In the end, what no one ever gets enough of about Lyndon Baines Johnson are the stories.
So last night at a publication party for a book full of LBJ stories, they were still telling new ones. For instance:
How Johnson got even with George Christain, his press secretary, for leaking something to reporters by magnanimously insisting he take a few days off at Camp David, then sending him a bill for $450 for the use of the place.
How Johnson loved tracking people down by telephone and did it to Wayne Hayes at 3 a.m. one day. Was Hayes surprised, LBJ inquired. "Oh, no, Mr. President," Hayes replied, "I was just lying here hoping you would call."
How Johnson once held an impromptu press conference during a whirlwind 14-day trip around the world -- in his BVDs. "I was never invited," said Nancy Dickerson, the only woman reporter on the trip, explaining why she never got that story.
"A thousand unbelievable stories," said Rep. Jake Pickle, the Texas Democrat who, like everybody there last night, knew the side of Lyndon Johnson that author Merle Miller spent five years trying to capture for his new book, "Lyndon -- An Oral Biography."
'He managed to get information out of people that they didn't want to give," said Harry Middleton, director of the LBJ Library in Austin where Miller spent considerable time doing research.
Bess Abell, Johnson's social secretary, said Johnson never liked wasting a minute and often conducted work in unusual settings. During a massage, for instance. She said she never saw anything offensive. Sheets were always "strategically" located.
James W. Symington, Johnson's chief of protocol from 1966 to 1967, wrote an entire musical aboard Air Force One during one trip and performed it for LBJ before they landed. It included a mythical briefing on a mythical country: "Please don't refer to the car as your "bubbletop' because this happens to be the King's pet name for the queen," went some of the chief of protocol's mythical advice.
"Best damn briefing you've given me yet," Symington said Johnson told him later.
G.P. Putnam's Sons publisher Peter Israel, claiming sales of Miller's book are "just short" of 100,000 only two weeks after its official publication date, said the felt extremely lucky on timeing. "Lyndon Johnson looks very very good today. Merle and I speculated that he would become a folk hero."
Next up for Miller will be a book with Leonard Matlovich, who yesterday won his landmark gay rights case against the Air Force in a ruling handed down by federal judge Gerhard Gesell. Miller, who first wrote about his own homosexuality in a controversial magazine article in 1971, was in the courtroom yesterday, and last night, in a kind of reciprocal salute, Matlovich was in the clubroom.
"He was afraid he'd steal my thunder," Miller said before the party started. But most of the guests, people like LBJ friend and adviser Horace Busby, Sarah Weddington of the Carter White House, former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, author Abigail McCarthy, former CIA director Richard Helms, Time magazine's Hugh Sidey and dozens of others who were spectators if not participants in the Great Society, probably did not recognize Matlovich as he moved excitedly through the crowd.
Of Gesell's ruling and its long-range effect on gays in the military services, Matlovich was optimistic: "The ripples are going to be tidal waves."