THE NIGHT I MET MS. KITT

EARTHA KITT ON PIANO(photo of Ms Kitt by Robert Lebeck, 1960)

For more than 15 years I had been living my life vicariously through international and domestic travelers’ stories at the bar at the Warwick hotel.

Over the years, several men assumed that I was a prostitute and asked me how much I charged.

My father told me I should expect no less; what could I possibly be thinking: a single woman, sitting at a hotel bar?

I watched countless restaurant managers come and go. There were so many of them I invented a game for my favorite bartender Annie.

I would call the new manager du jour over and initiate a conversation. It only took me a few minutes and direct eye contact to give my friend and liquid pharmacist the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’…

I became extremely accurate in character assessment.

“You were right again, Christine! This one’s an absolute asshole!” staff would confirm.

There were some good ones – usually women – but they didn’t last long.

**

I wish I could go back and change the night that I met Eartha Kitt.

I had been talking to her drummer, who was the first one of the group to leave the club. He was sitting at the bar. I had no idea that Ms. Kitt herself would be joining him…

We chatted about living in New York, and how life there had been so colorful, before it was Disneyized by corporate greed. I thought about all the famous people I had spotted, but like a true New Yorker, I had learned to act nonchalantly and ignore them.

Then she appeared; walking across the room toward us.

She was tiny. And radiant. She was a legend standing before me, looking up at me, exhausted from her third performance in three nights, but beaming. She was eighty years old.

Her presence filled the room and beyond.

She acknowledged her drummer, then smiled and looked at me. She extended her hand as she purred,

“Hello. I’m Eartha Kitt.”

It was her one-of-a-kind, sexy, alto voice and it was surreal.

I took her hand, smiled, and said,

“I’m Christine Makela.”

She and her drummer moved to a table.

I learned shortly after that that she had died.

I wish that I had let her know what an inspiration she was, to have Made It in a white, Man’s world. And not only did she make it; she became a Legend.

I, of all people, know how difficult it is for an artist to survive, let alone thrive, in the version of life that we are living- the version created by greed and apathy and entitlement…

I should have dropped to my knees and kissed her feet.

Ms. Kitt, it was an extreme honor and joy to have met you: You were loved.

Photograph: ITV/REX

Photograph: ITV/REX at the Guardian.com

I WANT TO BE EVIL

SANTA BABY

C’EST SI BON, 1953

Eartha’s childhood, by her daughter Kitt

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