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Landmark Cafe Carlyle to Reopen with Eartha Kitt

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

The Cafe Carlyle has been redone. Elaine Stritch, Judy Collins, even Woody Allen have played there, but the memory that overwhelms all is of the late Bobby Short.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT THAT THING")

BOBBY SHORT: (Singing) You've got that thing, you've got that thing the thing that makes birds refuse to sing. You've got that thing...

SIMON: Ms. Kitt, thanks so much for being with us.

EARTHA KITT: Thank you.

SIMON: What is it about the Carlyle that makes it a special venue?

KITT: Well, it's old-world cafe cabaret. I would tell you absolutely it's old because that's where I was trained in front of the public. People are very quiet. They're very respectful of what you're doing. And they are respectful of each other. They come well dressed, the same as we used to do back in the '50s. And they come with the feeling - at least I get the feeling - that they really want to hear and feel what the artist is doing.

SIMON: Yeah.

KITT: And that's the wonderful way to be able to communicate.

SIMON: And...

KITT: It's like - excuse me, darling - it's like talking directly to you, face to face.

SIMON: Do you mind if we talk about MAC cosmetics?

KITT: Of course.

SIMON: You've been named the face of MAC cosmetics.

KITT: Yes.

SIMON: And, well, if I might put it this way, God bless you, Ms. Kitt, you're as scintillating as ever, but you're not 21 years old.

KITT: No. I'm 80. I just turned 80 in February of this year.

SIMON: Well, happy birthday.

KITT: Thank you. And I'm very proud of it. Yes, and it's wonderful, I feel, to be able to still stand on stage and do what I'm doing, even though it's tongue-in-cheek, as you know. But I've always had a lot of fun with myself because I don't know who...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KITT: I was going say...

SIMON: Yeah?

KITT: I don't have the vaguest idea who I am. And that's why I have so much fun with myself because no matter what song I'm singing, I know why I'm singing that particular song. And therefore my feelings about that song particularly when they are funny ones that I can laugh at myself about.

SIMON: A song like what, may I ask?

KITT: "I Want to be Evil," for instance. I know that when I sing songs like that or "Old Fashioned Girl, or "Santa Baby," the "Gimme, Gimme" song, the "Material Girl" kind of songs.

SIMON: Yeah.

KITT: I have had the - have gotten the reputation that I really am like that. Well, that's what makes it so funny because I cannot tell you that I'm so completely opposite of these songs. At the same time, that's why to me they're so hysterically funny because I'm still that little cotton picker from South Carolina. I haven't changed, except on the stage, then it's a facade of who I am. And I think it's very funny.

SIMON: May I ask, Ms. Kitt, when you're in public, do people come up to you and ask you to give the cat growl?

KITT: Oh, always.

SIMON: And do you oblige them?

KITT: Oh, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMITATION OF CAT GROWL, LAUGHTER)

KITT: That's one of the songs that keeps me alive, kept my name alive.

SIMON: Eartha Kitt, who will perform at the Cafe Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, September 18th through October 28th, thank you so much.

KITT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO BE EVIL")

KITT: (Singing) Just as mean and evil as I can be. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.