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John Tower - Two Campaign Ads (1961)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1961

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  • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
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These two campaign advertisements from John Tower’s senate race in 1961 address political bosses and the New Frontier Act. In the first campaign ad, Tower stresses that his vote will be consistently conservative and not influenced by Texan politicians Lyndon B. Johnson nor Sam Rayburn. In the second advertisement, he again advocates for the conservative voice in Texas and vows to protect conservative interests by voting against any New Frontier programs. Tower’s election in 1961 has been called historic, winning as a Republican in a southern state that had elected solely Democrat U.S. Senators since the 1870s.
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 particularly notable moment in his career occurred 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 television 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.
John Tower was born in Houston on September 29, 1925 to Beryl and Joe Tower. His father was a Methodist minister, so Tower spent his childhood in various Texas towns. He graduated from Beaumont High School and enrolled in Southwestern University in 1942. However, the next year he joined the Navy to serve in World War II.  Following the war, Tower was discharged as a seaman first class and completed his studies at Southwestern, earning a degree in Political Science. He earned his graduate degree from Southern Methodist University and also attended the London School of Economics.
 
Tower identified as a Republican and lost his first political campaign for state representative in 1954. He also lost the 1960 election for the Texas Senate in 1960 to Lyndon B. Johnson. However, Johnson was elected Vice President, and Tower won the special election for his seat the following year. He won re-election in 1966, 1972, and 1978. Tower was the first Republican senator to be elected from Texas since 1870, and many considered this the beginning of two-party politics in Texas. Most notably, Tower was skilled at guiding legislation through Congress, working in the interest of economic growth, small businesses, energy, agriculture, and transportation. He also assisted on Republican presidential campaigns and headed the Tower Commission on the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986.
 
Tower married Lou Bullington in 1952, and they had three daughters. His second marriage to Lilla Burt Cummings lasted from 1977 to 1987. He earned an honorary doctorate degree from Southwestern in 1964 and was named a distinguished alumnus in 1968. The Tower-Hester Chair of Political Science at Southwestern and The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU are both named in his honor. He died in a plane crash in Georgia on April 5, 1991.