When the invitations went out, a wave of shock went around Hollywood. People said, “Wait a minute, Stanley Kramer, who was considered Hollywood’s proverbial liberal conscience, to be honored by Richard Nixon’s former Vice President, in a nightclub where liquor is served... and his wife founded a rehab clinic?” Not to mention he received a painting from the famed Soviet artist Mikhail Chemiakin. I know they had to laugh when they got the invitation, but as surprising as the Casey Anthony verdict, they confirmed almost immediately. Perhaps some of the invitees, even of opposite political views, remember that Stanley also produced films such as HIGH NOON, ON THE BEACH, and INHERIT THE WIND. He also launched the careers of actors like Grace Kelly and Kirk Douglas.
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I remember thinking “Wow, the Betty Ford, founder of the Betty Ford Clinic. Why would she want to show up at the Roxbury Club and hang out with me?” Well, apparently she assumed I needed some rehabilitation, because the Fords did agree to attend the event, despite our self-important Hollywood attitudes. When the publicist I was working with at the time told me they confirmed, he said, “Guess who’s coming to dinner at the Roxbury?” She took the time to find out that I was not in need of rehab, and admired that my only addiction was to the rush of saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President and Mrs. Ford.”
I remember, as we were preparing to begin the event, Betty Ford called across the room to me, “Edward, the secret service guys have us on the clock, let’s get this show on the road!” That’s when my mother chimed in, “You tell him, he never listens to me. He’s always late!” I knew then I was doubled teamed. And that’s when I knew her secret at what made her great at rehabilitation; she had this enormous ability to makeanyone feel like she was your mother. Her voice was almost in unison
with my mother’s, with the same level of familiarity.
Protocol was not the same as with most First Ladies.
Her voice towered over the room, and you could hear a pin drop. But both she and her husband were regular people, first and foremost, and were able to make a very nervous me relax. There was something so warm about the lack of “Pomp and Circumstance” in the Fords’ manner, that it touched me deeply.
In that room of great Hollywood stars, people came from all walks of life, but the Fords’ attendance added unique punctuation to the event, only serving to highlight the eclectic nature of that Oscar Night’s crowd. It was easily the most memorable Oscar Awards show I ever threw, and I will never forget the Fords for honoring us with their presence that night.
Interestingly enough, Betty Ford was a great advocate of women’s rights and was ProChoice. Not everyone realizes we just lost one of the coolest women on the planet.
Betty Ford followed her dreams, and paved the way for the Reagans’ attendance and support. Few people knew of the relationship between Nancy and Betty, nor realize that Betty probably saved them a great deal of difficulty. At the time, the Reagans had not left their house in 3 months due to the Iran-Contra/Oliver North scandal . When the Reagans showed up to support AIDS and Ryan White, it was like creating a bigger fire to put out a fire. The curtain opened, and Reagan was there in support of AIDS victims. This forever quelled all the negative chatter. Maybe Nancy got the word from her astrologer, or probably, as I believe, she just knew it would be the right thing to do. Reagan’s public stance proved to be a turning point, putting a new face on the AIDS issue. When a young child and an old cowboy came together in support of the cause, who wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon?
Elie Samaha recently reopened the Roxbury, but the Fords' visit will have to go into the annals of nightclub history as one of its great moments, and of Oscar nights' greatest oddities.
These were two Republican Presidents acting in a very Democratic way. My final presidential event was with a Democrat, President Bill Clinton, who came to support an orphanage in Moscow that was being pressured to close by the Mafia. We will save that story for another time, as I think we should all take a moment to remember Betty Ford.