The Huffington Post
Eartha Kitt: My Encounter with a Legend
By Bruce Vilanch
Of course I adored and wanted to be Catwoman. That goes without saying. Eartha Kitt was another matter. I had interviewed her once for the Chicago Tribune. It was a couple of years after she told Lady Bird Johnson what she thought of LBJâ€™s Vietnam war. Unfortunately, she chose to tell her at a girly luncheon all about Lady Birdâ€™s beautification program. Eartha took the entire luncheon off-message and maintained that she didnâ€™t work for eleven years after that, but here it was l971 and she was headlining a nightclub in Chicago. Sheâ€™d already been a legend for twenty years, and legends have very vague calendars. I had a great time interviewing Eartha. who spent a lot of time telling me how she had created Eartha and was now spending the seventh day resting. The next great time I had with her was about a decade and a half later,and this time I got to participate in the creation. Things were slow-ish for both of us. I had just been fired after refusing to do free rewrites on my script of Canâ€™t Stop the Music, widely considered to be the best first-draft screenplay since Citizen Kane. One of the benefits of working on the Village People movie was I got to see them all naked which, at the time, helped me see lots of other people naked, from villages far and wide. The other benefit was I met Jacques Morali, the insane gay French Jew who created the group and wrote their songs. In another pocket of his existence, Jacques annually created a score for the Crazy Horse show in Paris. Spectacular showgirls lip-synched the English lyrics as well as spectacular showgirls could to an audience of non-English speakers who had about as much interest in the lyrics as Lorenz Hart might have had in the showgirls. Armed with this knowledge, Jacques asked me to write a lyric to one of his disco tunes. And he had another reason. â€œThe girrrrl will be lap-sinking to Eartha Kitt. And zo the lyrics need to be special.â€ Will she be doing an Eartha Kitt impression? â€œDonâ€™t be bizarre. It is not a drag show. Eartha is sitting on a hill in Connecticut, not working. She will record this one thing.â€ The song was called â€œWhere is My Man?â€ Itâ€™s about Eartha and her endless search for a soul-mate who never met Bernard Madoff.
I sent the lyrics to Eartha. A day later, she called. â€œBrrrrruce, my love. Where have you been since 1952? This is so, so Eartha. But listen, Iâ€™ve never done this disco music before, so you must make a recording of this just the way you want me to phrase it so we get the maximum Eartha out of it.â€ If I didnâ€™t know that Ashton Kutcher had not yet been born, I would assume I was punked. Moi, teach Eartha Kitt how to phrase? Naturally, I fired off the cassette, which prompted another call from Eartha, threatening to sue me into the next world if I ever dressed up like Jim Bailey and did her act. She then went to New York and recorded the song with Jacques. During the session, they called. There was a long dance break on the record and Jacques felt she should cover it with something, something Eartha-esque. I dragged out my best trans-continental Eartha and purred, â€œI want a manâ€¦with a bigâ€¦bigâ€¦bigâ€¦bigâ€¦..bigâ€¦.yacht.â€ Notice I resisted dinghy. And please enter it into the record. They loved the song at the Crazy Horse, Jacques and his business partner Henri Belolo released the song as a single, it became a gigantic dance record all over the world, I got to tip several people lavishly, and suddenly Eartha was Back. She never had charts for a full orchestra, and disco music always sounds silly when attacked by a trio, so she never performed the song in public outside of singing it to track at huge discos. But we did record an entire album of equally Eartha-esque disco songs, in which she continued her poignant search for a relationship with a man of color, clarity, cut and carat. I feel her pain. To this day, I will walk into disco and hear her asking, â€œwhere is my man?â€ You ainâ€™t the only one, sister!