The White House: The First Lady Bird

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 8)

"Les Sentiments." When her husband died, Jacqueline Kennedy was already recognized as the most dazzling First Lady in U.S. lore. It was inevitable that anyone following her would suffer by comparison. Such was the lot of Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, bearer of perhaps the most unfortunate public nickname in years. But what kind of name has Lady Bird made for herself? Reaction to her so far has been politely cool. Says Maggie Daly, columnist for Chicago's American: "She looks like every well-dressed woman of means. She does not have any special flair." Observes Françoise Giroud, co-editor of Paris' L'Express: "Lady Bird is the sort of person quí ne provoque pas les sentiments—she does not evoke feelings. Who cares about a grey lady bird?" And in London, a BBC executive snorted, "She's so beige!" But Yolande Gwin, society editor of the Atlanta Journal, put it more positively. "She's just plain old down-South Lady Bird," says she. "I think she's a much better symbol of the American woman and mother than Jacqueline Kennedy." Indeed, that special quality of homebred, plain-folks Americanness may be the one unmistakable brand that will mark Lady Bird Johnson's reign in the White House. At 51, she is cast more in the pleasant image of a neat, busy suburban clubwoman than in the queenly mold of a jet-set Continental beauty. She is intelligent, superbly poised and incredibly self-disciplined. Her skin is clear and abloom, and she has the figure of a teen-ager (5 ft. 4 in., 114 lbs.), but she is no glamor girl. Her nose is a bit too long,.her mouth a bit too wide, her ankles a bit less than trim, and she is not outstanding at clotheshorseman-ship. She has a voice something like a brassy low note on a trumpet, and she speaks in a twanging drawl; friends comes out "frayans," affairs are "affa-yahs," hogs "hoags."

Cynical sophisticates find it hard to believe, but Lady Bird's life is totally dominated by a genuine devotion to her role as Lyndon Johnson's mate. She is the traditional countrywoman, the wife who by her very nature tunes all her labor and all her love to harmonize with the ambitions of her husband. In the tradition of Southern plantation patriarchies, Lyndon Johnson is head of the family—period. And as he himself admits, "I'm not the easiest man to live with." He strongly influences her tastes —in clothes, coiffure and makeup. He has been known to swat Lady Bird so hard on the behind that her feet nearly leave the floor. Sometimes, when after-dinner drinks have flowed for a while, he launches into a few bawdy stories, fires out cuss words like buckshot. But Lady Bird sits by serenely, smiling faintly or gazing out a window.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8