When John Connally came to Texas in 1961 to discuss with Texas Democratic leaders the possibility of running for governor, he stepped off the airplane wearing a black pin-striped suit, a black vest, and a Homburg hat. Austin attorney and lobbyist Will Davis, one of the group along with Frank C. Erwin, Jr., and Ben Barnes (all of whom later became avid Connally supporters), commented, “We can’t elect a man in a Homburg hat governor of Texas.”
But elect him they did; not once but three times. And being elected governor of Texas in a Homburg hat was just one of a mounting record of contradiction, mystery, elegance, political skill, good fortune, and general charisma that have made Connally into top news for political and social columnists alike. A former Democrat, he comes closer than any other Republican to matching Teddy Kennedy in the Gallup poll. A rough, tough, gut politician, he can spend hours reading novels or browsing through museums, antique shops, ancient ruins. A newly appointed Treasury Secretary with little formal economic training, he quickly became the match for the financial wizards of Europe. A man of impeccable class, he also buys ready-made suits on sale and would as soon have grilled cheese and iced tea as coq au vin.
There is no mistaking Connally’s charismatic appeal to people throughout the United States and around the world. Part of the charisma comes from his appearance and manner, both of which he orchestrates carefully for the desired effect. Part comes from his proud insistence on his own privacy, an insistance which has made him into a man of mystery alternately hungry and then indifferent about power, the sort of man who stands out like hard marble amid the oozing clay of the Nixon administration. Part comes from being wounded at the assassination of President Kennedy; and part comes from sheer political skill.
Connally’s prominence has brought him stout defenders and bitter enemies, and none so stout or so bitter as in Texas, his home ground. To the business establishment and large segments of the white middle and lower middle class, he is a hero, the most effective defender of traditional values the state and the country has had in a long time. To Texas liberals, official labor leaders and minorities, Connally is nothing short of anathema, although even the liberals will admit a grudging admiration for Connally’s skills and ability. Texas has known John Connally a lot longer than have the rest of the country and the world, and right here, down home, is the place to begin understanding what gives the man his charisma, his energies, and his power.
Connally ranks with Teddy Kennedy as one of the few politicians about whom people feel the same sort of curiosity as about movie stars. The curiosity extends to the details of his life, his habits, his tastes, his preferences in food and drink, and his desire for privacy and personal forms of relaxation.
In examining Connally, it is at times difficult to separate the conscious effort from the natural inclination, since part of Connally’s image is the conscious creation of the politician who believes firmly in style, and part is the private man who is going to do as he damn well pleases.
What Connally wears ranges from the most precise of European fashion, to store-bought suits on sale, to Western garb. Connally’s Texas image was never more flamboyant than when he rode in the 1963 San Antonio Stock Show dressed in a whipcord cowboy suit, boots, silk shirt, and honorary sheriff’s badge. He visited with French businessmen touring the United States after the show, and surprised the men by whipping off his coat and loosening his tie to show them the labels—Christian Dior and Neiman-Marcus.
Connally’s choices in haberdashery caught the eye of Washington columnists. Maxine Cheshire of the Washington Post commented in 1970 on Connally’s evening attire.
(Former) Texas Gov. John Connally’s attire attracted a lot of attention at the (White House) party. He wore an outfit that can best be described as ‘Midnight Blue Cowboy.’
His Tex Ritter tuxedo was two tones of azure and delphinium, with piping around the double-breasted jacket and four large mother-of-pearl buttons.
His shirt was two different tones of blue and so was his large bow-tie.
His wavy white hair is shorter, but otherwise, he looked so much like his close friend, former President Johnson, that some guests were startled.
‘He found Lyndon’s tailor,’ someone whispered, ‘Now if he just finds his barber, they’ll be twins.’
Connally has always been particular about what he eats and what he drinks. If something didn’t please him, he would display his famous flaring temper or lapse into fits of sulking, a trait that dates from his childhood days back at the ranch in Wilson County. The coffee his office staff prepared for him never quite suited the governor. One former employee recalls that, “It was never right. We tried every type of pot, but couldn’t satisfy him. I remember him screaming one day, ‘This is the worst goddamn coffee I’ve ever tasted.’ He thought the best was boiled in a pot. He liked Folger’s coffee, and I remember the time he found out that a woman in the office had been buying whatever type of coffee was on sale and pouring it into a Folger’s can. He was furious.”
Connally’s drinking habits have received an inordinate amount of space in the press, with Connally reported both as consuming large amounts of whiskey and as a complete teetotaler. The vestiges of his Methodist upbringing in Floresville, Texas still hang on, and Connally doesn’t drink hard liquor. And he cannot tolerate drunks; too much booze is a sign of weakness. Connally sips wine and prefers white Burgundies, such as Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne.
Connally’s former aide and sometime business associate Mike Meyers says that for years Connally sipped cokes at parties, but even his close friends, seeing him with a glass in his hand, thought it was whiskey. “I think one reason he didn’t drink was because he never wanted to be