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24 Frames per Second
The 9 Lives of Catwoman
Judging from the teasers, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises promises to be another must-see summer movie, not least for the anticipation of Anne Hathaway's being cast as Catwoman. Anne has some impressive spandex to fill, however, against such feline luminaries as Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and and Michelle Pfeiffer, each with her own brand of Gotham catitude. Check out our treasury of vintage images of Catwomen from NYPL's Billy Rose Theatre Division and then take a sec and scratch your vote for the most purrfect Catwoman.
The character Catwoman is iconic as much for her infamous attributes as a villainess as for the actresses who've portrayed her over the years. She is intelligent and beautiful, a warrior, a thief, and a rebel who lives on her own terms. We'll explore the lineage of this character across history and the media and after profiling each actress, we'll give you a chance to vote for your favorite Catwoman of all time!
Voluptuous, tall, and beautiful dancer Julie Newmar is the daughter of Ziegfeld Follies girl Helene Jesmer. She began her movie career in the 1950s and performed in a number of films including Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. She was first seen on stage in the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings (1955), wowed the public in her role as "Stupefyin' Jones" in Lil' Abner (1956), and won a Tony Award for her performance in The Marriage-Go-Round (1958).
Newmar was cast as Catwoman in the original television series Batman in 1966. Newmar's Catwoman was playful and dangerous, a renegade who enjoyed toying with the authorities and flirting with Batman, and as such was a perfect counterpart to the nerdy Batgirl. Newmar is probably best known for this role, and it is one she cherishes: "It is a part I shall always be grateful for, because it is one of the great parts ever written for a woman. She was sexy, sassy and successful". One wonders if Julie's filed patent for "Pantyhose With Shaping Band for Cheeky Derriere Relief" (1974) was influenced by her career in costume. Julie's latest work is a book, a how-to-live guide called The Conscious Catwoman Explains Life on Earth.
Lee Meriwether, the wholesome Miss America of 1955 who studied under Lee Strasberg, took over the Catwoman role for the film version and purred in the high camp spirit of the film. Meriwether's career spans film and the stage (more recently in Grandma Sylvia's Funeral at the Soho Theatre), but she has had a consistently successful career in television since the 1950s when she appeared on the Today Show. She is best known today for her role in TV's Barnaby Jones, as a producer, and through her work in various charities.
Eartha Kitt, the Tony-Award winning superstar, cabaret legend, and self-professed sex kitten, is the one who put the purr in purrfect. Before auditioning for the Catwoman role, Eartha was already a well-known figure here and abroad for her dancing and lovely voice, having appeared on stage in the New Faces of 1952 and dancing with Katherine Dunham.
She had the perfect lithe, catlike body for the role (does anybody remember her as the stealthy spy in tights in Mission: Impossible?), but it was her velvety feline voice that got her the television role in 1967. If you're looking to beat the heat this summer, come to the Library and read about her fascinating life in one of her autobiographies: Alone With Me (1975), I'm Still Here (Confessions of a Sex Kitten) (1991), and Rejuvenate! It's Never Too Late (2001).
After 25 years, Catwoman returned to the cinema with Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns (1992). Pfeiffer stunned in Tim Burton's revamped portrayal of Catwoman as a revenge-driven villainess who nevertheless relates to Batman and even falls in love with his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, before they both realize each other's identity. In this version she uses up most of her nine lives (and the stitches on her costume grow accordingly) before disappearing (but not really) from Batman's life.
Halle Berry was cast in the movie Catwoman (2004). The Catwoman character here really has nothing to do with the Selina Kyle character from the Batman Universe created by Bob Kane. Panned across the board by critics (or as one critic put it: "Meouch!"), the movie's only decent reviews dealt exclusively with her dominatrix outfit.
Did you know Adrienne Barbeau was the voice for Catwoman in the Batman animated series? Now you know! Other actresses who have voice-acted Catwoman include Jane Webb, Melendy Britt, Gina Gershon, and Nika Futterman.
Anne Hathaway's Catwoman apparently has less backstory than some of the others but resembles the ambivalent, flirtatious, kick-ass feline fatale reminiscient of the comic books.
Are you into graphic novels? Check out the various phases of Catwoman in NYPL's comic collections.