Robo-LBJ returns from Fla. with a tan
in October, I whined in print about how, as part of the LBJ Presidential Library’s major overhaul, animatronic LBJ was being moved from behind a ranch fence to behind a podium.
For years, clad in ranch wear, ALBJ told funny, folksy stories that delighted older folks who remembered him and possibly caused nightmares for younger visitors.
Despite my wise-guy wise counsel, LyndonWorld officials shipped ALBJ back to Florida for the makeover that now has him in a new setting, with a new suit on his back and new words in his mouth. The exhibit is called “LBJ’s Humor” and, for now, includes him telling one joke at the White House, a foreignpolicy line about domestic politics stopping at the water’s edge but “I’m not always sure just which edge of what water.” (See video with my column at statesman.com.)
I liked him better at the ranch fence and I shall restore him to that venerated venue when I’m in charge of the library.
On Saturday, at the new exhibit’s grand opening, a couple of officials confided in me they think ALBJ underwent an unanticipated change while in Florida. He seems to have picked up a tan, they said, noting he looks a tad darker now than when he headed to Florida.
Please go the library and take a look. See what you think. If it’s true, let’s hope ALBJ wore sunscreen.
I enjoyed my visit to the revamped facility. I think you will too. And I hope you’ve read my colleague Michael Barnes’ comprehensive coverage of the changes.
Lots of folks who advocate for LBJ believe he is an under-appreciated president. I’ve heard some private complaining about how he is rarely, if ever, mentioned at Democratic National Conventions.
The updated exhibit does a good job of driving home the point about how pivotal his presidency was. Of course, some folks think some LBJ social programs put us on a path to socialism. But nobody can deny the positive impacts his presidency still has.
Saturday’s opening-day events were fun and reminded us that you can’t go wrong offering free cake to guests. The interactive exhibits are well-done, and, going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see the results as visitors, with the benefit of hindsight, weigh in on some of the major challenges faced by LBJ, especially concerning Vietnam.
In wandering through the new exhibit, my eye was caught by some curiosities. How many of you recall that Harry Truman was granted the first Medicare card? Wife Bess got the second.
And I’m pleased that the new exhibit offers prominent display to the Smothers Brothers’ Oct. 31, 1968, letter to LBJ that said “We have taken satirical jabs at you and more
than occasionally overstepped our bounds.” The letter came not long before CBS cancelled the brothers’ then-controversial show in April 1969.
Another show-biz curiosity on display is the cover from the 1966 debut album from The Mamas and The Papas.
In further proof that the apostrophe is America’s most misused and misunderstood punctuation mark, the group’s name is spelled on the cover as “The Mama’s and The Papa’s.” Ugh.
The album cover is among the great time-capsuley things sprinkled around the museum that are sure to rekindle memories for visitors of a certain age. Younger visitors might be surprised to learn that George Foreman did something before he made grills.
And give yourself extra credit if you know why it’s appropriate that the library includes a display for Ray Magliozzi of NPR’s “Car Talk.”
Click and Click and LBJ? Yep. Ray Magliozzi met his wife, Monique, while working as a VISTA volunteer in San Antonio. VISTA, now known as AmeriCorps VISTA, was created in 1964 by LBJ’s Economic Opportunity Act, a backbone of his Great Society program.
“I took a year off in the middle of my MIT education and joined VISTA,” Magliozzi has written. “It was my sophomore year abroad, except I didn’t go abroad; I went to Texas. And we did things like organize high school equivalency programs for adults, and some community organizing. It was pretty enlightening, all in all — basically we were radicals causing trouble.”
Animatronic LBJ appears to have come back from a Florida redesign with a tan. The LBJ Presidential Library has revamped the LBJ exhibit.