Eartha Kitt—once described as “the most exciting woman in the world” by Orson Welles—was in many ways the woman I aspire to be: wildly confident, whip-smart, well traveled, active in social and political causes, carefree and black and luminous.
Of course, if you dig deeply you’ll learn that much of her sultry, "come-hither" persona was exactly that: an alternate identity created to mask a sensitive inner life.
In honor of the actresses’ 89th birthday, I’ve compiled some of her best and most candid quotes on life and love.
1. On self-love:
"It’s all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self-love deficit."
2. On fear:
"I've never felt that fear is my enemy. Fear is my friend. It offers me a chance to stay alert, keep growing, continue creating something new."
3. On love and compromise:
"A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned, not to be compromised for. And I love relationships; I think they're fantastically wonderful, I think they're great. I think there's nothing in the world more beautiful than falling in love. But falling in love for the right reason. Falling in love for the right purpose. When you fall in love, what is there to compromise about?"
4. On whether or not love is a union between two people, or if Eartha Kitt is in love with herself:
"If you want to think about it in terms of analyzing—yes. I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me, with me."
5. On life:
"My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions."
6. On being criticized:
"It's very easy for people to throw stones at you when they don't understand, rather than searching to find out what you're all about. I think that's a great mistake we make between each other. Human beings are supposed to love one another."
7. On learning as a life-long journey:
"I'm learning all the time. My tombstone will be my diploma."
8. On men in past relationships:
"A man has always wanted to lay me down, but he never wanted to pick me up."
9. On the Vietnam War, when asked by Lady Bird Johnson for her opinion on crime and juvenile delinquency in America (1968):
“The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons—and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson—we raise children and send them to war.”
10. On if she regretted her comments to Lady Johnson:
"No. I don't have any regrets about it at all. Why should I be upset that she was embarrassed? That's her problem."
11. On returning to America from Europe after years of being publicly ostracized:
"Even though I love this country—I've been in 104 countries in the world and I always want to come home—I want this country to fulfill its promises. Even going back to '40 acres and a mule', we never got that. We never got the freedom. They only took the chains off. But they never allowed my soul to exercise itself like a decent human being. And that's what I'm fighting for—for all of us."
Rest in power, dear Eartha.