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August 20, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 44
Feeding ’em Up for LBJ at Mr. Gracie’s Mansion
By Roberta Brandes
With 1000 pounds of pork ribs, 500 barbecued chickens, 5000 hot biscuits, and the culinary guidance of Walter Jetton, her father’s favorite chef, Lynda Bird Johnson made her New York political debut Monday night at Gracie Mansion. But if the 2000 young citizens campaign the way they ate, it will be to the cherubic Mr. Jetton that the President will be indebted.
The Texas-style barbecue might have seemed incongruous amid the splendor of the East River estate. But with no hesitation the New York sophisticates helped themselves to Texas-sized portions of barbecued ribs, chicken, beef, potato salad, baked beans, fresh biscuits, and home-made apple pie.
“I’ve never seen people eat this way,” mused one of the 15 Texans serving Lynda Bird’s guests on her politically successful barbecue trail. “They sure didn’t eat this way at Southampton yesterday,” he reckoned.
“I guess they were used to seeing a lot of food.”
Before the tasty ribs (which seem to have displaced the souffle of Jacqueline Kennedy as the White House favorite) were formally served and while Mayor Wagner was telling the collegians how he enjoyed being with them, ravenous guests began attacking the food the way Lynda Bird was asking to plunge into the fight against Goldwater.
A five-food bystander was straining to hear the Mayor. To her dismay, she found her broad brimmed hat resting on the plate of barbecue of a six-foot Ivy League youth.
These were the same people who had supposedly been inspired by the youthful “vigah” and style of the Kennedys. But with all the courtesy and restraint they could muster, they remained attentively unimpressed by the limited political charisma of the President’s eldest daughter. And they seemed rather disappointed in her strait-laced Republican co-hostess, Charlotte Ford, and her diffident host, Bob Wagner, Jr.
It was left to the politically adept Senator Birch Bayh and sometimes humorous comedy team of Allen and Rossi to arouse any partisan enthusiasm. The youthful Indiana Senator could now afford to laugh at his 1962 victory of “two Hoosier voters per precinct.” And his listeners laughed with him when he announced he is known as “Landslide Bayh” in the Senate Establishment.
It was an unmistakable atmosphere of highbrow elegance that had greeted the middle-class crowd. In Carl Schurz Park there were the East End governesses pushing imported French baby carriages. Under the scrutiny of two dozen of New York’s Finest, they passed through the formidable iron gate of the 18th century mansion. Two rows of ill-at-ease “Johnson girls” — with wide ribbons bearing the gold initials of LBJ across their white outfits — provided the political equivalent of the red carpet treatment and there were more waiting to usher the political neophytes onto the suburban-like lawn.
It was not long before groups of young men were sizing up clusters of young ladies. With their bright bows, newly bought hats, and occasional fur stoles, the young females were unashamedly confessing their political innocence. The highlight of their evening were the dates they made for the Labor Day weekend. It was this, not the appearance of Lynda Bird, that made their introduction to politics an experience worth repeating.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 30, 2009