A touching, sympathetic portrait of a successful marriage despite the agony and the stress, emphasizing Lady Bird Johnson’s spectacular inner grit.
As an accomplished biographer of several works on presidential wives (The Roosevelt Women, 1998, etc.), Caroli does an impressive job refuting the “doormat” reputation of a humiliated wife to a coarse, philandering Texan by underscoring the symbiotic relationship that mutually sustained the couple through their whole lives. The only daughter born to a cultured, troubled gentlewoman who died early from mysterious circumstances and a larger-than-life, self-made businessman, Claudia Taylor, aka Lady Bird (1912-2007), learned a great deal from her pragmatic, number-crunching father—namely, to be self-sufficient and unafraid to take risks. Meeting former Texas schoolteacher Lyndon Johnson and then running Texas Congressman Richard Kleberg’s Washington office, in 1934, Lady Bird resisted being swept off her feet by the blustering, ambitious young man, who pressured her into marriage, sensing she had the “emotional ballast he needed to achieve his ambition.” Indeed, the leitmotiv here is that Lady Bird provided the necessary counterbalance to Johnson’s often overweening narcissism, which revealed itself in abusive, self-pitying outbursts that only she could smooth out. His outsized ambition in Congress and the Senate allowed her a place at the table, and she became a highly effective political tool for her husband’s career. Moreover, she used her business acumen to take part in a series of forward-seeing investments in radio and TV in the 1940s that made the couple rich. Caroli creates a vibrant portrait of a first lady who liked campaigning and learned how to speak publicly and effectively. Once her husband became vice president, she teamed up with Jackie Kennedy to shine as a political spouse when her husband was floundering. Unlike Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird was not about to keep her mouth shut, turning her husband’s chronic philandering to her advantage.
Well done. An engaging dual biography of a most intriguing power couple.