THE BEDSIDE companion of this book should be J. Patrick Wright's On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors . The message of that particular work is that General Motors, which was not dominated by any single personality in the last 30 years, thereby got itself into trouble through a gray, bureaucratic state of mind that ignored the need for safer, cleaner, smaller cars. Never Complain, Never Explain , on the other hand, suggests that Ford Motor Company was dominated for the last 30 years by Henry Ford II, as autocratic as his celebrated grandfather, and thereby got itself into trouble through a "yes, boss" state of mind that ignored the need for safer, cleaner, smaller cars.
Now if we can only get a book on the last three decades of the Chrysler Corporation we'll have a total understanding of Detroit's problems.
There isn't much redeeming social value in Lasky's work. Most of its unfootnoted information seems to have been picked up from gossip columns. If the publisher's libel attorneys haven't gone over the manuscript carefully, they are in heavy trouble. The story is largely about the allged sins of Henry II, or "Hank the Deuce" as some Detroit newsmen called him. How he never finished Yale because he handed in a ghostwritten term paper. How, after taking over the fading company in 1945, he built it back into a winner, but ruthlessly and ungratefully fired his top executives on whim, the most recent being Lee J. Iacocca, to whom Ford explained: "I just don't like you." How he caroused at the enormous parties he gave for his socialite daughters, Charlotte (who was, for a time, Mrs. Stavros Niarchos) and Anne (who was transiently Mrs. Giancarlo Uzielli.) How he got a messy divorce from his first wife, Anne McDonald, to marry Cristina Vettore Austin, and then divorced her to marry Kathleen DuRoss -- but only after years of bitter battling over the division of the homes, antique furnishings paintings and other bric-a-brac of a man with a net worth of $70 million, "give or take $10 million." How he guzzled and wenched, and, when caught out (as he once was in California on a drunk driving charge), responded with the line that gives the book its title.
The 1970s seem to have been the worst years for him and the company if Lasky is right. He was accused of bribing the Indonesian government in order to make a large sale there, and of accepting a bribe from the wife of Philippines Prsident Marcos to locate a plant near Manila. He was also charged with falsifying documents to escape a Justice Department prosecution. He was sued by dissident stockholders for wasting the company's money, and also by his nephew, Benson Ford II, for a seat on the board of directors.
That none of these accusations was proven, nor the suits brought to trial, does not bother Lasky much. It does bother this reviewer, but I give the tales this further currency only to illustrate the character of the book. There is no doubt, however, about the massive recalls of Ford cars, a large fine for falsifying data on emissions, and the multibillion dollar losses which make the famous beating on the Edsel in the 1950s look trivial. It was these disasters that may have led Ford, in 1979, to step down as chairman.
But what is the "wherefore" of all this? Lasky isn't really making Henry's career a metaphor for what happened to Detroit from the glory days of the dreamboats, when anything seemed to sell, to today's sad downfall. Nor is he consistent in developing a populistic tirade about the evils of a system that allows such power to someone whom he calls a ""superannuated playboy." Nor is he a commentator on the generational phenomenon that sees crabbed, hardworking old-stock Americans make millions in oil, rails, steel and autos, only to have them blown by freewheeling grandchildren.
No. It's just a good roll in the sty. And one wonders why Ford was targeted? Lasky's usual game is found among liberal politicians. Ford is hardly a pink millionaire, but he did support John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. Is this Lasky's revenge? Or did Lasky strike a bargain with the many enemies Hank the Deuce has made? Or is he simply running true to formula?
No matter. You cannot learn much from this book about our auto culture, but it does have one good line. Benson II and Edsel II are two great-grandsons of the original Henry who once were thought to be rivals for the heir-apparent role. Benson said of Edsel, whom he considers an untested lightweight, "It seems to me he's going through life with the Muzak turned up."
This is a book for people like that.