Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More kudos for Bryan Cranston's portrayal of LBJ -- but the "Edith Bunker"-ing of Lady Bird J is no sale


No shrinking violet she: Al Kamen reports that former LBJ chief of staff Jim Jones "said there was a scene where Johnson dismissed [Lady Bird] with a curse -- which he said 'would never happen.' "

by Ken

Since I devoted a post last week ("Bryan Cranston as LBJ, according to people who worked with him") to Al Kamen's WaPo "In the Loop" item "Bryan Cranston gets two thumbs up from LBJ staffers" ("Like Walter White’s epic transformation from meek family man to unrepentant meth lord, Bryan Cranston transforms so completely into President Lyndon B. Johnson that for those who actually knew the 36th president Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre is a time machine"), I feel obliged to pass on an important update, "Getting Lady Bird wrong."

As Al pointed out in the original item, his LBJ-connected sources -- Joe Califano, Doris Kearns Goodman, Lloyd Hand, and Larry Levinson -- were uniformly enthusiastic about "the stunning performance of Bryan Cranston" as LBJ in Robert Schenkkan's play All the Way, now playing on Broadway. And now that Al has seen the play himself, he joins the chorus of praise, declaring, "If you can, you must see Cranston’s performance."

But no sooner did the original piece see print than Al received an emphatic complaint about another portrayal, a complaint with which he "heartily agrees": the play's depiction of First Lady Claudia Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson.
[W]e 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 said he 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/Cranston tells her at one point to "get the hell out of here.")

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 -- as 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 Jr. and fellow civil rights leaders Stokely Carmichael, James Farmer, Roger Wilkins and Fannie Lou Hamer, plus aide Walter Jenkins and Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.), seemed pretty accurate.
I never met any of these folks, of course, but certainly nothing I've ever heard or read suggested that there was any shrinking violet in Lady Bird, so it's nice to have this expert witness on the subject.


Long story short: The new contest invites "In the Loop" readers to guess the actual number of Obamacare signups by the March 31 non-penalty deadline. But since this takes us into the whole area of wholesale lying on the subject by the usual right-wing suspects, I think we should look at this separately tomorrow.

The contest deadline isn't till March 28, so I don't think you'll suffer by waiting a day for the details. And after all this contest doesn't ask you to do anything clever, just come up with a number. Still, if you want to get started today,check it out for yourself.

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