During his postpresidential days, Lyndon Johnson was fond of reminiscing about all the things and people his administration should have done about and for. On one occasion in October 1971 as he was driving to the Salina, Tex., airport, he began lamenting the fact that the Johnson White House hadn't done enough for women.
What he had in mind was not just women's rights, though he was for those, too, but economic opportunity. Day-care centers, for instance. Why hadn't his administration set up more of them? Of course, he'd only had five years, but then five years is a very long time, really, and if only he'd worked harder, been more aware of the inequalities of the treatment of women. . . . He worried the subject all the way to the airport.
Johnson liked women -- liked them sexually, personally, professionally. At times he ranted at them, raved at them, screamed at them, but he did that to men as well. That was Johnson's way of equal treatment. And women responded to him on many levels.
Betty Furness: "One thing you've got to remember about Lyndon Johnson is that he looked like a president. He didn't look like somebody who was just walking around. He had enormous presence. In the first place, he was an enormous man. I think he was larger -- physically larger -- than most people think. It took my breath away to walk through the door of the office to meet this man."
Coates Redmon: "He really enjoyed women and he needed them. He was very female-oriented. He would talk about his mother; he was crazy about Lady Bird. And he fell very easily into relationships with other women."
Many of these relationships were platonic; of those liaisons that were not, most were casual; several were long-term. During the Senate years when Lady Bird was out of town -- occasionally even when she wasn't -- he would take someone -- often one of his secretaries -- to a social affair and introduce her around: "Wantcha t'meet mah girl."
There were always many women on his staff, attractive women. There was the story, no doubt apocryphal but widely circulated, about a girl on the White House staff who came back from a stay at his Texas ranch and said, "I have to get transferred out of here. There were no locks on the bedroom doors down there at the ranch, which surprised me, but I wasn't too worried with all the Secret Service agents around. Then in the middle of the night I felt the presence of someone in my room. I was about to scream, when I heard a familiar voice say, 'Move over, honey; this is YORE president."
Most of Johnson's liaisons -- not, of course, a word he was likely to have used -- were with women whom he knew in other capacities as well, often with whom he had a real relationship, but occasionally an alternative situation presented itself.
People who know, who were, presumably, there, tell of how at the 1960 convention in Los Angeles, Johnson, while standing in a reception line at the Biltmore, reached out to shake the hand of an attractive young lady only to find a room key left in his hand. Without batting an eyelash, he quietly slipped the key into his pocket and turned to the next wellwisher.
Later that day the same young lady was lounging in her room when there was a knock at the door and the sound of a key in the lock. The presidential candidate from Texas strode in. "Here ah am, honey," he said, and then, well, you know.
Afterwards, they slept for maybe half an hour, a no doubt much-needed rest on Johnson's part, and then Lyndon woke, dressed, and looking down at the drowsy young lady, held out his hand and said, "Ah want to thank you for yore help to mah campaign," and left.
Yet had you asked Johnson if he was faithful to Lady Bird, he probably would have answered yes. And probably in his eyes he was. He was never in doubt about her importance to him, practically, professionally, emotionally.
Lenny Giovannitti, a television producer: "He was devoted to her and loved her and wanted her to be there, and yet he exploited her because, after all, in the end -- 'It doesn't matter, all those little things I've done, excursions I've had. You're my anchor. You're the woman I want, I care about.'"
He was a powerful politician and, as his associate Erv Duggan said, "Like many politicians the love of applause and the search for sexual satisfaction are related. It's an ego hunger, and I think Lyndon was constantly looking for reassurance."
Despite the others, he remained devoted to Lady Bird, depended on her, sought her advice and was in love with her till the end of his life.