It could have been a scene from the Great Society White House.
Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson effusively embraced a long receiving line made up of former Johnson Cabinet members, counselors and friends while Howard Devron, one of the late president's favorite bandleaders, performed "The Yellow Rose of Texas" on the accordion.
About 300 friends and relatives of Lyndon Baines Johnson met last night at the National Academy of Sciences for the Washington screening of Charles Guggenheim's 22-minute slide show on the life of LBJ, to greet old friends and to continue the legacy of one of America's most controversial presidents. Former defense secretaries Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford, former HUD secretary Robert C. Weaver and former Treasury secretary Henry Fowler were there. So were old-time Democratic Party big hitters Pamela and Averell Harriman and family members Luci Johnson, Lynda Robb and her husband, Virginia Gov. Charles Robb.
"He was a very colorful man," said Mike Manatos, Johnson's administrative assiatant. "He was very loyal to his people . . . and of course he was tough. He was very demanding on the people who worked for him."
"And now for the film," said Lady Bird Johnson, introducing the feature entertainment. "It's been such a fun time for me."
The multi-projector slide show with narration premie red last June at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum in Austin, Tex., and told Johnson's story, from his birth in the Texas hill country to his death in 1973.
"He was a very long, tall and thin man who walked fast and talked a lot," said one of the film's narrators from his college days.
"Clearly the greatest parliamentary leader we've ever had," said another voice from his Washington days.
The production touched on some of Johnson's idiosyncrasies--in his race to know the news before it was published, he would get down on his knees and read the wire machines as they printed out copy. The show depicted a president frustrated with the seemingly endless Vietnam war.
This Johnson was cast in a considerably more favorable light than the Johnson of the recently published first volume of Robert Caro's biography, one topic of conversation among the guests.
"I think Caro's book is going to dim with time," Jack Valenti, a former Johnson aide and now president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told former congressman and LBJ's chief of protocol James Symington. Valenti, who was one of the film's narrators, was quick to attack Caro's work, calling the volume a "sloppy manuscript."
But others saw the volume as just one more portrait of an old-style politician adept at getting what he set out to achieve--his Great Society boosts for education and equality.
"What I am saying is that Caro is doing Johnson a big favor," said Horace Busby, who served on Johnson's staffs on and off from 1948. "The book further adds to the public's image of the man."