They were enthusiastic, especially about the stunning performance of Bryan Cranston, last seen as meth dealer Walter White in Breaking Bad, who plays the former president.
But we got a call the next day from Jim Jones, former House Budget Committee chairman, ambassador to Mexico and Johnson’s last chief of staff. Jones hadn’t seen the play but had heard from friends, who had told him that “the real” Lady Bird Johnson was not “portrayed as she was, that she came off as “too meek and mild. ” Jones said there was a scene where Johnson dismissed her with a curse — which he said “would never happen.” (Johnson tells her at one point to “get the hell out of here.”)
Not that the couple didn’t occasionally argue, he said, but Johnson consulted the first lady and “before any major speech or any decision he would ask what did Lady Bird say or think.” Jones said “she was very good with words and had an antenna for people and he really respected that.”
Having seen the play, we heartily agree — so does Califano — that that particular portrayal is off, way too Edith Bunker. On the other hand, the performances of the other cast members — playing Martin Luther King, and civil rights leaders Stokely Carmichael, James Farmer, Roger Wilkins and Fannie Lou Hamer, plus aide Walter Jenkins and senator Richard Russell (D-Ga.) seemed pretty accurate.
(Quick Loop Tips: 1. If you can, you must see Cranston’s performance, which ends in just a few months; 2. The tickets are pricey so go for the cheapest seats you can find. Even seats in the very back, we found, are excellent.)