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Lady Bird Johnson Visits Big Bend National Park (1966)

Gordon Wilkison

Silent | 1966

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  •  A crowd of spectators welcomes First Lady Lady Bird Johnson to West Texas 
  •  A mariachi band performs for the group 
  •  River rafting down the Rio Grande 
  •  Locals assemble for a ceremony 
  •  Fort Davis 
  •   Sul Ross State College  
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This film documents the visit of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall to Big Bend National Park in April 1966. It begins with a shot of an airplane with a long line of spectators waiting for Lady Bird's arrival. Girls wearing cowboy hats with sashes from different towns and spectators with signs welcoming the First Lady are gathered and cheering. Lady Bird and others travel to Big Bend, where a mariachi band performs for them. Many shots of landscapes with large rock formations are shown in addition to rustic style buildings. People are seen gathering and eating a meal. Greyhound buses are shown waiting for passengers while an American flag flies nearby. The buses are shown as its passengers arrive near the banks of the Rio Grande. Lady Bird, Steward Udall, his wife, and other attendees board rafts and float down river. Some shots are taken from the journey within a raft. The group is shown picnicking. Cottages and crowds are seen as well as additional shots of the raft trip and the group eating alongside the river.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particlarly notable moment is his career occured on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of telvision film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.