Standing By Your Cheating Man
MARCH 15, 2008
- Eliot Spitzer and his wife Silda
- (Chris Hondros / Getty)
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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.
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