Eartha Mae Kitt (born Eartha Mae Keith January 17, 1927) is an American actress, singer, and cabaret star. She is known for her role as Catwoman in the 1960s TV series Batman, and for her 1953 Christmas song “Santa Baby.” Orson Welles once called her “the most exciting woman in the world.”
In 1968, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson invited Kitt to a celebrity women’s luncheon at the White House to offer her views on inner-city youth. Taking the event seriously, not as a publicity stunt, Kitt pointedly criticized the Vietnam War and its impact poor minorities. An infuriated Johnson put out the word that Kitt’s rudeness had reduced the First Lady to tears, and Kitt found herself essentially blacklisted across the country — afraid of incurring the government’s wrath, venues simply refused to book her. It was later revealed that Kitt was made the subject of a secret federal investigation; her house was bugged and she was tailed by Secret Service agents. When the FBI failed to find evidence that Kitt was a subversive, the CIA compiled a highly speculative dossier that attempted to portray her as a nymphomaniac. Unable to find work in America, Kitt moved to Europe, where she would spend most of the following decade. In 1974, she courted controversy once again by touring South Africa; although she performed for white-only audiences, her show was racially integrated, and she raised money for black schools by selling autographs.
Kitt finally returned to the U.S. for good in 1978 as a cast member of the Broadway show Timbuktu, an all-black adaptation of Kismet. The audience greeted her with a standing ovation, and she went on to earn a second Tony nomination; President Carter even welcomed her back personally.