Robo-LBJ re­turns from Fla. with a tan

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - Ken Her­man

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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.”

LAURA SKELDING / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

An­i­ma­tronic LBJ ap­pears to have come back from a Florida re­design with a tan. The LBJ Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary has re­vamped the LBJ ex­hibit.

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