I was unable to post last week’s Friday Fun Facts, which meant I missed a golden opportunity to note an important historical landmark: the 40th anniversary of the ascension of Gerald R. Ford to the presidency of the United States.
Fortunately, I don’t have an editor to review or approve my copy — which should be obvious — so I’m going to fly in the face of precedent and write about a topic a full week after it’s relevant. This one is just too fun to let pass.
So without further ado, let’s strap on our University of Michigan football helmets, clip on our “WIN” buttons and pop a Chevy Chase videocassette into the VCR as we take a Friday Fun Facts look at President Gerry Ford.
1. Gerald Ford was the only American President never elected to national office. Unlike other Vice Presidents who have ascended to the presidency, Ford was never part of a national ticket. He only got the job through a series of Rube Goldberg-like political stumbles that would have put the Founding Fathers in tears. First, Richard Nixon’s running mate, Spiro T. Agnew, was forced to resign the Vice Presidency in December 1973 after being charged with bribery and tax evasion dating back to his time as governor of Maryland. To fill the vacant spot, Nixon nominated Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, then the House Minority Leader, who was easily confirmed by the Senate. The following August, Nixon himself resigned just as the House was preparing to draft articles of impeachment against him for alleged misdeeds related to the Watergate scandal. So before you could say, “House of Cards,” the moderate Congressman from Michigan became the Leader of the Free World. Who says the system doesn’t work?
2. “Gerald Ford” wasn’t even really Gerald Ford . He was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. His mother remarried when he was three, and re-named after his stepfather, Gerald Ford. “Gerald Ford Jr.” didn’t officially change his name until he was 23.
3. Ford was an Eagle Scout. Known for being a “nice guy,” Ford was literally an Eagle Scout, the highest ranking position in the Boy Scout program. He remains the only U.S. President to have held this rank.
4. He could been a football star. Playing center and linebacker, Ford helped the University of Michigan play two undefeated seasons in 1932 and 1933. He received offers to play professionally for both the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose law and politics instead.
5. Ford was also a “Cosmo Girl.” To help pay his way through Yale law school, Ford worked as a fashion model. He appeared on the covers of both Look and Cosmopolitan magazines.
6. Ford never authored a single piece of legislation. Although Ford served 13 consecutive Congressional terms, eventually rising to the position of House Minority Leader, no bill ever originated from his office. He was apparently more interested in leading lawmakers than actually making laws.
7. “WIN” was a loser. One of the least effective policies of the short-lived Ford administration was the “WIN Program” (Whip Inflation Now.) The idea that wearing “WIN” buttons could motivate people to save more and spend less was one that Alan Greenspan, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, called “unbelievably stupid.”
8. Although 0nce a star athlete, Ford gained the reputation for being a stumble-bum. Photographed taking falls on the ski slope and then crashing headlong down the stairs of Air Force One created a caricature that dogged Ford for the rest of his Presidency…and gave Saturday Night Live comedian Chevy Chase his shot at stardom.
9. Ford was the target of not one, but two assassination attempts. Both by women. The first, on September 5, 1975, in Sacramento, California, was by Charles Manson acolyte Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. The second occurred just weeks later, on September 22, in San Francisco, by Sara Jane Moore. They remain the only two women to have tried to assassinate a U.S. President.
Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!