Pret-a-Reporter

How I Knew Betty Ford

AP Photo/Scott Stewart

Former manager Jeff Wald had a special relationship with Betty Ford, who died July 8 at 93. As he recounted in a recent THR story about overcoming his staggering cocaine habit, his friendship with the first lady began with an invitation to a White House State Dinner (an active Democrat, Wald accepted reluctantly), and it ultimately saved his life.

I had the balls to invite her to a concert at Constitution Hall to raise money for the Equal Rights Amendment. She was a little drunk or maybe on pills. I was wired to the tits. So we get to the event, and after they put us in a holding room, they direct us to the presidential box. When we got to the box, everybody applauded. I, stoned as I was, bowed and waved. She said, "I think they're standing for me," so I stepped aside a little.

Segue to 1986, she'd been sober for eight years, and I'm in the hospital for my overdose at Cedars. After the intervention, at the end, agent Norman Brokaw had Mrs. Ford call me to say, "You really should come [to Betty Ford Center]. Gerald Ford got on the phone and said, "You should come here after. We can play golf." I remember being a smartass and saying, "I don't have a pair of pants with whales on them."

So I get to Betty Ford Center thinking I'll stay at their house. But she made it obvious that there were no favors. I wasn't going to get a better room -- a better anything. I had eight pieces of Cartier luggage; I had to send seven of them back.

I was there a few days and it was Valentine's Day. I had this patch over my eye [from the hospitalization]. I went to get mail, and I had one f--ing Valentine's card. I opened it, and I couldn't see very well. She came out of her office, saw me and said, "What's happening with you?" I said, "I got this valentine, and I can't read it." She said, "I'll read it to you." It said, "On Easter, we think of bunny rabbits; on Thanksgiving, we think of turkeys; and on Valentine's Day, we think of pussy." She read it out loud. When she said that, the place got so silent; you could hear a pin drop. I started to apologize, and she said, "I've been through enough AA meetings -- I've heard everything."

I freaked. She didn't.

I never heard her raise her voice, but she had backbone. She fought for herself and had a relationship with a husband who supported her even if it wasn't in his best political interest. It was probably the end of the era where somebody could have a different opinion and not get ostracized. I don't think Laura Bush or Michelle Obama would get away with doing what she did. She was a real individual who made her mark. It's almost not measurable, the things that she did, especially when it comes to sobriety.         

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