Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Tyler Abell, June 15, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Bess Abell and sports

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Partial Transcript: And this is the third oral history interview with Tyler Abell concerning his wife Bess Abell.

Segment Synopsis: Abell details Bess' involvement in sports over the years, including swimming, snorkeling, and sailing.

Keywords: Barca de oro; Bess Abell; Boat; Bottom; Cooperative; Dangerous; Details; Disliked; Easy; Enjoyed; Fish; Great; Gringos; Lacked; Loba del mar; Missed; Nickname; Outlasted; Preparations; Return; Run out; Signal; Snorkeling; Snorkeling lessons; Stayed; Surface; Swimmer; U.S. Navy Seals; Underwater; Vacation; Visit; YMCA pool

Subjects: Air; Confidence; Coral; Diving; Good; Learning; Mexicans; Mexico; Olympics; Politicians; Sailing; Successful; Swimming; Teaching; Throat; Travel; United States; Washington (D.C.)

00:05:31 - Bess Abell's involvement in equestrian sports

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Partial Transcript: When Lyndon first had knee problems, the doctor said that he would benefit from horseback riding.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses Bess' involvement in equestrian sports throughout her life.

Keywords: Abe; Arrangements; Bad horse; Benefit; Bess Abell; Better; Bold Blazer; Continued; Decision; Difficult; Disagreed; Enjoyed; Equestrian; Farm; Foxhunter; Foxhunting; Frosty; Give up; Good horse; Good jumper; Happy; Horse; Horse show; Horseback riding; Inexpensive; Involved; Joined; Knee injury; Last horse; Liked; No experience; One captain; Options; Part-time; Potomac Hunt; Problem; Purchased; Quarter horse; Return; Rockstar; Sale; Same boat; Scarlett; Skill; Spellbound; Stable; The Candidate; Turning point; Unfair; Uninterested; Use; Well-behaved

Subjects: Age; Behavior; Cost; Death; Friend; Girls; Horses; Kentuckian; Living; Maintenance; Names; Opportunity; Potomac (Md.); Rent; Sailing; Sons; Thoroughbreds; Time; Work; Young

00:13:20 - Bess Abell and entertaining

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Partial Transcript: Almost everything Bess did, uh, was a success.

Segment Synopsis: Abell considers Bess' ability to be an effective entertainer.

Keywords: 10th congressional district (Texas); Able; Artistic; Assistant secretaries; Attending; Before; Bess Abell; Better; Buy; Campaigning; Campaigns; Changes; Clients; Congress; Costume; Decision; Deputy assistant secretaries; Drinks; Dull; Earle Clements; Easy; Encouraging; Enjoy; Entertaining; Familiar; Fantastic; Farm manager; Favor; Fired; Foreign visitors; Gay; Guest list; Highlight; Home district; Homer Thornberry; Host; Improvement; Interesting; Interior decorator; Invited; Keith Holyoake; LBJ Presidential Library; Lady Tupper; Long; Lost; Lyndon Johnson; Met; Natural; No imagination; Obvious; Orders; Party; Phone call; Process; Quit; Racehorses; Secretary; Shipped; Skills; Skirt; Social secretary; State dinner; Suggestion; Trotting horses; Tupperware party; Tupperware saleswoman; Unaware; Walter Jenkins; Welcome; Wife; Wig

Subjects: Best; Cooking; Food; Friend; Horse trainers; Interest; New Zealand; People; Politicians; Prime Minister; Reading; Resignation; Selling; Spark; Success; Successful; Time; Training; Tupperware Corporation; United States; United States. Department of State; Volunteer; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:21:16 - Bess Abell as a secretary / Bess Abell and Claiborne Pell

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Partial Transcript: I had mentioned that, uh, Bess didn't mind being a secretary.

Segment Synopsis: Abell considers how his wife felt about being a secretary. Abell discusses the friendship between Bess and Claiborne Pell.

Keywords: A&P Tea Company; Accommodating; Active; Answer; Aware; Bess Abell; Candidates; Claiborne Pell; Clothes; Column; Congress; Director; Drew Pearson; Earle Clements; Editor; Elected; Election; Familiar; Friends; Fundraising; Good friends; Gracious; Happy; Heiress; Interesting; Jim Eastland; Particular; Pestering; Phone call; Position; Prediction; Relative; Saving; Senate; Social secretary; Step-father; Thank you letter; Thrifty; Use; White House; Wife; Win; Wrong

Subjects: Democratic Senatorial Committee (U.S.); Example; Father; Gloves; Money; Mother; People; Politicians; Rhode Island; Voice; Washington (D.C.); Washington post; Wealth; Writing

00:26:18 - Bess Abell's friends / Wine in the White House

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Partial Transcript: Bess' record for making friends and getting them to help her didn't just include, uh, Bob Waldren.

Segment Synopsis: Abell briefly discusses the many different friendships that Bess had. Abell recalls when the Johnson White House began to serve American wine instead of French wine at events.

Keywords: Able; Administrative assistant; Admired; Adopted; Advance work; Alone; American wine; Bess Abell; Better; Break; CBS; Cellar; Clair Engle; Close; Comparison; Descriptions; Dessert wine; Diamond ring; Dinner; Don Hewitt; Electric typewriter; Elevated; Empty; Enjoyed; Equivalent; Frankie Hewitt; French champagne; French wine; Friends; Gift; Help; Helpful; Hotel; House; Important; Jackie Kennedy; Kept; Lady Bird Johnson; Left; Liked; Lyndon Johnson; Manila Summit Conference; National Parks Service; Offering; Order; Origins; Persuasive; Pour; Quality; Refused; Represented; Return; Room; Senate; Served; Showcase; Shows; Social secretary; Stayed; Supply; TV producer; Team; Variety; Visit; Wall; White House; Wine Growers of California; Wine cases; Wine pairings; Wine taster; Work together

Subjects: California; California wine country; Fire Island Inlet (N.Y.); Ford's Theatre National Historic Site (Washington, D.C.); Friendship; Lockheed Martin; Military; People; Philippines; Politicians; Rent; Sons; Staff; Time; Travel; Washington (D.C.); Wine; Wine tasting

00:36:07 - 1968 Democratic National Convention

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Partial Transcript: Then I remember a time helped us, uh, go to the, uh, '68 Convention.

Segment Synopsis: Abell remembers attending the 1968 Democratic National Convention with Bess Abell and the ensuing turmoil associated with anti-Vietnam War protesters.

Keywords: 1968 Democratic National Convention; Accompany; Activity; Advance man; Angry; Annoyed; Anti-war movement; Attending; Attention; Awful; Beer bottle; Bess Abell; Break; Chief of protocol; Complaining; Dangerous; Decision; Democrats; Difficult; Disaster; Elaborate; Employee; Enter; Entrance; Excrement; Exit; Friends; Good time; Hide; Hotel; ID cards; Indirect; Issued; Law; Lowkey; Lyndon Johnson; No accomplishments; Not working; Obvious; Old system; Policemen; Poor organization; Present; President; Private practice; Problems; Realization; Reporters; Representation; Serious; Smeared; Social secretary; Stink bombs; Street; Thrown; Turmoil; Unable; Uncomplimentary; Unnecessary; Unresolved; Welcome; White House; Wife; Window

Subjects: Aircraft; Chicago (Ill.); Cost; Friend; Hippies; Identification; Lobbying; Lockheed Martin; Money; Politicians; Possibility; Risk; Security; Smell; Staff; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Violence; Vomit; Walking; Work

00:44:06 - 1968 presidential race

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Partial Transcript: We were both--at that point we were both strong for Humphrey.

Segment Synopsis: Abell reflects upon the 1968 presidential race, including what Hubert Humphrey could have done to increase his chances of winning the election.

Keywords: 1968 Democratic National Convention; 1968 presidential election; Against; Assassination; Before; Bess Abell; Bobby Kennedy; Carried; Close; Continue; Decision; Effort; Election; Eugene McCarthy; Failed; Good job; Hubert Humphrey; Lost; Mayor Daley; Need; Political questions; Postponed; Problems; Quit; Statement; Stop; Supportive; Uncertain

Subjects: Bombings; Chicago (Ill.); Criticism; Hippies; Illinois; Politicians; States; United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:48:10 - The Abells' houses during marriage

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Partial Transcript: But Bess' father wanted her to have a house.

Segment Synopsis: Abell lists some of the various houses that he lived in with Bess throughout their marriage.

Keywords: Adjustments; After; Agreed; Apartment; Bank; Banker; Bess Abell; Borrowing; Busy; Cheaper; Closer; Construction; Continue; Desire; Dining room; Driver; Driving; Drop-off; Earle Clements; Finances; Fit; Floorplan; Happy; Help; High; Hired; Hotel; House; House hunting; Job; Lady Bird Johnson; Large; Law school; Layout; Living room; Maid's room; Moving; Never discussed; Offer; Part-time; Phone call; Pick-up; President; Price; Reasonable; Remarkable; School; Secretary; Social secretary; Sold; Standard; Uninvolved; Upstairs; White House; White House car

Subjects: Alexandria (Va.); Bedrooms; Change; Children; Commute; Down payments; Father; Kitchen; Money; Percentage; Politicians; Profit; Virginia; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:55:46 - Social secretary salary / White House country fair

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Partial Transcript: When she first went to the White House, she was making six thousand dollars a year.

Segment Synopsis: Abell recalls how Bess Abell was able to secure a raise while working as White House social secretary. Abell remembers when Bess organized a country fair for the children of congressmen on the White House lawn.

Keywords: Appreciative; Bess Abell; Congress; Congressional children; Country fair; Earned; Ferris wheel; Help; Idea; Knew; Less; Party; Pay; Payroll; Phone call; Pony rides; Post office; Raise; Run; Salary; Social secretary; South Lawn; Suggestion; White House

Subjects: Courage; Fortune-telling; Money; Participation; People; Politicians; Sack racing; Time; Washington (D.C.); Work

00:59:08 - Women in the Gridiron Club

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Partial Transcript: And that led to, uh, much later, several years alter, there was a--a movement to get women into the Gridiron Club.

Segment Synopsis: Abell details Bess Abell's role in creating a country fair to protest the exclusion of women from becoming members of the Gridiron Club (an exclusive club for journalists in the Washington, D.C. area).

Keywords: Allowed; Assignments; Bess Abell; Capacity; Contribution; Correspondents; Counter-Gridiron Club; Coverage; Dan Rather; Dignitaries; Dining room; Dinner; Distinction; Donation; Drinks; Edmund Muskie; Fair; Fortune-teller; Foxhall Road NW (Washington, D.C.); Fun; Helen Thomas; Help; Hotel; Inclusion; Interesting; Invite; Invited; John Newton Mitchell; Join; Journalists for Professional Equality; Justification; Kisses; Limited; Lineup; Most distinguished; Movement; Notebook; Party; Pay; Persuasive; Phone booth; Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey; Prize money; Profits; Protesting; Reporters; Same night; Setup; Similar; Social pages; Sold; Stage; Stories; Strength; Support; Talking; Top; U.S. Attorney General; Unfair; White House Country Fair; Wife; William Cohen; Women's movement; Wonderful; press club

Subjects: Games; Gridiron Club (Washington, D.C.); Journalists; Membership; Men; Money; Mount Vernon Seminary; Night; Opportunity; People; Reputation; Saturday; Space; Successful; Thinking; Washington (D.C.); Women

01:06:40 - Bess Abell's work after the White House / Lawsuit from Bess Abell's business partner

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Partial Transcript: Bess, uh, when she, uh, left the White House, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses what kind of work Bess did after leaving her post as social secretary. Abell details the legal issues that Bess had with one of her business partners during this time.

Keywords: Amount; Argument; Bess Abell; Bess Abell & Associates; Bess Abell Enterprises; Book; Business Partner; Buying; Cash; Catalog; Confusing; Decision; Defend; Difference; District court; Enterprising; Exit; Expensive; Familiar; Fired; Furious; Help; Hired; Host; Ideas; Impressive; Inexpensive; Items; Law firm; Lawyer; Legal business; Legal fees; Misjudged; Mistake; No associates; No chance; No grounds; No results; Pay; Preparations; Promoting; Realization; Record; Refused; Result; Return; Sensible; Settlement; Specific; Spending; Sue; Talking; Terrible; Trial; Unsure; Words; Worse

Subjects: Business; Character; Cost; Depositions; Energy; Gifts; Good; Life; Litigation; Money; Parties; People; Politicians; Poor; Selling; Time; Washington (D.C.); Woman; Work

01:14:42 - Bess Abell and contractors / Bess Abell and renovations

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Partial Transcript: Bess was phenomenal at--at dealing with contractors.

Segment Synopsis: Abell describes how Bess interacted with contractors. Abell articulates Bess' role in renovating several of the houses they have lived in.

Keywords: Accept; Accommodations; Alone; Approach; Attic; Bess Abell; Better; Carol Carlyle; Convincing; Dealing with people; Different; Dining room; Earle Clements; Entranceway; Expansion; Good house; Great house; Ground floor; Help; Hired; House; Interested; Investment; Later; Living room; Loved; Lyndon Abell; Maid; Marguerite Higgins; Masterful; Moving; Neighbor; Next door; Nice; Non-condescending; Office; Open; Origins; Owners; Paid; Perfect; Phenomenal; Post office; Price; Purchased; Renovations; Repairs; Return; Rex Tillerson; Selected; Shared; Similar; Sold; Stairs; Stayed; Step-father; Top floor; Townhouse; Wall; White House; Work together

Subjects: Alexandria (Va.); Bathrooms; Bedrooms; Children; Contractors; Cost; Father; Federal government; Friend; Generations; Georgetown (Washington, D.C.); Good; Insulation (Heat); Kentucky; Kitchen; Man; Marriage; Money; Mother; People; Sons; Space; Washington (D.C.); Work

01:24:16 - Bess Abell's hobbies

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Partial Transcript: When we lived in Virginia, uh, Bess got active one Christmas and decided to make fruitcake.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses some of Bess' hobbies, including baking and gardening.

Keywords: Abbey of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.); All-female; Apartment; Backyard; Bad idea; Bathtub; Bess Abell; Block; Buying; Carry; Children's garden; Delicious; Developer; Difficult; Enjoyed; First house; Garden club; Gift; Glen Echo Fire Department; Help; Houses; Ingredients; Interior; Jackson magnolias; Land; Large; Later; Magnolia tree; Middle; Mistake; Mixing; Neighbor; New grass; Origins; Overwhelming; Phone call; Plans; Preference; President; Recipe; Refurbish; Remarkable; Strong; Suggestion; Swimming pool; Talent; Terrific; Truck; Unbothered; Unsuccessful; Unsure; White House; Wonderful; Work together; Worried

Subjects: Alexandria (Va.); Baking; Best; Cheese; Children; Children's National Medical Center (Washington, D.C.); Christmas; Cleaning; Color; Dogwoods; Fruitcake; Gardening; Good; Landscaping; Love; Maryland; Monks; Personality; Pink; Plants; Railroad ties; Rent; Swimming; Time; Tree; White; Women; Work

01:33:01 - Bess Abell and the Mondales

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Partial Transcript: When was Bess was working for the Mondales...

Segment Synopsis: Abell talks of Bess' friendship with the Mondale family while Walter Mondale was serving as vice president.

Keywords: Acreage; After; Back; Bess Abell; Closet; Door; Foxhall Road NW (Washington, D.C.); Funny; Grounds; House; Humor; Installed; Interesting; Joan Mondale; Joan of Art; Leaving; Living quarters; Lowkey; Master bedroom; Nelson Rockefeller; Nice; Nicer; One night; Reason; Room; Secret door; Smile; Stay; Suggestion; Thrilled; Typical; Upstairs; Vice president; Walter Mondale

Subjects: Administration; Humor; Laugh; Mondale family; Parties; Politicians; Staff; Washington (D.C.)

01:37:04 - Friendship between Bess Abell and Joan Mondale / Bess Abell's driver

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Partial Transcript: When, uh, Bess was--had grown to be such a friend of Joan's...

Segment Synopsis: Abell characterizes the close friendship between Bess and Joan Mondale. Abell recalls Bess' driver while she was social secretary.

Keywords: Asked; Assumption; Aware; Bartender; Bed; Bess Abell; Campaigning; Deserving; Driver; Duties; Dwight Eisenhower; Employee; Entitled; Errands; Eulogy; Friends; Funeral; General; Got along; Grateful; Head; Helpful; Hotel; Introduced; Investigation; Jimmy Carter; Joan Mondale; Made; Maid; Meet; Messenger; Met; Name; Neat; New driver; Phone call; Pick-up; Raise; Relax; School; Set; Sleeping; Social secretary; Talking; Thankful; True; Unable; W. Marvin Watson; White House; Wonderful; World War II

Subjects: Budget; Children; Civil service; Death; Dry cleaning; Friendship; Inspection; Life; Memories; Mondale family; Morning; Opportunity; Politicians; Secret service; Speech; Staff; Successful; Time; Washington (D.C.); Work; Work ethic; World War, 1939-1945

01:45:59 - The Abells' views on women's issues

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Partial Transcript: I read in the Washington Post yesterday, uh, about the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

Segment Synopsis: Abell articulates his and Bess' views on women's issues, such as the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion.

Keywords: 14th Amendment; Afraid; Agreed; Bess Abell; Clear; Conclusion; Constitutional right; Correct; Decision; Disagreed; Equal Rights Amendment; Family; Friends; George Will; Important; Lawyer; Liz Carpenter; Politics; Protected; Reversed; Rights; Roe v. Wade; Setup; Supreme Court; Surprised; U.S. Constitution; Unlikely

Subjects: Abortion; Feminism; Politicians; States; Symbolism; Sympathetic; Thinking; Washington (D.C.); Washington post; Women

01:50:01 - Bess Abell's views on presidents / Possibility of Bess Abell working for Nelson Rockefeller

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Partial Transcript: Another political question that I really admire Bess for is her inner decision that the military is important enough that military service should be, uh, considered part of a, uh, qualification as to be president.

Segment Synopsis: Abell shares Bess' views on presidential qualifications and presidential candidates, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. Abell explains why Bess may have turned down an opportunity to work for Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

Keywords: Agreed; Asked; Barack Obama; Bess Abell; Better president; Bill Clinton; Close; Considered; Democrats; Dinner; Draft dodger; Excited; George H.W. Bush; Geraldine Ferraro; Help; Issue; Joan Mondale; John McCain; Laurance Rockefeller; Lyndon Johnson; Military service; Nelson Rockefeller; Never agreed; No chance; No military service; Nomination; Not ready; Opinion; President; Qualification; Rare; Remarkable; Republican; Robert S. Strauss; Roberta McCain; Serious; Serve; Shocked; Support; Toss up; Unbeatable; Unqualified; Vice president; Vote; Walter Mondale

Subjects: Black; Brother; Criticism; Democratic National Committee (U.S.); Military; Mother; Peace Corps (U.S.); Politicians; Presidents; Thinking; United States; Vice-presidents; Washington (D.C.); Work

01:57:44 - Merry-Go-Round Farm

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Partial Transcript: One of the best things that Bess ever did was to make Merry-Go-Round Farm work.

Segment Synopsis: Abell describes Bess' role in creating a subdivision from some of their land in Potomac, Maryland. The community is known as Merry-Go-Round Farm.

Keywords: Appreciative; Bad; Banker; Bess Abell; Boarding; Buyers; Christmas card; Convincing; Development; Difficult; Directions; Driver; Faces; Fake horses; Family; Finances; Friends; Got along; Great; Guests; Horse community; Houses; Large; Loan; Lots; Merry-Go-Round Farm; Merry-Go-Round Farm Musings; Newsletter; Party; Photographer; Physical work; Picture; Prize; Production; Realization; Reason; Renewed; Role; Screen; Stakes; Subdivision; Tasks; Together; Treatment; White House; Winning horse; Workers; Wreath-making

Subjects: Business; Calligraphers; Christmas; Contractors; Daffodils; Designers; Dice; Horse racing; Horses; Landowners; Landscaping; Painters; People; Potomac (Md.); Selling; Successful; Tree planting; Work; Wreaths

02:03:43 - Harry Middleton

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Partial Transcript: One of the, uh, big guys in, uh, in Bess' life was Harry Middleton.

Segment Synopsis: Abell discusses Harry Middleton, a former director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Abell recalls when he and Bess told stories about Lyndon Johnson to University of Texas at Austin students for a class that Harry Middleton was teaching about Lyndon Johnson.

Keywords: Bess Abell; Convincing; Course; Depth; Drew Pearson; Familiar; Fence; Friends; Harry Middleton; Help; Impressions; Interactions; LBJ Presidential Library; Library director; Met; Modern; Personal; President; Relationship; Stories; Tom Sawyer; White House; Young people

Subjects: Austin (Tex.); Education; History; Lectures; Painting; Papers; Politicians; Students; Teaching; Undergraduate; University of Texas; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Washington (D.C.)

02:06:33 - Stories of Lyndon Johnson / Bess Abell's titles

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Partial Transcript: Bess would tell these wonderful stories about Lyndon Johnson that just, uh, brought down the house.

Segment Synopsis: Abell relays a story that Bess told about President Johnson. Abell discusses how Bess addressed her superiors, as well as the nickname given to her by White House social aides.

Keywords: Arrangements; Award; Behind the scenes; Bess Abell; Brian Lamb; C-SPAN; Careful; Characteristic; Chuck Robb; Courses; First name; Formal; Glad; Good work; Guests; Head; Head waiter; Helen Hayes; Help; Iron butterfly; Joan Mondale; Joan of Art; Kept; King; Lady Bird Johnson; Light touch; Lyndon Johnson; Meat; Mrs. Johnson; Nice; Nickname; Normal; Officers; Origins; Pantry; Present; President's table; Pâté; Queen; Reassured; Rotten; Senator; Social aides; Steel will; Talking; Title; Tour; Tournedos Rossini; Upset; Vice president; Walter Mondale; White House; Wonderful

Subjects: Credit; Georgetown (Washington, D.C.); Good; Greece; Military; Morgan Stanley & Co.; New York (N.Y.); Parties; Politicians; Wake Forest University; Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (New York, N.Y.); Washington (D.C.); Winston-Salem (N.C.)

02:15:47 - Visit to LBJ Ranch

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Partial Transcript: Another, uh, fun time was in--at--at the LBJ Ranch.

Segment Synopsis: Abell recalls an interesting visit to the LBJ Ranch with Bess.

Keywords: Bess Abell; Chief of protocol; Close; Enjoy; Famous; Good party; Guests; Help; Invited; James Symington; Lady Bird Johnson; Lynda Bird Johnson Robb; Lyndon Johnson; Secretary; Snowed in; Snowstorm; South Pacific; Unable; Wife

Subjects: Age; Guitar; Ice; Johnson family; LBJ Ranch House (Tex.); People; Piano; Singing; Snow; Songs; Texas; Voice