says that whenever both of them were at parties together they would gravitate towards each other. Eartha Kitt describes Marilyn as intelligent and shy, and writes that her talent was wasted on vapid roles.
Eartha Kitt notes that the two of them would discuss current events, politics and…books! I was particularly excited to see this mentioned. I wish that she had given more details about the books they discussed, but I do believe they both had at least one book in common. I am hoping to do a longer post on this at some point after doing a little more research. I also am considering this for a book chapter (yes, I am brainstorming Pinup Bookclub book ideas at the moment).
Alone with Me ends with the inclusion of CIA dossiers on Eartha Kitt—which make rather laughable biographical errors. It’s interesting to read these documents after reading her autobiographical accounts of her life—and you can almost hear Eartha Kitt’s laughter when she notes that her first autobiography was published at the same time these documents were made.
If you are interested in reading this book, you can check it out for free here (you do need to sign up, but it’s free to do so): https://archive.org/details/alonewithmenewau00kitt/page/12/mode/2up