Wednesday, February 16, 2022

When Eartha Kitt Preached to Lady Bird on Pot

 A new New Yorker short documentary covers the 1968 White House luncheon at which Eartha Kitt took on both LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson over their policies on "delinquent" children and the Vietnam War.

The unique and thrilling performer who Orson Wells once called "the most exciting woman in the world" was, among her many accomplishments, James Dean's dance teacher, and she also taught kids in LA's Watts district, earning her an invitation to Lady Bird's "Women Doers" lunch on January 18, 1968.

During the question period, Kitt addressed the First Lady saying, "You are a mother too though you have had daughters and not sons. I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my guts. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. And Mrs. Johnson, in case you don't understand the lingo, that's marijuana."  

Kitt had just been cast as Catwoman #2 on TV's "Batman." But within hours of the luncheon, she was blacklisted after LBJ put the word out to the media that he didn't want to see "that woman" anywhere. She was soon branded "a sadistic nymphomaniac" by the CIA, whose dossier on her was discovered by Seymour Hersh in 1975. Following publication of the dossier's contents in the New York Times, Kitt focused on performances in Europe and Asia.

She returned to New York City in 1978 to triumph in the Broadway spectacle Timbuktu!, stopping the show with her sultry rendition of "Rahadlakum," in which she gives a recipe for Turkish Delight, the confection that the White Witch uses to enchant the hero of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (See a recipe for THC-infused Turkish Delight.)

In 1987 Kitt starred in the London West End production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, singing the anthem "I'm Still Here" with the lyric, "Reefers and vino, rest cures, religion and pills, and I'm here."

A younger generation will know Kitt's distinctive voice as Yzma in "The Emperor's New Groove" movies, and as the fortune teller in the 2007 Dope and Faith episode of TV's "American Dad," the same year she re-recorded "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" as the spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics' Smoke Signals collection.

Catch Eartha, who died on Christmas Day 2008 at the age of 81, performing her hit "Santa Baby."

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