Love Bird

Bio hazard: Russell ran afoul of her subject.

It’s fitting that an excerpt from contributing editor Jan Jarboe Russell’s forthcoming book, Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson , should appear in Texas Monthly (see “Alone Together,” page 98). After talking to the former first lady for an article in the December 1994 issue of the magazine (“Lady Bird Looks Back”), Russell decided the story of her life would make a good read. “Everything she said was interesting and important,” Russell recalls. “I realized that this was a woman who had never really been looked at in her own right.” She would soon realize why. Initially, Mrs. Johnson granted her several interviews. Then Russell made what she now calls a “fatal mistake”: She wrote in the online magazine Slate that LBJ’s accent made him sound like “the last of the big hicks.” An injured Mrs. Johnson sent Russell a letter saying she would no longer cooperate. “Your conclusion about me,” she wrote, “may well come at Lyndon’s expense. There is no way to separate us and our roles in each other’s lives.” Russell was disappointed but kept working. Along the way, she realized that Mrs. Johnson was right—that her life was inextricably intertwined with LBJ’s. “Even when I had her cooperation,” Russell says, “she would always bring him into the picture. There was no way to separate them. So it became a love story, a book about a marriage.”

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