Documentary to feature Sam Rayburn, Bonham
By Allen Rich
Jul 10, 2006
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As big raindrops from a sudden summer squall scattered the crowd at a groundbreaking ceremony in 1960, an up-and-coming state representative in his early 20’s named Ben Barnes found himself waiting out the storm in a car with one of the veteran powerbrokers in the nation, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn.   Trying to engage the Speaker in conversation, Barnes turned to the obvious when he asked Rayburn how newly elected President John Kennedy would fare. 


The response showed Rayburn’s grasp of the world of politics. 


Kennedy would do just fine, Rayburn assured the young state representative, but the main thing was Richard Nixon had been defeated.  It was no secret that the Speaker of the House felt Nixon was dangerous to the presidency.  Be prepared, Sam Rayburn informed Barnes, because Nixon will be back.  Rayburn’s prediction became a reality in 1968 when Richard Milhous Nixon defeated Hubert H. Humphrey to become the 37th U.S. President.  In 1974, facing the imminent threat of impeachment following the Watergate scandal, Nixon became the first American President to resign from office.  


That memory was passed along to independent film producer Reed Penney during an interview with Ben Barnes as part of a documentary Penney is compiling about the life and career of Speaker Rayburn.  The filmmaker was recently in Bonham to sign paperwork that will allow the Friends of Sam Rayburn to serve as a financial sponsor for the project.  Appropriately, the first interview for the documentary came when Penney sat down with former Rayburn staff member

H.G. Dulaney a few days after the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Sam Rayburn Library.  Rayburn handpicked Dulaney to establish the library. Other members of Speaker Rayburn’s staff that Penney has spent time with include Dee Kelly, now a prominent Fort Worth attorney, Billy Wilcox, Evelyn Cross and Bob Bradshaw.


To gain a better perspective of a man that made the transition from an impoverished childhood to become regarded by many as the most effective Speaker of the House in our nation’s history, Penney conducted interviews with U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall, Mr. Rayburn's niece Martha Rayburn Dye, Mrs. Lloyd Bentsen (B.A. Bentsen), former Speaker Jim Wright, Jack Brooks, Lucy Baines Johnson and Lindy Boggs.


“Dr. Patrick Cox has been of enormous help,” Penney adds gratefully, referring to the associate director of the University of Texas at Austin Center for American History.  Dr. Cox is also the current Director of the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham.


Another valuable advisor on this project has been Dr. Don E. Carleton, the noted historian and author that has served as director of the University of Texas at Austin Center for American History since it was created in 1991.


Dr. Anthony Champagne, a professor of government & politics at UT-Dallas and highly respected author on Rayburn also lent his expertise to the documentary 


The film producer’s recent visit to Bonham allowed Penney time to discuss this project with the president of Friends of Sam Rayburn, Curtis Smith. 


“We are very excited to capture this piece of history that is so relevant to Bonham and all of us,” Smith remarked.


With the non-profit corporation Friends of Sam Rayburn agreeing to serve as a financial sponsor for the film, Penney can apply for funding needed to complete the documentary tentatively titled “Rayburn” that the producer hopes to air on PBS.   In turn, the Friends of Sam Rayburn plan to utilize the film at the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum, giving visitors one more reason to spend time at the historic location.


Penney states that anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible contribution to the documentary can write a check to The Friends of Sam Rayburn and put "Rayburn Documentary" in the memo line. The library address is:


 Sam Rayburn Library

 P.O. Box 309, Bonham

 Texas 75418 

For more information, call the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum at 903-583-2455.

President of Friends of Sam Rayburn Curtis Smith (left) visits with independent filmmaker Reed Penney.


Reed Penney (center) shakes hands with H.G. Dulaney, the first person interviewed for the documentary.

Curtis Smith (left) and Penney shake hands after the Friends of Sam Rayburn agree to financial sponsorship of the documentary.

Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham