The late Eartha Kitt gives a very personal and revealing interview with Terry Wogan in 1989.
Yes, she [my mother] gave me away to a family that eventually wound up using me as a work mule. And my mother gave me to this family because the man that she wanted to marry said ‘I don’t want that yella gal in my house.’ Which meant being an illegitimate child and also the wrong color. You are not wanted by the Blacks and the Whites couldn’t care less. So this Black family, who had two teenage children, used me as a…whatever they could use me as a working person. And then I was also…by the young gentleman in that family.
I was still about five, six years old at the time when all of that abuse was going on and I couldn’t tell anybody about it because who would have believed me? And he young boy, who was not the nicest person in the world and neither was his sister, who also…well, I didn’t know anything about lesbians in those days. She tried. And there were times when the whole family was gone into the fields, harvesting, picking cotton or whatever they were doing and we were left in the house alone, the two teenagers would tie the sack around my waist and then tie me to a tree. And with a peach tree switch they would beat my bottom until I was bleeding. I only had one thing to wear and it was also made of potato sacking.
You try not to have it leave a scar on you, emotionally or mentally. But of course, even though the physical scars are gone and you start talking about it, like we are talking about it now, and you try to not get emotional about it but all of a sudden those feelings do come back. And the idea of them tying me to a tree and you not being able to escape at all.
On her self love and romantic relationships
That little, ugly duckling was always told that she’s an ugly duckling, nobody wants you. and she’s trying so hard to find somebody who says ‘Eartha Mae, it’s alright you’re wanted too.’ But nobody’s done that yet. Maybe I have not given them a chance to do so, I don’t know but she keeps hoping.
Terry Wogan: But people must have shown you affection and love in your life, is it that you can’t accept it?
Eartha Kitt: The public and my daughter yes. If it wasn’t for the public…
Terry Wogan: Never a man?
Eartha Kitt: A man? A man has always wanted to lay me down but he never wanted to pick me up. And the man that did have real love and affection for me were the ones that never touched me. That was Orson Welles, Rubirosa. And there were a couple of real love, strong love that men have had for me, two of them John Berry Ryan III and Arthur Lowe Jr. But then the mothers step in. And I think very often the mothers, particularly with boys who come from extremely wealthy families and they are the only son, they would rather them marry trash than marry someone of color, no matter how wonderful that person of color may be.