• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

Standing By Your Cheating Man

Bill Radke

Sanden Totten

Larger view
Eliot Spitzer and his wife Silda
(Chris Hondros / Getty)
View the Slideshow

Why does a wife stand by her cheating man?

Well, some stay out of obligation. Or just simple denial -- that was the case of Frank Lloyd Wright's first wife. Wright had an affair with one of his clients, but his wife dismissed it, calling his lover a vampire who was manipulating her husband. But eventually Mrs. Wright saw the truth and got back at her husband by refusing to give a divorce, at least for a few years.

Then there's Lee Krasner, wife of painter Jackson Pollock. Krasner is credited for establishing Pollock's reputation in the art world. He cheated on her. She stood by him. Some have said she stayed because she didn't want to distract him from his art.

And of course, unfaithful husbands are nothing new to politics. Robert Caro is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was known for his cheating ways. But first lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson never left his side.

Bill Radke: Robert Caro, it's a pleasure to be with you. Welcome to Weekend America.

Robert Caro: It's a pleasure to be here.

You've profiled some powerful men, most famously Lyndon Johnson. What kind of husband was LBJ?

Well, he had married Lady Bird when they were both young. His abusiveness towards her was sort of a matter of legend among their friends, not only because of his affairs, which were carried out sometimes very openly, but because of the way he treated her and the way he excluded her from the political part of his life.

To me, the most striking thing was the way he would talk, and yell at in front of other people, this woman whose overwhelming characteristic was her shyness, her dread of having to do something in public. He was always comparing her to other women at parties. One was Nellie Connelly -- now that was the wife of the governor of Texas, John Connelly. Nellie Connelly was a very beautiful woman. Nellie said to me I could never understand how she stood it. Every woman sympathized with her.

You spoke with his wife Lady Bird about these affairs, right?

Lyndon Johnson had one affair with a woman named Alice Glass which went on for many, many years. One day, during one of our interviews, Mrs. Johnson brought up the name of Alice Glass and started to talk to me about her. She did not talk to me about anything sexual or about her being a mistress. What she talked to me about was how they had both learned, she and Lyndon, so much from Alice.

She said he was very gangly and his arms use to stick out of the sleeves of his shirt. And she taught him the way to handle that. Alice Glass taught him the way to handle that was to wear shirts with French cuffs. For the rest of his life he wore a lot of shirts with French cuffs. The striking thing to me was that when she talked to me about Alice Glass, almost everything that Lady Bird Johnson talked about was in terms of her husband. She was so devoted to Lyndon that she saw everything in terms of him.

Today, many Americans would look at Lady Bird's devotion to her husband, despite everything, with some derision.

It's hard for me to understand, because I'm not sure that any of us are adequate to solve the mysteries of the human heart -- how someone as intelligent, as shrewd and as smart could put up with everything she had to put up with from Lyndon Johnson. But she did. And her love for him only increased. To me, whenever I read some human tragedy in politics that involves a marital affair like the Spitzer affair, all I can think about is Lady Bird Johnson trying to explain to me the lessons in dressing and politics that another woman gave to her husband, and how important they were to him.

Comments

  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Robert Morrow

    From Austin, TX, 02/14/2013

    I live in Austin, TX. Lyndon Johnson treated Lady Bird like a dirty rug for decades, constantly disrespecting and humiliating her. LBJ wanted to marry her on Day 1 because he had heard her dad had a little money. LBJ spent the rest of his life stealing from the public and taking massive bribes & kickbacks when he was not murdering John Kennedy. I was told this anecdote from someone close to Democrat Gib Lewis. LBJ told his friends "I met a girl named Lady Bird, but she looked like an Ugly Bee" to me. Did she love LBJ? Yes - but it is really sad that awful way he treated her so often. His later years he was depressed and almost crazy. She took care of him as he was so bitter. The man lived an awful life. I met Lady Bird's masseuse for 20 years recently. I asked "what did she say about LBJ?" The answer was she never talked about him.

    By Robert Morrow

    From Austin, TX, 02/14/2013

    I live in Austin, TX. Lyndon Johnson treated Lady Bird like a dirty rug for decades, constantly disrespecting and humiliating her. LBJ wanted to marry her on Day 1 because he had heard her dad had a little money. LBJ spent the rest of his life stealing from the public and taking massive bribes & kickbacks when he was not murdering John Kennedy. I was told this anecdote from someone close to Democrat Gib Lewis. LBJ told his friends "I met a girl named Lady Bird, but she looked like an Ugly Bee" to me. Did she love LBJ? Yes - but it is really sad that awful way he treated her so often. His later years he was depressed and almost crazy. She took care of him as he was so bitter. The man lived an awful life. I met Lady Bird's masseuse for 20 years recently. I asked "what did she say about LBJ?" The answer was she never talked about him.

    By E H

    07/13/2009

    Lets hop in their next lifetimes LBJ comes back as an abused woman, and Lady Bird Johnson finds her true soulmate and Alice glass gets cheated on herself. Wouldn't that be karmatic justice

    By Brenda Russell

    From Clinton, MS, 07/13/2009

    I am so thankful to know the love of a sovereign God. It makes all the difference in the world. We are given human rights and afforded the opportunity and privilege to share our lives with one another. But we are not given the choice to forgive or not. We must forgive in order for God to forgive our sins (and we all sin daily). When we are hurt by others we have the choice to remain in the relationship (with or without some professional help)or not. This could include: /doctors/psychologists/ counselors/ lawyers, a parent etc.) Once a decision is made to exit the
    relationship, we can also forgive and try to move on with our life. No one is beyond hurting someone or being hurt. We all need forgiveness sometimes. Stay focused.

    By Marilee Odendahl

    From Freeport, IL, 03/15/2008

    Sanden, I listened this week end to see what you would end up doing with this topic - thought perhaps you would find another person who responded to the stand-by-your-man question and was interested to see how they interpreted the question. The interview with Robert Caro was interesting - but mine would have been better! :-) I'm such a coward...makes me mad at myself. I very much liked Caro's summation: "I'm not sure the any of us are adequate to solve the mysteries of the human heart.." Best of wishes to you and keep up the good work, Marilee

  • Post a Comment: Please be civil, brief and relevant.

    Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. All comments are moderated. Weekend America reserves the right to edit any comments on this site and to read them on the air if they are extra-interesting. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting.

    * indicates required field

    *
    *
    *
     




     

    You must be 13 or over to submit information to American Public Media. The information entered into this form will not be used to send unsolicited email and will not be sold to a third party. For more information see Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Download Weekend America

Weekend Weather

From the January 31 broadcast

Support American Public Media with your Amazon.com purchases
Search Amazon.com:
Keywords:
 ©2014 American Public Media