Useful Notes: Gerald Ford
"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."
— Gerald Ford
AKA "Mr. Nice Guy
", "The Accidental President" or just plain "Gerry Ford". Chevy Chase
owes his career to him.
Gerald Rudolph Ford
(July 14, 1913 — December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States (1974-1977
), following Richard Nixon
and preceding Jimmy Carter
Unique in that he was the only president who assumed the office without being elected either president or vice-president. A long-time Republican congressman who dreamed of becoming Speaker of the House, he was appointed to the vice-presidency after Richard Nixon
's original vice-president, Spiro T. Agnew, resigned amidst a slew of criminal investigations of corruption, tax evasion, and general jerkishness
. Then Nixon resigned eight months later, making Ford the president.
Longest-lived person to serve as president, he got an aircraft carrier (yet to be completed) named after him while he was still alive. Notably difficult to caricature due to a complete lack of distinguishing features
. Satirical portrayals usually focused on his clumsiness
, mainly due to that one time he fell down the stairs deplaning Air Force One, in front of TV cameras
(which is ironic because he was a star athlete on the football team of his alma-mater, University of Michigan
) and genial demeanor. Fittingly, he's usually depicted as a bit of a clumsy but amiable doofus.
Ford didn't do a whole lot in office, with the extraordinary circumstances of how he assumed the office being the distinguishing feature of his presidency. Though, to be fair, between the major neutering of the President's powers that came in response to Watergate (Which would not be restored to what they once were until George W. Bush
's presidency), Congress falling into the hands of opposition politicians (again in response to Watergate) and the circumstances by which he became president causing him to not be taken seriously by Congress or the media -both whom saw him as nothing more than a temporary caretaker - he was effectively powerless. He is, to date, the only President to hold office since Franklin D. Roosevelt
that never made Time
magazine's "Person of the Year". Additionally, a 2005 Discovery Channel
poll of the 100 greatest Americans included all of the presidents since FDR except
Ford. He's most famous for:
- Being married to Betty Ford, one of the most politically active First Ladies in history. She pushed for, among other things, the Equal Rights Amendment, breast cancer awareness and abortion rights, and spoke candidly about marijuana use and premarital sex, often leading conservative critics to call her "No Lady". It's been argued that she had a greater impact on the US than her husband did — she was named "Woman of the Year" by Time in 1975. Today, she's also known for establishing the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse recovery.
- Remarking upon Richard Nixon's resignation that "the long national nightmare is over", then granting Tricky Dick a pardon for anything he may have done—probably his most unpopular action.
- The first ever government shutdown in American history happened during his presidency. It lasted ten days.
- Opposing Roe v. Wade, though he became 'pro-choice'note later in life.
- Accusing Jimmy Carter of being "all sizzle and no steak" on the campaign trail, though the two of them became good friends after Carter's term ended.
- Being in favor of gay rights toward the end of his life in the '90s and early '00s.
- Falling down a lot, due to an inner ear problem. This was lampooned by Saturday Night Live actor Chevy Chase. He didn't actually fall down as often as SNL viewers would be led to believe — although Chase's parody of this became so iconic that this trait was mentioned in the Animaniacs "Presidents" song 20 years later. It should be noted Ford was a former football star at the University of Michigan (he played center) and generally extremely fit; while he did indeed fall down the steps of Air Force One (he later said this was because the stairs were slick due to rain) he picked himself up at the bottom of the stairs and was shaking hands with dignitaries before anybody could even ask if he was okay.
- Chevy Chase's Saturday Night Live impression of him that neither looked or sounded anything like Fordnote and, as mentioned above, was an excuse for Chevy Chase to do his pratfall schtick and mock how allegedly clumsy Ford was.
- His debate gaffe in 1976 when he said that Poland was not under Soviet domination. Oops.
- The attempt on his life by Manson Family cultist Lynette Fromme, and another by Sara Jane Moore only seventeen days later. He's the only US President to have been on the receiving end of assassination attempts by women.
- Puns on his name being that of a car (although he's not related to Henry Ford or his descendants). Besides the quote below, other Republican primary challengers distributed buttons reading "Ford is an Edsel" and "Trade in your Ford in '76". And then there's the fact that the most famous satirist of him was Chevy Chase.
- Being something of an enthusiastic sports fan. He was an alumnus of the University of Michigan and reportedly nagged the presidential band that he wanted them to play the U of M fight-song in lieu of Hail to the Chief as his presidential fanfare. For this reason, most Michigandersnote have quite fond memories of him.
- Had a pet golden retriever, Liberty. Very much loved the dog, and there are many photographs of the two together in the Oval Office.
- By all accounts, he had a great sense of humour.
He refused to criticize George W. Bush
while he was alive, insisting that an interview where he said, "[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Vice President Dick] Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq", not be released until after his death.
Ford in Fiction
- In Watchmen, "The Comedian" Edward Blake poses with him.
- And later, he trips. Again.
- In Stephen King's The Dead Zone, after Johnny Smith wakes up from his five-year coma, he expresses horror when he hears that Ford is President, thinking that it was Henry Ford at first.
- Ford's death resulted in a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment on 30 Rock. Less than a month before his death, an episode aired in which Pete hopes the Show Within The Show will be preempted and says "How's Gerald Ford's health?" In the DVD release, the line was changed to "It's still hurricane season, right?"
- It resulted in a rather bizarre incident on Late Night with David Letterman as well. Letterman's show was on when CBS aired a ticker at the bottom of the screen announcing Ford's death. The timing of the ticker was as such that Letterman (completely unaware, as the show is taped in the afternoon) was exclaiming "yes!" at the precise time the ticker was displayed.
- One notably hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch featured Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw pre-recording news briefs for every possible death of Gerald Ford including suicide, overdosing on crack cocaine, walking into a propeller, and being eaten by wolves. Carvey apologized to the former president at the end of the episode and the sketch is featured in his "Best Of..." compilation.
Alright, alright.. [graphic of Ford surrounded by a pair of wolves] "Tragedy today, as former President Gerald Ford was eaten by wolves. He was delicious." Now.. now, that's just superfluous, you know? Producer:
It's a former President, Tom. What do you say - he's not delicious?
- Chevy Chase's impersonation, noted above, spawned one of the best lines in SNL history. After being asked a particularly complicated question in Presidential Debate:
Gerald Ford: "I was told there would be no math."
- That '70s Show. Ford visits Point Place, and Red gets his Crowning Moment of Awesome at a Town Hall Q&A:
Hey, Gerry. Let me ask you something: How the Hell could you pardon Nixon?!
- And that was right after Eric went streaking right in front of the president while wearing a Richard Nixon mask.
- In Assassins, he helps two women pick up the bullets that have just spilled out of one of their guns. Said women are Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore. Hilarity Ensues.
- In The Simpsons episode "Two Bad Neighbors", after George H.W. Bush moved away, Gerald Ford moved into the house Mr. Bush just left.
- And became a good friend of Homer as they're both simple, amicable salt of the earth types who shared common ground (read: they both tripped on the same piece of sidewalk at the same time and fell flat on their faces shouting "D'oh!").
- Their photo together is still in the family closet.
- In Futurama, after Fry admits that he was going to vote for Clinton but decided voting wasn't cool, Gerald Ford's head says "Frankly, I've never felt voting to be all that essential to the process."
- He appears again in a season 8 episode, in which he states "Hi, I'm Gerry. I like movies!"
- Pinky and the Brain: Taking advantage of conspiracy theories, Brain tricked Ford into signing a document and later passed it as something signed back when Ford still was the President.