LBJ: The Early Years (1987)

 

 



Director:    Peter Werner.

Starring:    Randy Quaid (Lyndon Baines Johnson), Patti LuPone (Claudia Alta 'Lady Bird' Taylor Johnson), Morgan Brittany (Alice Glass), Pat Hingle (Sam Rayburn), R.G. Armstrong (Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr.), Barry Corbin (Judge Alvin J. Wirtz), Robin Curtis (Jacqueline Kennedy), Charles Frank (John F. Kennedy), James F. Kelly (Bobby Kennedy), Kevin McCarthy (Joseph Kennedy), Jack Blessing (Billy Bob), Tony Frank, Jack Garner, Anne Haney (Rebekah Baines Johnson), Jerry Hardin (Earl).

The rise of Lyndon B. Johnson to the presidency.

 

 

Spoiler Warning: 

Washington, D. C., 1934.  Lyndon Baines Johnson bolts up the steps of Congress.  There he runs into Sam Rayburn, a Democrat from Bonham, Texas, northeast of Dallas, who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years from 1940-1961 (except for the years 19471949 and 19531955), the longest tenure in U.S. history.  Lyndon himself is from Stonewall, Texas, west of Austin, Texas.  Rayburn knew Johnson's father Sam from their days in the Texas Legislature and LBJ became a surrogate son to Rayburn.   LBJ currently serves as the legislative secretary for Congressman Richard M. Kleberg.  Rayburn teases Johnson about going to see Boss Taylor's daughter, Claudia Alta Taylor, also known as "Lady Bird", of Karnack, Texas.  Johnson says that he has asked the lady to marry him. 

LBJ drives a Cadillac from Washington, D. C. back to Texas.  He arrives at the home of Lady Bird.  After saying hello to the family, he takes Lady Bird for a drive in the Cadillac.  He tells her he's taking her to San Antonio, southwest of Austin, to marry her.  Lady Bird objects to eloping like this and Johnson asks her if she objects to him being a poor boy from the Hill Country of Texas and he scratches himself when he itches.  [The Hill Country is a twenty-five county region of Central and South Texas that includes parts of Austin and San Antonio.]   He tells her that she is very intelligent and deserves a better life than that contained in Karnack, Texas.  Lady Bird says maybe she's too shy for that kind of life.  Johnson tells her that with his help, she can do it.  He virtually bullies her into going through with the marriage ceremony.  The minister says he won't conduct the ceremony unless he hears from the bride that she wants to be married.  Lady Bird says yes and they marry on November 17, 1934. 

The newlyweds drive up to the home of Lyndon's father.  Lyndon just tells his bride to go on into the house and introduce herself to the family, while he stays on the porch to talk to his father and the men.  Mother Johnson is none too happy to hear the news of the marriage by elopement.  She tells Lady Bird that she will have to share Lyndon with many other people, because Lyndon has the leadership skills of the Johnson men and will always be in the thick of things.  She says:  "Greatness is stamped on him like a mark from heaven.   I only hope that he has prepared you for your role."

Lyndon drives Lady Bird up to "his office" even though it's the office of Congressman Richard Kleberg.  Mrs. Kleberg grabs Lyndon for a private talk.  She was irked by his taking her husband's Cadillac without permission, but she is even more upset about the way Lyndon is turning her husband into a "political steer".   She claims that Lyndon has been continuously undercutting her husband's authority.  Lyndon takes authority upon himself and weasels himself in between Richard and his biggest constituents and then plays up to those very same colleagues.  In short:  "You are a conniving bastard, an egg sucker and an upstart."  Furthermore, Lyndon is "poor white trash" from the hill country and then she says that her husband is going to fire Lyndon this afternoon.  Lyndon storms out of the office. 

In 1935, Lyndon was appointed head of the Texas National Youth Administration.  He gets jobs for thousands of young people.

Austin, Texas. 1937.  Texas Congressman Buchanan dies and Lyndon shouts:  "Yahoo!"  Johnson decides to contest for the special election of Texas's 10th congressional district, that covered Austin and the surrounding hill country.  He goes to see someone who can help him and the fellow tells Johnson there has to be tit for tat.  Johnson agrees and the man says Johnson has to get $10,000 dollars before they will support him.  Lady Bird says that's a lot of money. 

Lyndon starts talking to the Hill Country people, many of whom already know him.  The hill people don't even have electricity.  Lyndon says he will fight those eastern tycoons to get the hill people their electricity.  This is music to ears of the poor hill people. 

Lady Bird calls her daddy and gets the $10,000 dollars from him.  Johnson and Lady Bird work really hard on the campaign trail and in some really hot weather.  He canvases 8,000 square miles.  He runs on the Roosevelt program.  He works so hard that he develops stomach problems.  His wife tells him that the has to go see a doctor. 

Lyndon tries to force Lady Bird to speak before a crowd, but she protests that she just can't do it.  He goes out to speak and faints before he can get out a single word.  In a hospital bed, he learns that he won the election.  An operation removes his appendix. 

Lyndon gets frustrated with the job saying that he had more power being a secretary for Congressman Kleberg.  His main backer, Judge Worth, says that's because Kleberg had more money, and money is power.  He offers to help Lyndon get more backers and, thereby, more money. 

Johnson fires his right hand man Billy Bob.  Mrs. Johnson tells the man that her husband didn't really mean it.   She tells him to go on home for now, but come back in the morning.  Also in 1937, Johnson's  father dies and he attends the funeral.  He cries after the funeral. 

Johnson's father was deeply in debt to people and Lyndon worries about paying off the debts.  Judge Worth says that Johnson is not liable for his father's debts.  Lyndon says he has to pay the men because he grew up with so many of them.  The Judge says he will set up a meeting with a lobbyist to help bring in some money.  Judge Worth tells Lyndon that he has to be more practical. 

Johnson attends a big shindig for the politicos.  He meets Agricultural Secretary Henry Wallace.  He also meets Alice Glass.  Lyndon is very taken by Alice.  Lady Bird has a hard time striking up conversations with the other guests.  Rayburn saves her by asking her to have a drink with him. 

Lyndon plays a game of pool with Alice and loses.  He then dances with Alice. 

Johnson is celebrated as the man who brought electricity to the Hill Country.  Mrs. Johnson is well aware of Johnson's friend Alice Glass.  She looks at her on the podium with her.  She doesn't feel good and her mother-in-law thinks Lady Bird might be pregnant. 

Lady Bird becomes so exhausted by life on the political circle, that she tells Lyndon that she's tired of being badgered by him to be a sexier Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Johnson spends a lot of time with Miss Glass.  He's with her when he gets the news that his wife is in the hospital having a premature baby.  He hurries to her hospital room.  He cries a bit and tells her he's sorry. 

In 1941 Johnson lost a senate election to the sitting Governor of Texas, radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel

At a big outdoor party, Lady Bird seems to have become a good politician, speaking with so many people.  Lyndon is late and Judge Worth asks Lady Bird to say a few words to the crowd.  She does very well.  Her husband upstages her by coming in via a helicopter landing.  When he lands he poses for picture with his two girls and his wife.  After three miscarriages, Lyndon and Lady Bird had two daughters: Lynda Bird (born in 1944) and Luci Baines (born in 1947).

In the 1948 Democratic primary elections, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won against former governor Coke Stevenson.  There was a lot of reported voter fraud in the elections, but Johnson prevailed and went on to defeat the Republican candidate.   

1955.  LBJ is now the majority leader of the Senate Democrats.  He calls over to Sherman Adams to put President Eisenhower under pressure to censor Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin for his communist-baiting.  He says the President is acting like a lily-livered chicken on the matter.

Junior Senator Jack Kennedy from Massachusetts comes over to see LBJ.  Kennedy wants to be put on a good committee in the senate.  Johnson says he wants Kennedy to be in the senate to help pass the Taft-Hartley act.  Kennedy says he has a previous commitment, but LBJ insists that Jack must be in his seat when the vote comes.  The interaction didn't go too well, but Jack shows up for the vote.  LBJ wins and now is ready to give Jack a good assignment. 

The very heavy smoker (60 a day) Johnson has a near-fatal heart attack at 47 years of age. 

1959.  Robert Kennedy really doesn't like old "Landslide Lyndon".  The Kenndys need to find out if LBJ plans to run for the presidency in 1960.  Robert is sent down to Texas to find out from LBJ himself what are his presidential intentions.  LBJ tells Robert that he's not going to run for the presidency.  He's says he's taking Robert out to hunt deer.  Kennedy is not happy about this and wants to skip the hunt, but LBJ won't have it.  It looks like Kennedy is going out with a bunch of red necks and is totally out of place.  Robert doesn't even carry a rifle.  LBJ gives him a rifle that has a tremendous recoil and Bobby gets a cut over his right eye after he shoots to miss the deer.  LBJ says:  "You got a lot to learn, boy, like how to use a man's weapon."  Bobby realizes that LBJ set him up deliberately with a powerful rifle that he wouldn't be able to control. 

LBJ favors a voting act, but the southern senators don't want it.  He has a verbal fight with one of those senators.  Rayburn says that LBJ is not going about this the right way.  He is hurting his chances to become president.  Meanwhile, Kennedy is building up a full head of steam.  Lyndon tells Rayburn that Kennedy is just not that big of a threat. 

Kennedy wins the Democratic nomination on the first vote.  Johnson is upset.  He says:  "Those damn Kennedys." 

Much to the disappointment of his staff, John Kennedy offers the vice-presidential slot to Johnson.  Rayburn has a private talk with LBJ and Lady Bird.  He tells LBJ to take Kennedy's offer.  Now Bobby comes over to LBJ and asks on behalf of his brother, that Lyndon release Jack from yesterday's offer.  All the liberals are up in arms over the idea of LBJ as the vice-president.  Lyndon is not having this and has Billy Bob call Jack Kennedy.  Jack agrees with Lyndon and Bobby has to leave the room quietly.

Jack now appears with Lyndon as his running mate.  Lyndon feels like Jack and Bobby are just ignoring him.

1961.  Lyndon has to sit and wait for Jack as Bobby and some of his people go into see Jack.  Johnson is none too happy about waiting.  Bobby comes out and asks Lyndon to set in for Jack with the Japanese delegation.  Lyndon is not a happy camper.

Lady Bird tells Lyndon to talk nicely with Bobby to see if he can't do more for the administration.  He says he can help with the Kennedy's to get their civil rights bill through Congress.  He says that Strom Thurman is just waiting to block the bill.  Bobby is not really listening.  All he thinks is that Lyndon just wants to criticize the Kennedy's programs. 

A messenger tells Lyndon that the President wants him to go with him down to Texas:  San Antonio, Huston, Fort Worth and Dallas.  At first Lyndon says no, but then changes his mind, saying he will go. 

Johnson goes with Kennedy, but things just get worse.  LBJ says he's going to retire from the vice-presidency.

JFK is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas.  A messenger comes to talk with Lyndon and calls him Mr. President.  That tells Johnson that Jack Kennedy has died of his wounds. 

Johnson is taken to Air Force One.  He and his wife wait for Jackie and Jack's casket.  On the plane Johnson takes the oath of the presidency. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, passed more landmark legislation than any other president in our nation's presidency.  He was elected president in his on right in 1964.  On March 31, 1968, he said he would not seek or accept the nomination for another term as president.  He withdrew for ever from public life. 
 

 

Good movie.  It covered a lot of the life of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.  It showed some of the hidden feelings of Johnson, especially against the Kennedys.  Bobby Kennedy was especially mad at Lyndon for deliberately putting him in an embarrassing situation before his red neck friends when he visited Lyndon in Texas. Randy Quaid did a good job portraying Lyndon, the big, ambitious politician from the Texas Hill Country, before he was destroyed by the Vietnam War.

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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