Stone on LBJ

In response to:

The Making of a President from the July 30, 1964 issue

To the Editors:

I must object to I. F. Stone’s remark in his review of the books on Lyndon Johnson, “…one of five campaign biographies tailored to the man’s enormous vanity and to his need for a new liberal look.” As he includes Lyndon B. Johnson, by Harry Provence (Fleet, $4.50), in his note listing these books, I would like to correct the false impression created by this remark and note.

The biography by Harry Provence was put under contract in 1962 at Fleet, while I was Editor and Assistant to the President of that company. We decided to publish such a biography because we had just published, and made money on Barry Goldwater: Freedom is his Flight Plan, by Stephen C. Shadegg. We cast about for a new book about a political figure. I variously tried to arrange to publish books about Rockefeller, Romney, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The people I contacted close to Rockefeller and Romney were unable to write books. Because I was myself from Waco, Texas, and knew Harry Provence’s competence to write a book about then Vice-President Johnson, I urged him to contract to write a biography. Vice-President Johnson discouraged Harry from proceeding, but we persuaded him to do it anyway, as an “unauthorized” biography entirely from his own knowledge. To the best of my knowledge and information, President Johnson did not see the manuscript, and did not read the book until it was already printed. Harry Provence, as a close friend of President Johnson, was able to write it from his own knowledge and experience as a Texas newspaper editor. Harry Provence naturally, within the framework within which he was working, concentrated on the Texas scene, and on his own detailed first-hand knowledge. I believe his book is much the best of the biographies for just that reason, in all parts that deal with the President’s Texas career, and from the reactions of knowledgeable observers of my acquaintance there.

In no sense can this book be called a campaign biography. It is a commercial venture, financed entirely by its publisher, with whom, incidentally, I am no longer employed.

Oscar Collier

New York City