This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Rowland Evans and Robert Novak discuss their biography of President Lyndon Johnson.
Rebecca West, author of "The Birds Fall Down" speaks. She discusses the difficulties of claiming tax exemptions in England, to the amusement of the audience. She lauds the London Library, attributing her research to the facilities.
Maurice Dolbier introduces former school teacher and humorist Sam Levenson, author of his autobiography "Everything But Money." He discusses his childhood in East Harlem, where he grew up poor but very happy. He attributes his happiness to his parents who provided books and music and support. He was economically deprived, but not culturally deprived.
Levenson's talk interrupted by WNYC announcer noting that the program's time has ended, followed by music. The rest of Levenson's talk was recorded and proceeds the announcer.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71430
Municipal archives id: T1525
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Today the book and author luncheon series started its thirtieth year as in the past year City station is bringing you these programs as they were tape recorded at the Grand Ballroom of the world or fast Oriya Here now is the master of ceremonies Maurice Dolby a book critic of the New World Journal Tribune Mr Del being ladies and gentlemen. I bid you welcome go they first of this year's series of book and author luncheons this is also the thirtieth anniversary of these luncheons. It is the first one sponsored by the World Journal Tribune and the American Booksellers Association I regret to announce that I read of and Darren who has been chairman and master of ceremonies throughout all these years is ill today and cannot be here. Rowland Evans came to they Washington bureau the Associated Press in nineteen fifty three the year when a new era was opening for the United States Senate and here on whose prime mover was to be a tall restless man from the Texas hill country who sat sprawled in a front row center aisle seat of the Senate chamber laughing and joking across the aisle with senator tapped of Ohio Lyndon Baines Johnson after more than a decade in the House of Representatives and four years in the Senate had just been elected minority leader in that little body and was then preparing to rare back and pass a few miracles Robert Novak came to Washington for the Associated Press in one hundred fifty seven the year when one of those miracles occurred when the Senate with Lyndon Johnson now majority leader passed the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction without a filibuster and without splitting the Democratic Party the ingredients of that miracle was specifically John Sony and a Johnson system a Johnson network and a Johnson treatment. All of these are carefully examined and entertainingly and instructively described in the just published EVANS NOVAK political biography of L.B.J. Mr Evans would become a Washington correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune and Mr Novak would become the same for the congressional reporter for The Wall Street Journal joined forces in one hundred sixty three to conduct a syndicated daily column inside report which now appears in the world General Tribune their book was acclaimed yesterday by a persuasion great book weight as impressive for its research its objectivity its a student the standing of American politics and its dramatic and often poignant evocation of an incredibly complicated man caught in the tribute rush of national and world affairs to the best of my recollection this is the first time I had one of these luncheons that I've had to introduce two speakers at once I will do so in both alphabetical and chronological order. Ladies and gentlemen. Rowland Evans Robert Novak. And of such a two I read of indoor and I wish you were here with Dolby a system that is Whitney day Rebecca and Mr Sam Levinson and Bob Novak I hope that Joyce. Bungalow who has just received a free copy of our book will not lend it to anyone. And you know. In one nine hundred sixty the early stage of the presidential campaign I happened to be with Lyndon Johnson in New York. On the way to Texas then Johnson got up at five thirty that morning and we campaigned all day south into Texas landing on the L.B.J. ranch the runway leading up to the kitchen of the ranch house at about eight o'clock in the evening Mrs Johnson Lady Bird Johnson one of the most gracious and appealing women I know had a hive already for us and a delicious dinner of Texas venison and all those other goodies that they eat down there in the hill country of Texas and we had a conversation that Lyndon Johnson was the of course a vice presidential candidate Jack Kennedy was coming to Texas the next day and he was for the first time up on the campaign he wanted to talk he talked for two hours and around midnight twelve thirty and talked as a most entertaining way this this man and. In the close up position that we had that evening and this is still true today is most one of the most entertaining vigorous funny course crude humorous delightful man that you could spent two hours with at midnight Mrs Johnson said it's time to go to bed and we agreed I was dead tired and my partner a reporter whom we should call Bill was also dead tired but not then in Johnson he said come out of the pool and we'll sit there was stretching a hammock for a few minutes and then we'll go to bed I want to tell you the inside story of how I was selected at Los Angeles to become vice presidential nominee with John candidate we went out to the pool it was I say after midnight and he popped into one comic I got into one on his right Bill got into one on his left the insects were humming that soporific drowsy hum they do late in the evening and a pale yellow moon was coming over the rise and soon as my head hit that hammock. You guessed it I was sound asleep. Two hours later I realized there was a restive stir next to me and that. Mr Johnson had finished his inside story the vice presidential selection. So I started myself to clean got up and I said what I thought had to be said Senator that was the most fascinating thing I've ever heard. Knowing course that bill would be there to fill me in the next morning we stopped up stairs and and then his room I think and we had twin beds I woke my friend Bill up at eight o'clock in the morning I jabbed him in the elbow and I said Bill quickly wake up wake up he sat bolt upright in bed he said What's the matter I said Bill I have a terrible confession to make but I fell asleep last night will you please give me a fill on the inside story of how many Johnson became the vice presidential nominee Bill was shock brought his face he said My God Roly you fell asleep I fell asleep do and I was counting on you. The story has a purpose when Bob and I Bob Novak and I decided that in the fall of one thousand nine hundred four that we would do what we thought no one else had done or really attempted serious study of one of the most fascinating political figures in our history and the then president United States we that two hour nap that I took down there at the pool cost Bob and I at least two months of very hard labor work travelling around the country and interviewing people who knew something about how Lyndon Johnson got selected as vice presidential nominee Bob and I felt that the American people didn't really have a a view understanding a comprehension of this strange man paradoxical in so many ways. Idealistic tender an occasion me and ruthless on occasion. That books have been written about him but they had been written either by political. Pornographers political pornography books as are the setting or describe it yesterday or by those and I'm speaking of the J. of a tale a book which was a vicious attack on the new Johnson written in the sixty four campaign or by idolaters or those who took a very friendly kindly benign view of the new Johnson we had a we had an easy experience in the sense that Lyndon Johnson came to Washington. A year and a half before the New Deal started in one hundred thirty one consequently his entire adult political life had been set has been spent in Washington D.C. and all the politicians there who shared in his triumphs and his glories in his. In the some of the things that did not turn out so well in his failures were all many of them I should say they are in Washington. Bob and I interviewed at great length and I can assure you on a top secret basis because when we went in to see somebody about this book all doors were shot all telephone equipment was checked for listening devices and we swore an oath that we would never reveal the fact that we had talked to Senator so and so or congressman so and so we found a great deal of our source material in other words in Washington and we traveled around the country a good deal spent a lot of time in Texas and in many other states interviewing politicians friends and enemies who had known Lyndon Johnson through his. Remarkable ascent at American politics through first the legislative arena and then into the vice presidency and the presidency there was one interview unfortunately that we did not have and that was with Lyndon B. Johnson. When Teddy right about his is a massive and masterful account of the nine hundred sixty four presidential race the making of a president he too was unable to interview Lyndon Johnson a bill Manchester's book will be coming out soon on the assassination likewise was unable to interview Lyndon Johnson. Curiously though this in our case was not a major or even a minor obstacle as Mr Wu as explained I covered the Senate from one nine hundred fifty three to one thousand nine hundred sixty one and after the New York Herald Tribune and in doing that in covering the Senate you really were covering one man Lyndon Johnson because as Mr Novak would describe in a moment the Senate under that majority leadership than and Johnson was the personification of one man more so than at any time in history so the loss of our interview with and then in Johnson was not a serious thing I had spent many many evenings and so it was to Novak in his office late at night after a long tough day in the Senate he would eat lunch perhaps at four thirty in the afternoon a cold hamburger have supper at midnight he'd ask a few reporters in and we'd he put his feet up on the on the desk and tell how he contrived this or that compromise to whatever major problem with for the Senate we got an insight into. Lyndon Johnson in those days that is as true today as it was then you know this really remarkable figure one thing is interesting however and it describes a little bit about the the feeling that people in Washington of Typically those in the administration have of President Johnson his personality his character his extraordinary sensitivity to the tiniest suggestion of criticism. That the U.S. which as you know circulates many American books eight hundred titles last year to libraries abroad. Has not selected this book to send abroad to us I love libraries for foreign. For foreigners to read and understand and comprehend Lyndon B. Johnson two earlier books were selected one by William S. white the professional and Mr Mooney's book called The L.B.J. story and many thousands of copies are there I mention this only to illustrate a remarkable factor about it in Johnson which is this extraordinary sensitivity to criticism and I think that whether this was a planned. Event planned a nonevent or not I don't know but it is interesting that in Washington today those who surround the president and who work with him every day are extremely aware of this aspect of his character and personality to give you a little bit of an insight into that and to talk about in it Johnson the man and a politician has to know that. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU VERY MUCH. I was a bit distrust when my partner. Mentioned the fact that the Miss Baumgartner who had won the book on a lower court not to lower it out because I think that injected a note of commercialism in all this. And I have been told where we're rather new in this book and also launch game but I've been told the one thing you should not do is to say that the book is just published today as it is a non-sale in the bookstores and so I shall not do that at this time. We naturally hope that the book is a bestseller but we're pretty sure right now it is not a bestseller at the White House. And the decision by the US to not distribute it overseas is one indication of that but only one indication we have heard from directly from some of the staff people at the White House in no uncertain terms of their displeasure with the book and that displeasure mirrors I'm certain President Johnson's displeasure. This is really quite remarkable because the reviews that have come out so far describe it as a I don't object to but a sympathetic book about the president in fact sometimes some of described it in view of our column is surprisingly sympathetic. Indeed we do depict Lyndon B. Johnson is one of the great legislative legislative leaders of all time. Undoubtedly the greatest Senate leader of this century. We give him very high marks and weathering a depict a difficult thousand days as vice president under most trying circumstances. We described misbehaving magnificently and performing magnificently in the difficult days of the transition following the assassination of John F. Kennedy we describe him as taming the Congress after the after his taking over as president and pushing through a quantity of legislation utterly on precedented and even in his most trying. To manipulate public the Viet Nam crisis and. Most More recently the revolt of Congress of nine hundred sixty six we generally give the president high marks then why is he and his staff upset with the book and that the reason why he is upset has a good deal has deals with a good deal more than EVANS and NOVAK it deals with the kind of president and the kind of politician Lyndon B. Johnson is because he wants what he wants written in said it's his accomplishments not how he accomplished them not the method not the route he took to where he is. And indeed it really also reveals the basic insecurity of the man and his basic method as a behind the scenes politician and a behind the scenes legislative leader that insecurity in security stems back to his first defeat in one thousand nine hundred forty one for the Senate when with Franklin D. Roosevelt blessing he was surprised and beaten by a I turn around flower salesman who had migrated from Kansas named Pappy passed the biscuits pass the past pass the biscuits Papilio Daniel and in nineteen forty eight he barely squeaked in on a disputed election winning by only eighty seven votes these disappointing showings very early in his career. Gave him an insecure base in his home state of Texas a state that had grown more conservative just shortly before during World War two and created a caution a desire to keep his card she ordered as much as possible this caution carried over into his senate days when his method was not to disclose which direction he was going but to keep keep his own consul not to not to reveal to the public Col he was working as indeed he was for the center of Joseph on McCarthy but not even to reveal that he was against McCarthy till the trap was ready to be sprung on a nine hundred fifty seven to live in a mystery whether he would even vote for or against the civil rights bill and not to reveal that all the time he was putting together what we call the miracle of nine hundred fifty seven for the passage of the civil rights bill this was magic This was abundantly successful in the Senate but how does it work in the presidency perhaps it would have worked all right at Lyndon B. Johnson been president and eight hundred seventy six when he could conceal his action