This Day In History: January 18

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On January 18, 1968, Eartha Kitt, the celebrated actress and singer known for playing Catwoman on the 1960s Batman television series and her sultry holiday hit “Santa Baby,” causes a stir during a White House luncheon when she confronts Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War.

“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” Kitt told the first lady. “They rebel in the street. They will take pot…and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”

Kitt had been invited by Johnson to attend the luncheon, held to discuss juvenile delinquency in the streets of America. She noted in her 1989 autobiography that she had grown frustrated that any real talk surrounding the topic was being avoided when she confronted Johnson about the war. “Just because there is a war going on, I see no reason to be uncivilized,” the first lady said in response.

The remarks, reported widely, led to Kitt being blackballed as a performer in America. The New York Times in 1975 reported that the CIA had given the Secret Service a report on Kitt shortly after the event took place.

"I don't think there is anything I have done that I wish I hadn't done,” Kitt told The Washington Post in 1978, in a story chronicling her return performance in Timbuktu!, for which she went on to win a Tony Award. “Because I learn from everything I do. I'm in school every day. My diploma will be my tombstone." She died in 2008.