The American Experience: Season 4, Episode 1

LBJ: Part 1 - Beautiful Texas (30 Sep. 1991)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
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Award winning filmmaker David Grubin profiles one of the most controversial U.S. presidents, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who rose from obscurity to the pinnacle of power, only to suffer ... See full summary »

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Title: LBJ: Part 1 - Beautiful Texas (30 Sep 1991)

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Episode credited cast:
David McCullough ...
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Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Joe Cervetto ...
Himself / Christopher Columbus (archive footage)
John Connally ...
Himself
Robert Dallek ...
Himself
Homer Dean ...
Himself
Ronnie Dugger ...
Himself
Lewis Gould ...
Himself
Lady Bird Johnson ...
Herself
Luci Baines Johnson ...
Herself (archive footage)
...
Himself (archive footage)
Wilbert Lee O'Daniel ...
Himself (archive footage)
James Jarrell Pickle ...
Himself
Lynda Bird Johnson Robb ...
Herself (archive footage)
...
Himself (archive footage) (as Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Coke Robert Stevenson ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Award winning filmmaker David Grubin profiles one of the most controversial U.S. presidents, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who rose from obscurity to the pinnacle of power, only to suffer disillusionment and defeat. Witness the events that brought LBJ from Texas to Washington, the White House, and a landslide election in 1964. Follow his triumphs in passing a wave of social legislation then his downward spiral which ends in withdrawal from politics. This is the first of two parts. Written by Anonymous

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30 September 1991 (USA)  »

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Very well done...but oddly missing important details of his early life.
13 October 2011 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

This biography of Lyndon Johnson isn't exactly complete. While it focuses strongly on his political life, MANY important parts of his early life are oddly omitted. I am no expert of Johnson, but I recognized that they missed two interesting things (and probably many more, since his life up to about age 25 was vague in this film). First, after completing college, he was a school teacher and principal at a school for Mexican-Americans--a VERY interesting pedigree that might help insight into his later work for civil rights. Second, the film jumped from 1941 to 1948--completely omitting WWII. Johnson was an officer in the US Navy and was an important liaison. He also received a silver star citation under VERY suspicious circumstances considering he really wasn't exposed to much action and those around him were undecorated. While perhaps they didn't have a lot of time to devote to them, not mentioning them at all was just odd.

Instead, the film follows the political manoeuvrings of Johnson. He apparently was a VERY political man--a guy whose number one goal seemed to be political power and whose core beliefs were VERY malleable to say the least. He campaigned as a New Deal liberal--practically a socialist. And, he later campaigned as a conservative Southern Democrat!! And later, he championed the important civil rights legislation of the 1960s! Talk about running a gamut!

This film is divided into two main parts. Part one covers his career up to his assuming the presidency after the assassination of John Kennedy. Beginning with his winning a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1930s, he worked his way up to the Senate (after losing his first attempt) and ultimately to the vice presidency and presidency. Along the way, he was the master arm-twister--an old fashioned politician who knew how to use political muscle and was the master of the deal. His skills as a politician are the main focus of this episode. In this regard, the documentary is first-rate. It provides insight into his life in politics and seems to indicate there really wasn't a life outside of it, as Johnson was always ON--and had no interest in books, hobbies or anything other than his all-consuming job.

In this second portion, Johnson has just become president and details his VERY active agenda. Three main themes are explored: the civil rights movement, the Great Society and his bringing US combat troops into the Vietnam War.

His efforts getting the Civil Rights Acts enacted is the high point of his presidency. These occurred very early into his administration and marked a HUGE change in Johnson's public actions on behalf of civil rights. Early in his career, he aligned himself with the Dixiecrats--a group of Southern politicians who opposed ANY changes in the status quo and who hated the mention of civil rights for blacks. Now, he did an about-face and with his force of personality was able to push for these much needed laws.

Johnson's 'Great Society' consisted of various laws that he championed to make life better for America's poor. Spending for social programs greatly increased and Johnson promised an end to poverty. Oddly, the program really didn't explore this further--and didn't discuss the rather dubious benefits, high costs and huge increase in the scope of government with this well-intended program. HOWEVER, hold on--this will be addressed in the second episode.

The vast majority of the show centered on Vietnam. The film took a very pragmatic and jaded view of Johnson sending combat troops into this war. It seemed to say that Johnson's main reason was to help win the 1964 election--a way to seem tough on communism and out-flank his opponent, Barry Goldwater. So, tens of thousands of dead soldiers and millions of dead Vietnamese to help re-elect the guy?! And, while it helped him to win the election, it killed his political career once the war escalated further.

It's really hard to understand Johnson. In some ways he's incredibly decent. You can't ignore his work for civil rights and while the Great Society was, in hindsight, a very mixed bag, it's intentions were good. But the war...how can this be reconciled with these other humanitarian gestures? And, I am sure, many felt confused by this odd dichotomy. A great man and a horrible man rolled into one.

Overall, a very good but imperfect biography. I guess I am just expecting too much, as a film as complete as I'd want it to be would be a heck of a lot longer!


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