Chevy Chase comments on his relationship with Gerald Ford in the NY Times today.
Mr. Ford Gets the Last Laugh
IN recent days, I’ve been bombarded by requests to comment on my relationship with President Gerald Ford. Until now, I’ve tried to say nothing — any remarks from me during the Ford family’s private time of grief would have been inappropriate.
The requests were understandable, I guess. You see, I made a reputation for myself 30 years ago on “Saturday Night Live” in part because of a number of sketches and “Weekend Updates” that I wrote or appeared in ridiculing Mr. Ford for his apparent “stumble-bumbling” (though he was perhaps the best athlete to have been president) and making fun of his presidency.
Luckily for me, Mr. Ford had a sense of humor.
I’ve often thought how odd it was that we became linked together. It’s not like we had a lot in common. After all, Mr. Ford had never been helped for any problems with “self-medication” in a facility that has helped so many throughout these past decades. And he had never been castigated by the press for such atrocities as “Oh! Heavenly Dog” or “Cops and Robbersons,” among other slightly awful films I had made in Hollywood.
But linked together we were. And not just in the obvious ways. If it hadn’t been for the courage of Mr. Ford’s wife, Betty, for admitting to an alcohol problem, I would never have received the help I needed in the early 1980s at the Betty Ford clinic, located not far from the Ford residence near Palm Springs. During my short stay there, I often saw Mrs. Ford personally surveying the clinic and generously offering a helping hand to those who were lucky enough to face their problems and, with the learned help of the clinic staff, appraise their behavior and their lifestyles.
One day when my wife, Jayni, came to visit me at the clinic, the Fords invited us to lunch. As it happened, Mrs. Ford had become so beloved and respected by many for her earlier openness about breast cancer and her alcoholism that a television network was in preproduction on a special bio-pic about her. Mr. Ford suggested that while we ate lunch, the four of us could view the videotape of various performances by actors being considered to play the part of the president.
Seated at a small table set for four in a simple dining room also containing a somewhat complicated videotape recorder and TV set were the former commander in chief and I making friendly small talk before lunch was brought in. And on all fours, literally on their hands and knees in front of the bulky and confusing tape machine, were Mrs. Ford and Jayni trying their best to figure out the wiring of the playback machine and the way the whole system worked, so we could watch the screen tests. Noting the effort the ladies were putting into getting the VCR to work, I suggested to Mr. Ford that perhaps we might help them out.
As I began to stand up from my chair, he took gentle hold of my arm, sat me back down and said: “No, no, Chevy. Don’t even think about it. I’ll probably get electrocuted, and you’ll be picked up and arrested for murder.”
We both laughed.
I’ll never forget that moment. My laughter was hearty and genuine.
Chevy Chase is an actor and a writer.