The center.

Gerald Ford is dead. People of my precise demographic slice will remember him as a vague collection of impressions, beginning with WIN buttons and ending with Chevy Chase’s pratfalls. Sentenced by fate to clean up after Richard Nixon, he did a good enough job that few people remember him with bitterness (even though he survived two — two! — assassination attempts), but not good enough that he could be reelected. Here’s another fleeting memory: Jimmy Carter calling for a round of applause, in his inauguration speech, for the man who did so much to “heal our land.” I recall Ford seemed uncomfortable with this Hollywood-like moment, even as he stood up and acknowledged the applause.

I was stunned to see he was 93. Didn’t he play football at Michigan? That would seem to place him in the leather-helmet era of the game, but maybe not.

This is probably a reflection of where my head was at the time, but I mainly remember Jerry Ford for his family. After the Nixon robo-daughters, the Fords were a family any American teenager could like. One son was a struggling actor. (Look for him as one of the president’s Secret Service agents in “Escape From New York” — he’s the blonde.) A daughter, Susan, was briefly touted as a Major Babe, a Republican Kennedy, then sort of resigned from the job. She made a commercial for Subaru in which she had to sing three words — Ford drives Subaru — and couldn’t stay on key, but was cute about it. It only now occurs to me how this must have stabbed the other Ford family, back home in the president’s native state, right in the heart; a Michigan politician’s daughter pimping an import! Heresy!

And then there was Betty, who had her own problems, although we didn’t find out about them until after her husband left office. She was a good egg, though, pulling up her socks and becoming the public face of alcoholism. It needed a public face, right about the time we were turning from Foster Brooks and Crazy Guggenheim to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and an ex-president’s wife would do nicely.

Of the president, I simply wasn’t paying attention. There was the Nixon pardon, Whip Inflation Now and…well, what can i say? I was a teenager. I was paying attention to other things.

I’m struck by this passage in his obituary, noting he was “a man of the center. He was an internationalist in foreign affairs, a moderate on civil rights and social questions and a conservative on fiscal matters.”

And this was a Republican. (Amusingly, his position in football? Center.) They didn’t make ’em like that for a long time, although the model seems to be making a comeback. Have you driven a Ford lately?

Posted at 2:19 am in Current events |

32 responses to “The center.”

  1. Connie said on December 27, 2006 at 8:01 am

    Ford was my congressman as a kid and was well thought of as an every day guy. He used to come to town with his little trailer office, which he parked next to my Dad’s office. His version of a visit with his constituents was to go have coffee at Frank’s on Main St., just like all the downtown businessmen did every day.

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  2. Dorothy said on December 27, 2006 at 9:31 am

    Since my daughter is a copy editor, she shares work stories with me sometimes. Not long after she was hired, they had a fairly quick night of getting the paper ready. She was looking forward to getting out of work on time, or perhaps a few minutes early. When she said that out loud to a co-worker, the response was “Shhhhhh – Gerald Ford might hear you!” I didn’t get the joke at first, and then Laura informed that if a former president died before their shift was over, they’d have to stay late and get the front page changed, etc. I know all of you know what I’m talking about. But I always got a kick out of that “shhhhh” thing.

    And Laura went home sick last night from work, so she didn’t have to participate in last night’s changes to the front page.

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  3. brian stouder said on December 27, 2006 at 9:42 am

    I remember getting up to go to school the Wednesday morning after the 1976 presidential election (I must’ve been in a sophomore at South Side High School), and being genuinely stunned that Jimmy Carter really had defeated President Ford, and had become “President Carter”(!) It struck me then as simply unbelievable!

    Looking back, of course it makes sense (and on further review, I seem to recall the disgust with which my life-long-Republican dad greeted the news that Ford issued a pre-emptive pardon to Richard Nixon);

    still, it was a healthy thing to experience something ‘stunning’ like that, which really shouldn’t have been stunning at all

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  4. Kirk said on December 27, 2006 at 11:00 am

    well, ford allegedly played at michigan without a helmet, which led to LBJ’s comments that he played too much without a helmet (he thought ford was stupid). helmets were in use when he played, but weren’t required for a few years after that

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  5. Dave said on December 27, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Never met a president but have a friend who was a enlisted military man stationed at the White House on an advance trip planning detail during Ford and Carter administrations. Ford would always speak and be pleasant, Carter would be formal, if he acknowledged them at all.

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  6. brian stouder said on December 27, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    You know – that reminds me; President Ford was the one president that I saw with my own eyes – from the nose-bleed section of the Fort Wayne Coliseum. It was interesting because at the end of his speech, there was a knot of people on the floor – the president and then the travelling network types and their techies….maybe 25 or 30 people all in one spot, and then not another soul within 75 feet.

    And on the TV news, it looked like the president was in a sea of humanity

    (I saw Air Force One do a low, wheels-up fly-by at Daytona in 2004 – and then a procession of black Chevy SUVs with tinted glass….but I didn’t actually get a glimpse of W)

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  7. velvet goldmine said on December 27, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    I think they should have Ford lying in state at the Apollo and Brown displayed at the Whitie House….Just to shake things up.

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  8. basset said on December 27, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    I think velvet goldmine has never been to Grand Rapids.

    another topic… I may be wrong on this, but wasn’t Ford the only President who was adopted?

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  9. mary said on December 28, 2006 at 12:58 am

    Clinton was adopted as well. His birth name was William Jefferson Blythe.

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  10. MarkH said on December 28, 2006 at 3:42 am

    Technically, Mary, basset is correct on this one.

    While both Ford’s and Clinton’s mothers were single mothers who remarried, only Ford’s stepfather formally adopted his stepson. Leslie King became Gerald Ford, Jr. at age two.

    I believe Willaim Jefferson Blythe was never formally adopted, yet voluntarily changed his last name to Clinton when he was 16. At least, according to the 2006 World Almanac.

    Nice recounting of the affection America had for the entire Ford family, Nancy. Refreshingly, they were very genuine, not an ounce of phoniness. And, yes, Susan WAS a babe. This was enhanced in the Spring of 1975, when she graduated high school (same year as you, right, Nance?), and Life Magazine did a very nice photo spread of her graduation party in the Rose Garden. Looking radiant, at least she got this then-23-yeardold college senior’s attention.

    My recollection of Ford was his appearance of steadiness and stability in office. Very avuncular, pipe-smoking in many Oval Office photos; so All-American in appearance, it was Steve Canyon himself had this as his latest assignment. Whatever else he was in office, he was a calming force after the Watergate storm.

    Pretty obscure reference to Crazy Guggenheim, Nancy. I wonder how many here recognized it. Show of hands?

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  11. brian stouder said on December 28, 2006 at 9:14 am

    Show of hands?

    but I would have put Otis Campbell on the list of old-style drunks

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  12. nancy said on December 28, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Ha. He calls a Crazy Guggenheim reference obscure, right after he throws in one to Steve Canyon. You guys kill me.

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  13. Dorothy said on December 28, 2006 at 9:38 am

    (Hand waving wildly): I knew the Crazy Guggenheim reference, of course. He was played by none other than Frank Fontaine on the Jackie Gleason Show!

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  14. Kirk said on December 28, 2006 at 11:18 am

    and fontaine could put away the booze in real life, according to my dad, who met him after fontaine entertained at a convention dad helped organize

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  15. MarkH said on December 28, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Just seeing if everyone’s on their toes…

    Yeah, forgot about Otis, Brian! And, yes, Dorothy, while a kid in the burgh, Gleason was a Saturday night ritual at our house.

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  16. Dorothy said on December 28, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    I Googled Crazy Guggenheim after reading this page earlier today, and found a really neat article written by Larry Miller (actor and writer). In it he did a nice job describing what it was like to watch the show with his dad, and the motions Gleason and Fontaine went thru in the routine. I do remember Fontaine had a wonderful singing voice.

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  17. MarkH said on December 28, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Interesting Dorothy; I’ll make a note to find the article. BTW, if it’s the Larry Miller I’m thinking of, he died some years ago. He used to appear on Letterman frequently.

    Kirk, also interesting. In the imdb website’s Fontaine bio, they claim that, like Foster Brooks, Dean Martin and other stage drunks, Fontaine was darn near a teetotaler in real life. Wouldn’t doubt your dad’s eyewitness account, though.

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  18. Dorothy said on December 28, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Mark that was a different Miller, not Larry. Larry is sometimes seen in the Christopher Guest movies (he was in Best in Show). I can’t recall the guy’s name, but I know who you mean. OH WAIT – – – GEORGE was his name. Duh. Just hit me as I was typing.

    Here’s the link to the article:

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  19. Kirk said on December 28, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    hmmm, i’ll have to check back on that.

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  20. Kirk said on December 28, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    maybe it was my dad who was pounding the scotch

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  21. MarkH said on December 28, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Dorothy, you are correct; I was thinking of GEORGE Miller.

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  22. velvet goldmine said on December 28, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    (Unless Basset objects to this as well) I also think it would be a touching and nostalgic touch if the coffin wranglers dropped Ford’s casket down the airplane steps at some point in its journey.

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  23. velvet goldmine said on December 28, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Did I just call for a “touching touch”? Now that’s some good writing, is what that there is.

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  24. joodyb said on December 28, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Betty also was, as MPR reminded me this afternoon, the first very public face of breast cancer, and many specialists credit her with bringing cancer with a capital C out of the whisper realm. re gerry’s helmet days, isn’t there some famous foto of him in aforementioned leather helmet? or am i having a mn moment and mixing him up w/bronco? would you believe my sister, as a budding 18-yr-old GOP wannabe, had houseplants named Gerry and Betty?
    The character’s name on Letterman was Larry ‘Bud’ Mellman, played by a guy named Miller, i think — hence the confusion.
    a font of babble i am, today…

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  25. mary said on December 28, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    Larry “Bud” Melman was played by someone named DeForest or something like that. Larry Miller was the suicide negotiator in Best in Show. A former boyfriend of Catherin O’Hara’s character.

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  26. joodyb said on December 28, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    that’s right! cuz they called him calvert when they switched networks, or something. mary, you are scary.
    i forgot to say i love larry miller.

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  27. basset said on December 29, 2006 at 12:15 am

    no, Velvet, I wasn’t objecting… how could I? James Brown’s corpse in the WHITE HOUSE – just to “shake things up” – how original, how mordantly postmodern, how irreverent! And then a new angle on Ford’s public image – clumsy? falling down the airplane steps? who knew? this is truly humor on the cutting edge.

    now I’m SURE you’ve never been to Grand Rapids – your wit is too swift, your pen too acid. Minneapolis, now, might be a different story.

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  28. Dorothy said on December 29, 2006 at 8:52 am

    Calvert DeForest was the real name of Larry “Bud” Melman. Huh. I didn’t even have to Google that. I am a font of information when it comes to Letterman.

    Oh crap, I just looked up and see that joody beat me to it. Well, I’m proud of myself anyway!!

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  29. velvet goldmine said on December 29, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Goodness, Basset. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than to tip my hat to your earlier catch. I apologize if you think I was igniting a flame war. That would be downright un-NNC. Pax.

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  30. MarkH said on December 29, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Interesting how we got from confusion over Larry/George Miller to Larry “Bud” Melman, all because of the Letterman common denominator.

    If I remember correctly, when Letterman left NBC in a snit over not getting the “Tonight Show”, NBC laid claim to everything “LateNight”, including the name, Larry “Bud” Melman. But DeForrest was an employee of Letterman’s, not NBC’s and he went ahead and put him on “The Late Show” anyway, not mentioning any name. It didn’t seem to work very well, and DeForrest seems to just fade away.

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  31. brian stouder said on December 29, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Letterman was always an acquired taste; I never really went for him. The last quirky TV talker I liked was Tom Snyder – and that was long, long ago (when I could stay up real late!)

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  32. Dorothy said on December 30, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    The main thing about Dave, for me, was how much he reminded me of my older brothers. A real smart ass. I feel so at home among smart asses, being one myself, of course.

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