Former president Gerald Ford (1913-2006) had the unenviable task of following a disgraced Richard Nixon, the first man to resign from the presidency, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. During his relatively short 895 days as president, Ford had to attempt to restore American confidence in the Oval Office. For more on our 38th president, take a look at some of the more unusual facts about his early years, his political feats, and why he once considered being a co-president with Ronald Reagan.
1. HE WASN’T BORN GERALD FORD.
Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Junior, son to Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy King, on July 14, 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska. After his parents got a divorce, his mother remarried a paint salesman named Gerald Rudolff Ford. After his mother remarried, the future president was referred to as “Junior King Ford.” According to his autobiography, around the age of 12, Ford found out that Ford Sr. wasn’t his biological father. But the fact didn’t sink in until 1930, when King visited him. Ford recalled their conversation as “superficial.” His birth-father handed him $25 and disappeared. The future President legally changed his name to Gerald Ford in 1935.
2. HE WAS A SEXY MALE MODEL.
Ford was always on the lookout for ways to earn money to make his way through law school—so when he was asked to pose for a Look magazine photo spread with girlfriend and model Phyllis Brown in 1940, he did it. The 26-year-old Ford cavorted in the snow with Brown as part of a layout on winter vacationing.
3. HE HAD AN ODD WEDDING.
After attending Yale and entering law practice in Michigan, Ford became interested in politics. He won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1948, a post he would occupy for the next 25 years. That same year, Ford married Elizabeth “Betty” Bloomer, a former dancer and model. Ford later recalled that he was so busy campaigning that he arrived only minutes before the ceremony with mud still on his shoes. The wedding had been delayed until just before the 1948 House election because Ford was concerned conservative voters might take issue with marrying an ex-dancer who had already been divorced.
4. PARDONING NIXON EARNED HIM A TON OF GRIEF.
When Ford took office in August 1974, the American public looked on to see how he would adjudicate the fate of the man he was replacing. Nixon, who resigned rather than face impeachment, could have been up on federal criminal charges. But Ford opted to grant him a full pardon, reasoning that a prolonged trial and punishment wouldn’t allow the country to move past the controversy. Immediately, his White House Press Secretary, J.F. TerHorst, left his job after determining that he could not “in good conscience support [Ford’s] decision to pardon former President Nixon.”
5. HE TOOK BEING A COMEDIC TARGET IN STRIDE.
Despite his background as an athlete—he played football at Michigan—Ford had the misfortune of being caught on camera when he suffered an occasional lapse into klutziness. He once tripped down the stairs while de-boarding Air Force One; while skiing, a chair lift hit his back. The footage inspired Chevy Chase’s portrayal of Ford as a klutz on Saturday Night Live, which Ford took in stride. Sensing the American public wanted someone less like the studious, humorless Nixon, he appeared on SNL and once pulled up a tablecloth next to Chase during a formal dinner in 1975. “The portrayal of me as an oafish ex-jock made for good copy,” Ford wrote. “It was also funny.”
6. HE DIDN’T SPEAK THE MOST GOOD.
In addition to Ford’s clumsiness, satirists had a lot to dine out on when it came to some of Ford’s Yogi Berra-esque tongue slips. Americans, he once said, were possessed of a strong “work ethnic,” while “sickle-cell Armenia” was a disease for which he offered sympathy.
7. HE ONCE LOCKED HIMSELF OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE.
Ford, a dog lover, adopted a golden retriever the family named Liberty after he had already taken office. (Calling a breeder in Minneapolis, the White House photographer and friend of Ford’s, David Kennerly, told the kennel’s owner he was acting on behalf of a middle-aged couple that “live in a white house with a big yard.”) One night, the trainer was absent, and Liberty approached Ford at 3 a.m. to be let out. After doing her business on the south lawn, she and Ford tried to get back inside. When no one sent the elevator back down, Ford decided to take the stairs. The door to the second floor swung only one way: He got out, but couldn’t get back in. Eventually, the Secret Service was alerted to his absence and let him inside.
8. HE WAS THE TARGET OF TWO ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS IN THE SAME MONTH.
Had it been up to two different women, Ford wouldn’t have lived to the ripe age of 93. On September 5, 1975, a disciple of Charles Manson’s named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme pulled out a .45 pistol during Ford’s visit to Sacramento, California in the hopes of winning Manson’s approval. She was unable to fire a shot before the Secret Service apprehended her. In San Francisco 17 days later, Ford’s life was again threatened by a woman named Sara Jane Moore, a left-wing activist prone to mood swings. Moore was able to fire, though the bullet didn’t land anywhere near Ford. Both women were charged with attempted murder and stood trial. Fromme was sentenced to life and was released in 2009. Moore was also sentenced to life but got paroled in 2007.
9. HE CONSIDERED A CO-PRESIDENCY WITH REAGAN.
A former president has never gone on to become a running mate for a presidential candidate, but Ford thought about it. In 1980, as Ronald Reagan was preparing for a Republican nomination, his team thought Midwesterner Ford would be appealing to voters who felt distanced by Reagan’s West Coast presence. Ford, however, chafed at the diminished powers of a vice-president and instead asked that Reagan’s campaign consider a “co-presidency” ticket that would give him greater influence in office. The idea was floated, but Reagan was ultimately unwilling to cede so much influence to Ford. He ran—and won—with George H.W. Bush instead.
10. HE PLAYED HIMSELF ON DYNASTY.
It’s rare that former presidents accept acting roles on primetime soaps, even when playing themselves. Ford was willing to buck that trend in 1983 when he appeared on Dynasty, the ABC series about the wealthy Carrington family of Denver, Colorado. The series was shooting a scene at a real charity ball in Denver in 1983 when producers spotted Ford and his wife, Betty, among those in attendance. They pitched him a scene in which he would briefly greet actors John Forsythe and Linda Evans. After being promised Betty would be on camera as well, Ford agreed. Both were paid scale: $330.