AUSTIN, Texas — Trailblazer. Journalist. Texan. These are just some of the words that describe Liz Carpenter. A proud Texan, Carpenter served as chief of staff/press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson, and was an inspirational leader for the women’s movement. Now, her life will play out on the big screen in a documentary.

“Shaking it Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter” premiered at SXSW this week. The documentary was directed by Liz’s daughter, Christy Carpenter, and Abby Ginzberg.

“After I learned from my friend Christy Carpenter that she was working on a book about her mother Liz Carpenter’s life, I suggested that we consider collaborating on a film about her mother,” Ginzberg said. 

Liz carpenter on a walkie-talkie. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)
Liz carpenter on a walkie-talkie. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

“My lifetime’s experience as her daughter, a relationship that grew closer as I entered adulthood, exposed me to legions of people whose lives she impacted. Liz was charismatic both on the stump and in smaller, more intimate settings. Her big embracing energy, optimism and sense of fun captivated and infected everyone she encountered,” Christy Carpenter said. “People flocked to her for advice, ideas, help of all kinds and inspiration. She never turned anyone away. She was also a gifted writer and speaker. I don’t think I ever saw her give a speech that didn’t end with a standing ovation. A larger-than-life personality, unabashed and sometimes outrageous, she got away with a LOT thanks to her legendary humor.” 

Liz Carpenter started her career as a journalist when it was still a male-dominated field. She was born in Salado, Texas, and spent her childhood in Austin. She earned her journalism degree from the University of Texas in 1942 and relocated to Washington, D.C. to start her journalism career in the midst of World War II.

At 22 years of age, she was attending press conferences held by both President Franklin and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She began covering the political rise of then-Rep. Lyndon Johnson for the Austin American-Statesman, developing what became a lifelong relationship with him and his wife Lady Bird.

In the late 1940s, she and her husband, Leslie Carpenter, established the Carpenter News Bureau, covering Capitol Hill and the White House for more than a dozen newspapers. She was elected president of the Women’s National Press Club in 1954, the foremost journalistic organization in Washington.

In 1960, then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird persuaded Liz to join his campaign for vice president. Once elected, Liz joined Johnson’s staff as the highest-ranking woman ever to work for a vice president. She was one of a few of his staff traveling with him to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and riding in the motorcade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. During the chaos and confusion after Kennedy was shot, she crafted President Johnson’s first public remarks.

“As a director, I am always interested in the event in which a person’s biography intersects with a key moment in American history. For Liz that was her experience being part of the motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot and killed,” Ginzberg said. “As a member of Vice President Johnson’s staff, she had the foresight to write a draft of the words Lyndon Johnson would speak to the world when Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, which she refers to as ‘probably the most important 58 words I ever wrote.'" 

Liz was appointed staff director and press secretary for first lady Lady Bird Johnson.

After Johnson’s presidency ended in 1969, Liz wrote a best-selling book, "Ruffles & Flourishes," about her experiences in the White House. She soon got heavily involved in the growing women's movement. Throughout her life, Liz Carpenter experienced and helped shape some of the most vivid moments and movements of the 20th century.

Watch the Trailer for shaking it up below: