The Way Back: Lady Bird’s Eye View

As the film pops and flickers, a young woman with arched eyebrows, warm eyes, and an ever-so-slightly lopsided smile is tearing into her companion. The man, in a bow tie and cartoonish mustache, is aghast. Dressed in Victorian finery, the woman wags her finger and gives the man an earful—we just can’t hear it.

The silent film is indeed a relic, but not as old as it seems. It’s a skit performed by Lady Bird Johnson and two actors using a movie camera given to her by her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in the late 1930s.

Tucked among the official state gifts, trinkets, and endless reams of records at the LBJ Presidential Library is a collection of home movies Mrs. Johnson, BA ’33, BJ ’34, BL ’64, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna, captured from the time her husband was a barnstorming member of the U.S. House to his ascension to the presidency. In addition to the dramatic skits, she filmed intimate family moments, lopes around the ranch, worldly adventures, and meetings with political scions from World War II to the swinging ’60s: Adlai Stevenson II, Hubert Humphrey, and Sam Rayburn, to name a few.

While the camera didn’t have a microphone, Lady Bird later recorded narration for some of the videos. Of the scene in which she scolds her fictional beau, she explains: “He asked me if I would like a demitasse,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it couldn’t be very good.” As the camera shows the now-happy couple after burying the hatchet, Lady Bird’s hand draped over the man’s shoulder for a final portrait, she adds: “It all ended happily.”


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