Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Johnson Treatment, Part 3: LBJ Gives Eartha Kitt The Treatment

click to enlarge

Moments before this photograph was taken, at a White House luncheon given by Lady Bird, the actress Eartha Kitt stood up and denounced LBJ for sending children off to die in Vietnam. LBJ happened at that moment to pass by and saw that Lady Bird was upset.

Eartha Kitt tells the story:

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, I was invited by Lady Bird Johnson to give my opinion about the problems in the United States, specifically, "Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?" The First Lady seemed to be more interested in decorating the windows of the ghettos with flowerboxes. I mean—it's fine to put flowers in the ghettos, but let's take care of the necessities first: give people jobs, and find a way to get us out of poverty.

When it came my turn to speak, I said to the president's wife, "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason."

I said that the young ghetto boys thought it better to have a legal stigma against them—then they would be considered "undesirable" and would not be sent to the war. In their opinion, in this society the good guys lost and the bad guys won. "

I don't know what he said to her, but his press office painted her to reporters as a harridan who pissed on her host's carpet. Almost needless to say, she soon had the FBI crawling all over her in addition to having her tax returns exhaustively audited.

Almost immediately, all her acting and singing work evaporated, and she was eventually forced to move to Europe to make a living.

Eartha Kitt is still around and performing more than 30 years after LBJ gave up the ghost. When Eartha comes to Seattle, my friend Milo Petersen plays drums during her run at Jazz Alley.


michelle said...

thats admirable.

Kevin said...

Sounds to me like First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was an early recogniser of the "Broken Windows Syndrome" and knew more than the actress/entertainer gave her credit for.