Eartha Kitt was a skinny, mixed-race woman with an odd, angular face, who seduced fifties white America into thinking that she was, in the words of Orson Welles, ‘the most exciting woman in the world’. She could count Marilyn Monroe, T.S. Eliot, Prince Philip and Albert Einstein among her friends and admirers, and was almost able to forget she had once been a poor black girl from the Deep South.
But her new persona was also a prison from which she found it impossible to escape. John L. Williams’ moving and unsettling biography shows a star adrift in a bewildering new America torn apart by the Civil Rights movement. Shunned by many of her former friends, shocked by her country’s insiduous racism, and with a perilously fragile sense of her own identity, Eartha Kitt would pay the price that came from trying to be America’s mistress.