An out-of-wedlock child, Eartha Kitt was born in the cotton fields of South Carolina, a pregnancy resulting from the rape by a white plantation owner and a sharecropper mother of African-American and Cherokee Native American descent. Given away by her mother, she arrived in Harlem at age nine, and at 15 she quit high school to work in a Brooklyn factory. As a teenager, Kitt lived in friends' homes and in the subways. By the 1950s, however, she had sung and danced her way out of poverty and into the spotlight: performing with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe on a European tour, soloing at a Paris night club and becoming the toast of the Continent. Orson Welles called her "the most exciting girl in the world". She speaks out on hard issues and plays no favorites; at one point, she drew flak from blacks by working throughout South Africa and reveling in her treatment there as an honorary white.