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Lady Bird Johnson Remembers
The former First Lady looks back on the years with Lyndon and discusses her life today
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
Anybody who can do it as entertainment is beyond me. But I must say I came to enjoy clothes and the value of clothes.
Did President Johnson influence the way you dressed? Was he interested?
Absolutely greatly. Just like I spent years trying to make him eat at regular hours, he spent years trying to get me, quite frankly, to be better groomed. And to spend more money on clothes and to buy more clothes. He would look at me quite seriously, and he would say, “You don’t sell for what you’re worth. Some people will never see you but once, and they’ll judge you by the way you look then, and you can look just great. ” He really thought I was better looking than I was.
But he also thought I ought to spend more time and effort, and he would say, “You ought to carry your lipstick around with you and get in the habit of putting on some every thirty minutes.” And he said, “Look at yourself in the mirror whenever you go by and see if your hair needs touching up.”
Did he have favorite colors?
Yes, bright colors—red, yellow, coral, orange.
Is it true that you always campaigned in red?
Yes, that’s one place where you don’t want to be a mouse. You want people to be able to spot you.
I read in some magazine article that President Johnson liked you to wear high heels. Is that true?
Yes, and I hated them. I always felt that I was going to fall down and that. … People weren’t really meant to wear high heels, the Lord didn’t fix your foot that way. I did wear high heels especially to please him, but by and large all my life I have wanted nonconstricting garments and low heels.
How do you feel you most influenced each other?
Well, I think we were a whole lot better together than we were separate. He made me try harder and do more, and for the natural indolence I had, he was its mortal enemy, and I think perhaps sometimes I made him persevere or take a gentler attitude toward people or events or be less impatient.
And we both helped each other laugh. He could be one of the funniest people in the whole wide world. He was a great mimic and when he played he played just as vigorously as he worked. He did not play enough.
Were you ever embarrassed by his jokes?
Yes, from time to time.
I gather he was an earthy man, and used earthier language than you would use.
He was also, and this sounds contradictory, rather oldfashioned and very respectful of old people and very chivalrous mostly, but sometimes, yes, I thought his jokes were—his language was too—it didn’t please me.
I have read several accounts of how you felt about President Johnson accepting the Vice-Presidency in 1960. Some writers say you were in favor, and some say you were against it. Which is right?
I had strong reservations and concerns, and I certainly was not enthusiastic, and yet I wouldn’t have dared then, or anytime, to pound the table and oppose my feelings to his if he thought it was his duty—which he did come to conceive of it as—to oppose the opinion of people like Speaker Sam Rayburn. Speaker Rayburn had perhaps the most to do with Lyndon’s being willing.
The Speaker was one of the old-fashioned dyed-inthe-wool type of party men, Democrats, who took a long view of the party and its good and what obligation you had to it, and I think he finally came [to believe] that Kennedy couldn’t win without Lyndon and maybe they could win with Lyndon. As you recall, it was a very narrow margin.
At any rate, he [Rayburn] finally was for it and became very persuasive, and I got very still.
You got very still?
Not excited, but still. How can you dare—first, it wasn’t my life, it wasn’t my job. It would be Lyndon who would endure the frustrations, if there were any. It wouldn’t be me.
And then there was the fact that clearly, perhaps never again, would the majority leadership have quite the same quality that it had had before. Lyndon had gotten along well with Eisenhower. The balance was very close in the Senate. There were something like forty-five Republicans—just one or two difference. So you had to get along with Republicans. You had to present your case to Republicans and hold the Democrats, and it’s easier to hold the Democrats when they’ve got a mighty narrow margin than it is when they’ve got a whopping big margin. So, perhaps much as he loved that job, maybe it would not have been the same again.
I gather from your diary that you had no question in your mind in '64. You felt he had to run. Is that right?
But that you couldn’t wait for him to get out in ’68?