How ‘feisty’ Liz Carpenter shook things up as right-hand woman to LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson

A new documentary, “Shaking it Up: The Life & Times of Liz Carpenter,” shares the wit and wisdom of the journalist-turned-political maven.

By Karen Bernstein & Laura RiceMay 21, 2024 4:20 pm, , , ,

“Shaking it Up: The Life & Times of Liz Carpenter” premiered at SXSW and gets a public screening Tuesday, May 21 at the LBJ Presidential Library. It’s an apt place to show the film considering the documentary’s star was a longtime adviser for both LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson.

It’s co-produced and co-directed by Abby Ginzberg and Christy Carpenter, who is Liz Carpenter’s daughter.

“Christy and I are old friends,” Ginzberg said. “And she at some point sent me an article that she had written about her mother. And, you know, I knew Liz as her mother and as an individual in the world. And I think I suggested, ‘well, maybe we should think about doing a documentary about her.’”

Abby Ginzberg

Ginzberg is a Peabody award-winning director and said the topic lined up with her usual interests.

“Liz sort of fit for square within the types of films that I make, which are often biographical … and about people whose histories are not as well-known as I think they should be,” Ginzberg said.

“My mother was absolutely a quintessential Texan,” Christy Carpenter said. “She was literally descended from trailblazers and early settlers in Texas who had been leaders; you know, one great-great-uncle wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence.”

She said her mother also talked about remarkable women in their family history.

Christy Carpenter

“Particularly the Robertson women who were big on education and became the next generation of suffragists. And they inspired Liz to be somebody who shook things up,” Christy Carpenter said.

Liz Carpenter was a young reporter in 1942 when she first started covering then-Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson for the Austin American-Statesman and, later, other Texas newspapers.

In 1960, Christy Carpenter said, Johnson asked her mother to join his campaign for vice president on the ticket with John F. Kennedy.

“And she went on to work for him as vice president,” Christy Carpenter said. “And was with him on that fateful trip to Dallas – when Kennedy was assassinated and he gets sworn in as president – and she writes his remarks for when he lands in Washington, at Andrews Air Force Base, the first words the new president said to really the world, because the world was stunned by this assassination.”

Christy Carpenter said her mother went on to play an integral role in the White House.

“She was running the East Wing, running all of Lady Bird’s extensive activities promoting the Great Society, including the environmental program,” Christy Carpenter said.

But, she said, Liz was also very involved with President Johnson.

“If she needed to take something directly to him, she didn’t go through other people on the West Wing on the staff. She was not to be deterred,” Christy Carpenter said. “She’d like, go put a note on his pillow and pick up the phone and call him. So that was Liz. Unstoppable.”

“Shaking it Up” features not just the role Liz Carpenter played in important moments of political history but also her personality.

“Because Liz was a humorist and funny,” Ginzberg said.

She said Liz Carpenter often draws comparisons to some other big names from Texas history.

“What’s in the water that creates all these amazing Texas women because – we don’t get an Ann Richards, a Molly Ivins, a Liz Carpenter and a Barbara Jordan in any other state in the country,” Ginzberg said.

“My mother had her own unique, unique version of that outsized personality and wit,” Christy Carpenter said.

The co-producers and directors say they hope the film also spurs action in audiences.

“We really think the film is not only entertaining, but also inspirational, and we want people to take away that really anybody, if they, you know, roll up their sleeves and get going and show some courage, can make things happen and in whatever realm they want to do it,” Christy Carpenter said. “Liz shows how just having a lot of moxie can get you a long way.”

After the LBJ Library screening, the plan is to prepare the film for further release on PBS stations.

“I’m quite happy to be on the other end of this project where we’re going to get to share, you know, the life and times, as we say in the subtitle, of Liz Carpenter with a much wider audience,” Ginzberg said.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.