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An inside view of Lady Bird Johnson – The Hollywood Reporter


Recorded by Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson during her husband’s wholly unexpected stint in the White House, 123 hours of audio tapes have marked five of the most difficult and productive years of the American presidency. Her notes, some of which remained sealed as of late 2017, have been central to Julia Swig’s biography. Lady Bird Johnson: Hide in plain sight. Based on this book and Swig’s subsequent podcast, Dawn Porter’s sympathy includes a documentary that furthers the argument that Lady Bird made the most of a vaguely defined role, embarking on advocacy projects that were ahead of her time while providing critical support and advice to LBJ.

A director who explored the American political landscape in independent documents (Gideon’s armyAnd John Lewis: Good problem) and serial (Bobby Kennedy for President), Porter sheds new light on a long period of recent history. Beyond First Lady Records, with a piercing intimacy, Lady Bird Diary Steps outside the standard reference of archival footage to provide a compelling visual record. Porter complements the footage and stills with recordings of LBJ’s White House phone calls – including one with Martin Luther King Jr. – In addition to the watercolor style cartoon illustrations that fill in some of the blanks without feeling intrusive.

Lady Bird Diary

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The pivotal history was delivered with a keen eye and hazel drawing.

place: SXSW Film Festival (documentary highlight)
exit: Dawn Porter
Based on the book Lady Bird Johnson: Hide in plain sight By Julia Swig and the Podcast In plain sight: Lady Bird Johnson

1 hour 40 minutes

All of this is driven by the central character’s wit and balanced pathos. “I felt like I was walking on stage for a part that I hadn’t rehearsed for before,” she recalls entering the role of First Lady, after a nightmare Friday in Dallas that found her on Air Force One next to her, traumatized by the bombing. Husband and newly widowed Jacqueline Kennedy, in her bloodstained pink suit, for LBJ’s emergency swearing-in ceremony. Shortly thereafter, Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird’s press secretary, suggested she record her thoughts on her experience in the White House, and presented a reel-to-reel to a square that belonged to her son, and she moved to “Portable” in 1963.

Born in 1912, Lady Bird certainly took the traditional role of meeting assistant very seriously, but she was also college educated—she studied journalism—and a keen observer of human nature with a sure understanding of the political exigencies. Her comments are marked by a curiosity about people and, at times, a quiet urgency, whether she describes the “strange angst” she felt around Robert Kennedy or acknowledges her husband’s bouts of crippling depression, unknown to the public.

Through it all, there is something about her, a no-nonsense hardness. “I’m not the sketch-and-swatches type,” she says of her sudden commitment to setting a kind of fashion standard. It’s especially endearing to hear her describe, on loan from Texas, the “praise” of flowers or admit to the “self-indulgence” of “a glass of wine and Gunsmoke.In the next breath, she breaks through the glossy surface, describing this night of escaping TV as an example of being able to carry on ‘with disaster hanging over your heads.’

The debacle you speak of is the United States’ deepening involvement in the Vietnam War, a weight that Lyndon Johnson felt keenly once he took office. For all his reluctance to commit American soldiers to conflict, after winning a landslide election in 1964, he followed the recommendations of his advisors—who, the American people would eventually learn, were lying. Johnson’s escalation of the conflict would be his political fix and enshrine a legacy that includes some of the most far-reaching and progressive domestic actions any administration has ever achieved. He also appointed the first black Cabinet member (Robert C. Weaver, for HUD) and the first black chief executive of a major American city (Walter Washington, DC mayor), and nominated the first black Supreme Court justice (Thurgood Marshall).

Porter is wary of the personal complexities between blacks and whites in the South—ties that can run deeper than in the ostensibly compact North even as they are mired in a toxic legacy. In the grand tradition of party politics of Democrats and Republicans pointing out each other’s hypocrisy, a few Republicans attempted to question Johnson’s stated beliefs by announcing that an elderly black tenant farmer still lived on a piece of Alabama land that the first lady owned. heir. Porter lets Mrs. Bird have the last word on the matter. She provided the words of Zephyr Wright, a black woman who worked as a cook for the Johnson family, attesting to LBJ’s sincerity regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the landmark pieces of legislation in his administration.

Lady Bird’s highway beautification program has been derided by some as frivolous, and despaired of the inadequacy of the word “facelift” as it suggested something cosmetic. But she was not advocating proper work for women; It has been ahead of the curve, particularly within the Washington Institution, in recognizing the interdependence between environmental health, quality of life, and social justice.

As explored in Robert Carew’s life works, Lyndon Baines Johnson was a political animal of uncommon complexity, and his presidency was of profound historical significance. For all his prodigious skills, many observers have long recognized how important Lady Bird was to his rise, her refinement balancing an occasional hilarious roughness. Johnson himself called it “the brain and money of this family”. Porter doesn’t delve into her business experience, but she does show how easily and confidently Lady Bird entered White House responsibilities, and how she shaped the role with a strong sense of self and purpose, from her comments on one of LBJ’s first presidential press conferences (“B-plus is good”) to component analysis Nine pages of his election choices for 1964. In balancing personal considerations against questions of professional responsibility and ambition, I laid out a course of action through 1968, a plan that Johnson would eventually follow.

Lady Bird Diary It reveals a curiosity on the part of the First Lady about the New Left, a rising coalition of civil rights and antiwar activists, but also an old-school disdain for young protesters. She considers their criticism “something sterile” rather than constructive. But while the doc touches on the First Lady’s conflicting instincts, he’s more interested in her courage. “I want to know what’s going on,” she once said, “even if you know that you suffer.”

And when a member of LBJ’s inner circle is embroiled in a scandal that reflects homophobic times—an era when the words “gay,” “pervert,” and “traitor” were somehow interchangeable—her reaction may not reflect the level of 21st-century enlightenment, but it does. Off the charts in terms of empathy and sensitivity. She insists that her husband and his administration express their public support for their colleague rather than choose cold silence. She begs him: “My love, my love.” And he listens.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.