Gerald R. Ford
Thanks for the memories.
"We'd done two or three takes, and to relax him, I said to him — my sense of humor at the time — 'Mr. President, if this works out, who knows where it will lead?' Which was completely lost on him."
Chevy Chase, as a major player on the new series "Saturday Night Live," made a career of the accident, making a stumbling pratfall part of his usual entrance.
Critics claimed President Ford couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. A popular joke was, "Jerry's in the study hall walking up and down and chewing gum like crazy."
President Ford's best comeback to Chase came at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in 1975.
When emcee Bob Hope introduced him, President Ford got up from the table, "accidentally" caught the tablecloth in his trousers and dumped silverware in Chase's lap. As he approached the podium, he pretended to trip, prompting the pages of the speech he was carrying to fly into the audience.
When he got to the microphone and the laughter began to diminish, President Ford reached into his coat pocket, pulled out the real script and said,
"Good evening. I'm Gerald Ford and you're not."
President Ford: I enjoyed, up to a point, Chevy Chase's impersonations. Yes, my wife and I have met and had an opportunity to get acquainted with Chevy Chase. He is a very skillful entertainer who had a sharp and penetrating sense of humor. I have learned over the years in the political arena that you cannot be thin-skinned. You have to take the good with the bad.
Ron Nessen: [ confused, pause ] And that's why I want to host this show.. to demonstrate that this administration has a sense of humor. You may remember in 1968, Nixon said, "Sock it to me" on "Laugh-In", and it may have made the difference in the election.
President Gerald Ford: He won, didn't he, Ron?
Ron Nessen: Yes, he did, sir.
President Gerald Ford: [ chuckles to himself ] By golly, he was funny then, and he's funny now. He's a funny man, Ron.
Ron Nessen: Yes, sir.
President Gerald Ford: That's why I gave him a break, Ron. [ to stuffed dog on floor ] Stop that infernal noise, Liberty! [ to Ron ] Well, by all means do the show.
Ron Nessen: Thank you, sir. Now, the producer suggested you might like to do something on the show yourself.
President Gerald Ford: Well, I can take a joke just so far.. [ stands up and walks behind desk ] ..but I won't have this high office ridiculed. I won't have me stumbling around.. [ walks into window ] ..making a fool of myself.. [ walks into flag and fumbles with it, trying to keep it from falling ] ..for some late night comedy show. [ picks up football helmet and puts it on ] I don't need to prove that I can fall down like Chevy Chase or be an athlete. Everyone knows I'm an athlete. [ accidentally kicks wastepaper basket and chases it, soon giving up and returning to his desk ] I'll never forget those wonderful days.. [ picks up tennis racket, throwd it in the air to try and catch it, but misses. Walks over to "Liberty", cups his hand near the dog's tail ] Gimme the ball, Liberty! [ takes off helmet, tries to drop-kick it but misses. Returns to desk and sits down ] Why don't you brief me on my schedule tomorrow, Ron?
Ron Nessen: Alright, sir. [ looks at schedule ] You'll be awakened at 5:30 AM in the usual manner.
President Gerald Ford: Ron, I'm getting pretty tired of the twenty-one gun salute which Dick Nixon instituted. Couldn't someone just speak in my ear or set the alarm clock?
Ron Nessen: We tried the alarm clock at the beginning, if you remember, sir. When it went off, you answered the telephone and broke your ankle. I guess we should have briefed you on that. You see, sir, the telephone is the one that has the series of short staccato rings, and the alarm clock is the long continuous ring.
President Gerald Ford: Well, never mind that now, go on.
Ron Nessen: [ reading list, as Ford checks his own ] 6:17, shave and brush your teeth. 6:28, yawn and stretch. 6:30, get out of bed. 7:05, break the water glass by the sink and Mrs. Ford's shampoo bottle by mistake. 7:12, tumble down the stairs. 9:00 - well, do you remember the cow in Wisconsin, Mr. President?
President Gerald Ford: The one that made the doody on my suit, Ron? Yes.
Ron Nessen: Yes, well, at 9:00 you're going to give a medal to the secret service man who wrestled the cow to the ground.
President Gerald Ford: Let's get to the point here. When is the Easter Egg Hunt?
Ron Nessen: That's at 9:30, sir.
President Gerald Ford: Well, I better hang the kids' stockings and get ready..
Ron Nessen: I'm sorry, Mr. President, but that's the wrong holiday. I think we probably should have briefed you on this before.
President Ford got better as a comic with age. He was roasted in a benefit for the Betty Ford Center in 1989 by a dais including Clint Eastwood, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Ford's son Steven.
Eastwood, who escorted President Ford out of a limousine in handcuffs, said he was inspired to create his most famous line while golfing with the president. Watching him set up a tough shot, he said he exclaimed, "This will make my day."
President Ford sounded like Hope with his rebuttal. His opening remark was, "I haven't felt this good since I fell down an airport ramp." He said to Eastwood, "Dirty Harry is the only man I know who fires six times and the last one is the warning shot."
When President Ford was roundly ridiculed for encouraging people to wear "WIN" buttons as part of a plan to "Whip Inflation Now," Bob Hope said of President Ford's trip to Japan,
"Hirohito gave the president a jeweled sword with a crest of the Imperial Order of the Setting Sun, and the President gave him a WIN button.
The president told him, 'Millions of Americans are wearing these.'
And Hirohito said, 'I know. We make them.' "
The Seattle Times
None has been more entertaining than the "Humor and the Presidency" conference held at the Ford Museum in the fall of 1986. It brought together well-known comedians, columnists, politicians, press secretaries, and political cartoonists to explore all areas of the topic.
Receiving heavy press coverage, including appearances by President Ford and Chevy Chase on the morning television news programs, the event was a huge success. The conference was taped for later broadcast on HBO.
A book with the same title, penned by Gerald Ford himself and published in 1987. Filled with cartoons and anecdotes, the book also contains Ford's personal thoughts on the place of humor in the White House.