‘Bombs Away’ Documentary Tackles LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Election

October 10, 2014

Marking the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking 1964 presidential campaign, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Community Idea Stations have released the first trailer for their latest documentary, “Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater and the 1964 Campaign that Changed It All.”

Scheduled for release Nov. 1, the one-hour documentary looks back at a presidential election that not only redefined both political parties, but also ushered in a new age of highly negative television advertising.

The documentary will air on PBS stations across the country, and also will be offered to other affiliated networks around the world.

Directed by Paul Tait Roberts, “Bombs Away” examines the 1964 presidential contest between President Lyndon Johnson and Sen. Barry Goldwater. Polarized by very different personalities and ideologies, Johnson and Goldwater attacked each other with gusto – and in the process opened the door to a modern era of campaigning that features highly negative TV advertising campaigns.

A notable revelation in the film is the regret felt by Monique Luiz about her role in kick-starting the era of negative political campaigning as a child actress in the Johnson campaign’s infamous “Daisy” ad. In the spot, Luiz is seen picking petals off of a daisy, counting as she plucks them. Her counting turns into a launch countdown, followed by an atomic explosion, implying that a Goldwater presidency could lead to nuclear Armageddon. The “Daisy” spot remains one of the most controversial television campaign advertisements in American political history.

“Bombs Away” is the latest documentary produced jointly by the Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations, which regularly partner to produce documentary films for public television on American politics and history. Their last two documentaries won Emmy Awards from the Capital Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences: 2013’s “The Kennedy Half Century,” which explored President Kennedy’s life and legacy, and 2012’s “Out of Order,” which examined partisan polarization in Washington.

Bombs Away” features interviews with, among others, former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the late senator; Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson, daughters of President and Mrs. Johnson; Pat Buchanan, former advisor to multiple Republican presidents; Joseph Califano, former special assistant to Johnson; Victor Gold, who worked on the Goldwater presidential campaign; Doris Kearns Goodwin, biographer and presidential historian; Richard Goodwin, former advisor to Johnson; Joanne Bland, civil rights activist; Sid Davis, a journalist who attended Johnson’s swearing-in aboard Air Force One after Kennedy’s assassination; Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee; Robert Mann, author of “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds”; and Larry J. Sabato, a U.Va. politics professor and director of the Center for Politics.

Media Contact

Geoffrey Skelley

Political Analyst, Sabato's Crystal Ball U.Va. Center for Politics