By and  on September 21, 2007

She may have turned 80 recently, but Eartha Kitt has the energy and presence of a woman half her age.

"I get my energy from you all — from the people," said Kitt shortly after performing a four-song set at Café Carlyle Wednesday night. MAC Cosmetics chief John Demsey and designer Zac Posen hosted the evening in honor of Smoke Signals, MAC's fall color collection, and Kitt appeared in an in-store promotional video for the products. "Once I feel the vibrations of the people, and I feel that they came to hear and see me, that they want me — it comes from inside then. I don't think people realize how much they help me, but they do.

"I like what I do. I'm an orphan — I was never a wanted child and nobody adopted me, I was given helter-skelter to be used as a working person. Cinderella — you're looking at her!" said Kitt with a laugh. "Because of that, I realized that I had to make my own way. And when the people adopted me, as my public, you can imagine how valuable that feeling is to me. It's what makes me keep wanting to be out there. I love the fact that somebody wants me!"

In fact, Kitt didn't find her birth certificate until about 10 years ago. "I was doing a benefit for a college down South, and as a joke — a meaningful joke! — I said, 'Do you think, since I'm doing this benefit for you all for free, would you do a research project on Eartha Kitt?'" And to Kitt's immense surprise, the researchers uncovered a birth certificate for one Eartha Mae Keith, born in St. Matthews, S.C. "It was signed by the midwife, and we still don't know who the father is." But it's all hers.

The MAC pairing marks Kitt's first association with a cosmetics company. "I had a relationship with Charlie Revson of Revlon, and I tried to get him to make makeup for our complexion — I was always complaining 'You don't make makeup for people like me.' The only thing that came out of [the relationship] was a lipstick called Fire and Ice [one of Revlon's landmark shades] and that's about as far as I got in the makeup world." Laughing, she added, "I'm only sorry I waited until I was 80 years old!"Turning serious, Kitt said, "I am so glad they asked me to do this. Carlo [her personal makeup artist] was the one who first used MAC on me, and I really liked the products — so when they came to me and asked me to do the spot for them, it was very easy for me to say 'Yes, of course,' because I love the makeup. The quality is first class, and I don't feel like I'm caked with makeup when I wear it."

The admiration is mutual: "This is an Eartha Kitt moment," said Demsey. "James Gager [senior vice president and creative director for MAC Cosmetics Worldwide] and Jennifer Balbier [senior vice president of global product development, MAC Cosmetics] were inspired by her and the Jazz Age when they developed the Smoke Signals collection.

"Once the collection was done and James was working to conceptualize how to present it, he did a film with Michel Comte that features Eartha Kitt singing 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.' Everything at MAC happens organically, and it was just the convergence of MAC — the vibe that the brand was feeling — and the direction that was in the air, the incredible, exotic, sexy spirit that is Eartha Kitt. She is a living legend."

Added Posen, "She's the ultimate — she's sensual and she has flair and humor, all of the things that you dream about."

The video is being shown at counters in MAC stores. The spot may outlast the fall line, in fact — Smoke Signals has already sold 65 percent of its available inventory in its first three weeks, according to industry sources. MAC, like its parent, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., does not break out sales results.

Has the performing world changed in the more than six decades she's been a part of it? "I think it's changed tremendously," she said. "It's gotten too commercial, and the soul has gone out of it. People are now working for money, rather than for the pleasure to be able to be creative....in general, I don't feel that entertainers are singing to you anymore. They sing at us, because it seems to be making so much money — it's about arenas and the amount of records you're selling. Everything has come down to the dollar, but as far as I'm concerned it's not making much sense. I always say, once the intimacy of the business has been dissipated, then show business is really not as warm as it used to be. Except in my case," she said with a laugh. "I'm different! I like the idea of being a giver. If you're giving and you're honest with your work, you get it back. And there's nothing in the world that's greater than that."She said that's she's always identified with Maria Callas. "I loved her. Maria Callas was one of those tremendous givers. In the beginning she was not understood, because they said she brought too much acting to the opera. But that was what was so wonderful about her. She was very honest with what she was singing and she was honest with her feelings, and she held nothing back."

Just don't ask her to start carrying a BlackBerry. "People are talking so much on mechanical things that we're not talking face-to-face," she said with her trademark growl.

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