Eartha Kitt’s Daughter Kitt Shapiro’s Memoir Eartha & Kitt

From the moment the doctor said I could get on a plane, my mother and I took flight. She took me wherever she went to perform and, as she was internationally famous, that meant we traveled to places near and far—New York, Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Japan…

Even though we were often away for months at a time, my father stayed behind in Beverly Hills, holding down the fort and overseeing my mother’s businesses. Meanwhile, I served as my mother’s constant companion, giving her the roots for which she had always yearned.

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Eartha Kitt with a young Kitt Shapiro. Shapiro’s new memoir, Eartha & Kitt, detailing life with her legendary mother, is out now.


“When I think of not having her all these years, I wonder how I managed without her,” she wrote to my father in 1962, when I was 10 months old. “She keeps me going.”

I knew how much she needed me. Needed me to give her whatever stability, or family, she hadn’t had growing up.

On a very deep level, I believe I understood that… I was a true foundation that she could rely on and trust. This baby girl that she had birthed gave her unconditional love and devotion.

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In her new memoir, Kitt Shapiro writes “There is a high price that comes with being the most important thing in your mother’s life.”


She had wanted a child more than anything, and as she got older, she claimed that having a baby had been her entire reason for getting married. I was all that she had, and I soon became all that she wanted me to be. I had been born with the exact personality my mother needed. And I grew to adapt to, and understand that, God had known I would be the perfect fit for her, answering whatever prayers she may have sent out.

There is a high price that comes with being the most important thing in your mother’s life, though. I’m not complaining about it, mind you. I’m just pointing out that, emotionally, there was a toll that went along with that. As a teenager, I felt guilt about spreading my wings and wanting to spend time with my friends. And as a mother myself now, I fully comprehend that children should not be expected to conform to a parent’s moods or expectations. Children and teens, especially, often express themselves through separation and even anger, learning by pushing the boundaries set by their parents as they struggle to find their own voices and independence. There were times, as I got older, when my mother took my desire to be separate from her personally, and that wasn’t easy—for either of us.

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But that part came later. For my mother, being a mother came first, so from the time I was born I was always with her.

eartha kitt with daughter kitt mcdonald

Shapiro and her mother, pictured together at a 1978 reception at the White House.

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What my mother hadn’t received as a child, she was damn sure she was going to give as a parent. And so she gave me her love… in spades! I got all that good karma. All the stuff that nourishes you. All of those positive things that strengthen you emotionally, filling you with confidence and self-worth. My mother understood the nurturing power of love. I guess you can really comprehend that power when you have been deprived of it.

Children also need some sense of routine and consistency. Those things were not always easy to achieve while traveling the world, though, so my mother would try to maintain a sense of normalcy by creating daily rituals. Bedtime and playtime, in particular, were moments she always carved out in her day, no matter where we were.

Even when she had a performance, getting me ready for bed was a priority, a time when the door was closed and the rest of the world was cut off. This allowed her to focus solely on me and whatever stories I had to tell from my day. During that time, we would read storybooks and sometimes do fun tongue-twister exercises. But mostly we laughed. A lot! My mother taught me that laughter is one of life’s most important gifts.

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Kitt—with a boa constrictor—and Shapiro, pictured together in 1978.

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My mother was very warm and affectionate toward my girlfriends while I was growing up. She loved horsing around with them. She’d roll on the floor and wrestle with us, fun things I didn’t see any of the other parents doing back then. She would crawl around and act silly, or play animals, or jungle, or whatever else we wanted to do. She enjoyed watching how creative children can be using only their imaginations.

As a child, my mother had needed to rely on her own imagination to help her escape the grim reality of her surroundings. She would tell me how she had escaped to the outdoors and into the woods and watched nature unfold when she was a child. You could learn a lot, she would say, just through observation…

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Ants, and ant colonies, intrigued her. One of the most interesting things about them, to her, was that they all work together, and they don’t discriminate against each other. Every ant in the colony pulls its own weight. Yes, there was a queen. (I actually think she liked that part the best—that the colony was ruled by a queen, and they all listened to her.) But my mother would talk about how nobody slacked off in an ant colony. Have you ever seen an ant just “hangin’ out?” Nope. That’s why I think she was enamored by them. Ants are constantly busy. Moving. Working. Ant that’s what my mother was like, too.

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Shapiro and her mother in New York City, 1970.

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If she didn’t have an engagement, and she was home, you would most likely find her in the garden, working. There was always work to be done…

Tending to her garden would lead to her cooking up what she had picked, of course, which in turn led to sharing those dishes with friends and/or cast members.

When there were breaks at work, she could usually be found doing needlepoint. That’s why we have needlepoint “everything” now, from carpets to cushions to wall hangings. And, as with everything else she did, she loved sharing her creations.

“I made this needlepoint pillow for you,” she would often say to me. Or sometimes it was a rug.

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Kitt pictured with a baby Shapiro in 1962.

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“I don’t want it,” I would reply. But that never did dissuade her from making another masterpiece! I still have her needlepoint creations in storage…

The first Mother’s Day after my mother died was especially challenging. Even though I was now a mother myself, I would never again be the one giving the Mother’s Day cards. It was surreal. I remember going into the living room, where my mother’s ashes were, and saying to her right out loud, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

“I can’t believe I’ll never hear you talk to me again!” I added. That concept was hard to grasp.

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Yes, I could still watch one of her movies, or listen to her music, but I was never going to actually see her look at me and speak to me again.

It was a beautiful day outside, but I just sat inside, trying to find something on television that wouldn’t trigger a deluge from my tear ducts. I was flipping through the channels when I suddenly came upon a movie that looked vaguely familiar.

“Yes, I could still watch one of her movies, but I was never going to see her look at me again.”

It was Anything but Love, a 2002 romantic musical comedy written by and starring actress Isabel Rose, in which my mother had made a cameo appearance, playing herself.

In this movie, a young woman who longs to be a singer goes to my mother seeking advice. I wasn’t sure at what point in the story my mother appeared, or if I had already missed her. I didn’t care. I was riveted. Waiting. Hoping. For what, I didn’t know.

Then, as I am sitting there watching, the scene comes on in which the lead character knocks on a door on which an oversized star sparkles above my mother’s name… and then an unmistakable voice responds, “Yes?”

Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love Story in Black and White

Pegasus Books

As the camera slowly pans from my mother’s satin shoes up the slinky, silk jersey gown, it ends with a full frontal shot of her looking directly into the lens and giving this girl the sage advice she was searching for.

It was as though she was speaking to me directly. I’m not sure if the young woman in the film got the answer she needed, but I know that I received the message loud and clear. The tears streamed down my face as I was able to see my mother looking right at me, one more time.

Excerpted from Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love in Black and White by Kitt Shapiro and Patricia Weiss Levy. Published by Pegasus Books. © Kitt Shapiro and Patricia Weiss Levy. All rights reserved.

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