Friday, December 26, 2008

Did Lady Bird Abuse Her Power?

In this country that prides itself on freedom of speech, you better watch what you say. If a person is powerful enough, you could end up getting screwed.

From Sultry singer, actress Eartha Kitt dies at 81 by The Associated Press:

Kitt was plainspoken about causes she believed in. Her anti-war comments at the White House came as she attended a White House luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.

“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” she told the group of about 50 women. “They rebel in the street. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”

For four years afterward, Kitt performed almost exclusively overseas. She was investigated by the FBI and CIA, which allegedly found her to be foul-mouthed and promiscuous.

"The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work," Kitt told Essence magazine two decades later.
From Eartha Kitt 'Speaking Freely' transcript:
Paulson: This is a show largely about free expression and the First Amendment. And you had a singular experience one day having lunch at the White House. And I’d like to explore that with you because that story’s been told from a number of different perspectives. And I’d just like to walk through it very carefully. We’re going to get the definitive story of Eartha Kitt and Lady Bird that day at the White House. You were invited to lunch with fifty other women. What did you believe you were going to do? What was the expectation of that luncheon?

Kitt: First of all, the invitation said, “Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?” And I took the subject seriously because I work with different areas of the United States among the young people. I still have an organization in Watts called Kittsville, where we bring the young people in to teach them physical therapies of the dance form, et cetera, et cetera … as well as other things. But this luncheon was with us fifty women who were to discuss the problems among the young people at that time, and when the time came, I raised my hand and told Mrs. Johnson what the young boys of this country had told me, who had fled United States, met me in my dressing rooms, no matter which part of the world I was in, such as Canada and England, et cetera. And we would sit on my floor of my dressing room, or in my hotel suite, and we would discuss what it was that they was problemed with, and the biggest problem among them was our involvement in Vietnam. And they said, “If you’re a good guy, you don’t get sent … you get sent to Vietnam. If you’re a bad guy, you have a little stigma against you and you don’t go to Vietnam.” Not that they did not love the country, but they didn’t want us to be involved there. It was a dishonorable war, and it was an unwinnable war. So when I raised my hand and told Mrs. Johnson what those boys had told me and also how I felt about our involvement in Vietnam, it seems that within two hours I was out of work in the United States, according to my dossier that was given to me not just … not the whole thing, just a smidgen. It said that I was on the CIA list in the United States of America.

Paulson: Now you spoke up during a discussion that was largely devoted to the beautification of America.

Kitt: Well, her idea, and according to the ladies there, too, was to plant wild seeds along Route 66.


Kitt: And I thought, that’s all very well and good. But what we need is education for everyone, equal education for all, and why is it that our schools are so dilapidated and our educational system so much at fault? Because I believe that if you get an education, you can cross anybody’s line. Because it’s your intelligence that counts, not what you look like.


Paulson: Did you have any sense as you walked from the White House that day what was about to hit you? Did you have any idea that you had jumped into boiling water?

Kitt: No. Because I have a feeling of freedom in my country, and we are on grounds that says you have that freedom of … freedom of speech, freedom from oppression, freedom from … all sorts of oppressions. I still feel that way. And as I said, we in our country can solve our own problems on our own home grounds, and therefore what we feel in our own country should be exercised, the freedoms that we have here.

Paulson: Did you have contracts canceled on you immediately when you went … I mean, was it a matter of weeks, was it a matter of minutes that you knew that something terribly bad was going to happen to your career?

Kitt: It was a matter of, I think, weeks because after the luncheon, three weeks later I was supposed to open at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. And I called the agency to go over the contract to see that everything was so and so and so. And they said, “What contract?” And I said, “But … blah-blah-blah.” Said that you had … don’t have a contract there. And when I called the Ambassador Hotel, they … acted as though they’d never even heard of me. And I think I still have that contract somewhere in my scrapbooks. And that’s when I began to realize what is happening. Has my popularity waned? Am I … what … what did I do wrong? Have I done something wrong? And that’s when I began to realize that I wasn’t able to get work in the United States. Not because they didn’t want me as an artist, but they didn’t want the CIA or the FBI on their doorsteps. That’s why you’re out of work, without even realizing it.

Paulson: And what we have found out since then, thanks to some investigative reporting, is there were in fact both CIA and FBI agents looking into you.

Kitt: Yes.

Paulson: They … the dossier, I think the most ugly thing they could find to say about you, let’s see, was … you were a sadistic nymphomaniac. That was …


Kitt: I think I lost a page in my life somewhere, but … yes.

Paulson: Which some would regard as a compliment.


Paulson: But … that was … that was the ugly thing they asserted about you.

Kitt: And that’s all they could come … back with, because they’re doing … they’re doing investigations behind your back and you don’t even know it. And all you know is that you can’t work and you don’t know why. Nothing is ever explained to you.

Paulson: By all accounts, you spent about eleven years without Stateside work. When did you know that the curtain was lifting that you were … you were in effect able to come back and work in the United States?

Kitt: When Geoffrey Holder called me … he flew to Los Angeles and he came to my house in Beverly Hills and asked me if I would do Celine LaLong in his production of “Timbuktu,” which is “Kismet,” as everyone knows. And it’s the number five character. She’s not number one, two, three or four. But I never worried about whether you are the lead character or not. The audience knows that. The audience always knows who is the star, and therefore I don’t have any arguments with that. So when he asked me … naturally, I said, it was wonderful. So I came back to do “Timbuktu.” And I was brought in on the stage in the hands of Tony Carroll, who is the … the opposite, or I suppose the same kind of person as Schwarzenegger. They were in competition with one another at one time. And he brought me in onto the stage and I had one foot on his body like that. The other foot was in his hand. And my derriere was in his hand.


Kitt: I’ve always wanted a man like that. I haven’t found one yet. But when I walked up … when I came on the stage, before I could take my body and my feet down, the audience … the audience stood up and gave me a standing ovation, even before I opened my mouth. That’s when I realized …


Kitt: … I was okay. (Laughs)

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