Betty and Gerry Ford are two people who just won't give up the public life. There's Gerry - booked with speeches through July of 1979 being an NBC election night analyst, not saying yes or no to 1980.
And now, heeeeeeeres Betty! In two days in New York she jammed in a ton of interviews and the "Today" show taped her for a major segment. The retinue - reminiscent of the White House days - followed everywhere. Secret Service aides kept the schedule moving right along, firmly removing reporters from the Waldorf Astoria suite for thenext onslaught. Tonight it will all culminate in a black-tie cocktail party and "Tribute to Betty Ford." Hardly the drill the drill for a first author with an autobiography entitled "The Times of My Life."
The question are sometimes about the book. It is upheat, almost Erma Bombeckian , which gets a bit tiresome - until the frank and honest tacked-on chapter about Mrs Ford facing her pill and alcohol addiction last spring.
But the questions are most often about The Face Lift - for Betty Ford, 60, now has a face that launched a thousand interviews.
At first, she looks startlingly, jarringly younger. But as she begins to talk, the smile and expression are the same, even as the eyes look back from a debagged terrain. She thinks she looks good and she does.
"I was insistent he didn't change my appearance - just improve it by ironing out a few wrinkles," she said with a laugh yesterday. "the night before I went in I said, 'I don't want to come out with china-doll eyes or something that looks artificial.'" As she explained the operation, her hands wearing the palest of nail polish and three gold rings, reached up to touch where the "three little pockets, the accumulation of fatty tissue," used to be under her eyes. Then they touched her neck. "And of course I had my neck done. I think that turned out just beautiful."
Betty Ford, in a public life lived most publicly, has been used to criticism - about her stance on abortion and the ERA and the frank discussion of teen-age sex and the possibility of her daughter having an affair - and she seemed to take the criticism of her facelift with equanimity.
She was amused that disapproving editorials were written about her decision. "Now are we going to go through all the hair transplants and some of the politicians who had cosmetic work done. . . ?" she mused "I think it's just jealousy."
She refused to be introspective or to speculate about some desperate need for "cosmetic surgery." "Out in California it's just so common. It's first an ordinary, everyday experience. It changed my personality. It gave me a real lift and it's very much an up. Not only did I have a feeling that I look better, I fell better. And I recommend it."
She stopped for a second. "To grow did gracefully is probably the most beautiful thing you can do." Then the Laugh again. "But I prefer to grow old looking as well as I possibly can . . . and I don't really see a sin in that."
Betty Ford was a woman who neither sought nor wanted the White House. She was terrified at the prospect of being first lady. But once there, a fascinating metamorphosis took place. The woman who had raised four children largely by herself while her husband pursued his politics suddenly found an exalted position of her own. "I feel secure here," she once said.
When all that faded, in 1977, when Air Force 1 carried the Fords out of Washington as president and first Lady for the last time, Betty Ford began a slow disintegration that led to her hospitalization last spring.
Reflecting on it all today, she said, "Our whole married life, 28 years, had been in Washington. And then there was the White House. It was like you had built a nice little home of bricks and suddenly, with his defeat, it was almost like knocking out all the bricks and having to adjust to a new situation that was rather traumatic. Not only few friends and a new climate - he was no longer in politics."
Others had noticed how she had become more and more dependent on drugs for the pain of a pinched nerve in her neck; they noticed her studied, slurred speech. And she fought her family and wept when they told her she had a drinking problem.
Yesterday she reached for her book and pointed to a sentence in the last chapter, shrugging her shoulders as if to say 'this explains it all,' and read: "When I add up the amount of pills I was taking, put a drink or two on top . . . "
She did not want to talk about her alcoholism because she didn't want to embarrass her husband. The doctor said, "You're trying to hide behind your husband." Betty Ford writes, "I started to cry, and Gerry took my hand. 'There will be no embarrassment to me. You go ahead and say what should be said.'"
"With that, my crying got worse. . . I hope I never have to cry like that again. It was scary, but once it was over I felt a great relief." Betty Ford said she was not the "unafraid an unembarrassed" woman that praising editorials said she was when she entered the hospital.
"I've been both afraid an embarrassed. I've gone through every possible emotion, suffered every possible mood: loneliness, depression, anger, discouragement. . . " One entry in her diary concludes: "What in hell am I doing here? I've even started talking like the sailors. I could sign out, but I won't let myself do that, I want it too badly. Guess I'll just cry."
During group therapy, after being loath to speak up, Betty Ford one day got to her feet and said, "I'm Betty, and I'm an alcoholic, and I know my drinking has hurt my family." She added, "I heard myself, and I couldn't believe it. I was trembling; another defense had cracked."
Somehow, Betty Ford was unable or unwilling now to explore the reasons for her defense mechanisms. Her need for self-deprecating jabs and her need to be so hard on herself were once again hidden by a smoke screen of breezy humor.
The most she offered was: "I have always been a perfectionist, I have to learn to live with it."
Her father, who died when she was 16, was an alcoholic, but said Ford, "I never knew that while he was alive." Her mother was a controlling force who brought her back to Grand Rapids when Betty was pursuing a dancing career with Martha Graham. "Many people have asked if that bothered me, but I think the decision was right. I think I've had the best of it, honestly."
For reinforcement Betty Ford keeps in "constant touch with other people I have known at Long Beach." The naval hospital was quite an environmental shift for her - from the servants and fine linens of the White House to early dawn muster and scratchy wool blankets. She mingled with admirals and cooks. Her group of six was nicknamed "The Six Pack."
"I tried to tell my group what they had meant to me but I couldn't express it in words. I started to cry, and one of the fellows handed me some tissues and said, "Now we know you're going to get better.'"
She writes: "You get better when you least expect to, when you're not even trying, when you're down by the coffee machine kibitzing with two black seamen who are playing cards. In my everyday life, I would never have met these men, but they and I helped to heal one another."
Betty Ford moved easily in the expensive suite; her husband was working on a speech in another part of their quarters. She was perfectly groomed in an elegant suede jacket and a gray skirt stylishly slit on the side.
There was a confidence that wasn't there in 1974 during those moments when she had first learned that her husband was selected for the vice-presidency. Her eyes had glazed with terror at the idea of his becoming president then.
She said yesterday, if he runs in 1980, the prospect holds no terrors. If anything, she sounded eager. "Actually I was very happy in the White House. I love it. I respect it. I would hate to see him run and be defeated." Is he planning to run? "I wish I knew. . . "
For those critics who feel that Betty Ford gave them a book a bit too packed, too shallow, too lacking in introspection, she said: "I think they're reaching for something deeper than I was. I look at the book as reaching a certain plateau, and looking at all the steps that got me to that plateau.
"Frankly, now at 60. . . " she said that age with a giggle, "I never though the best years of my life were ahead at 60, but I really believe that. You just wait, it's pretty nice to have you children grown and have them doing something constructive and none of them having problems."
Her daughter Susan's upcoming marriage to a Secret Service agent a number of years older was spoken of with a light coolness. "I think we parents have to be flexible. Being flexible is part of being a good parent. They seem very well adjusted to that age difference. She's grown up with adults, it's natural for her to choose someone older."
Finally, the best thing about her life, Betty Ford said, is that by publicizing everything - from mastectomy to pill-popping to facelift - "I feel that I have given something constructive to others, that I have helped them with their problems and choices."
As for herself, Betty Ford concludes her book with, "As I continue to work towards an aware future, I am sure more will be revealed to me, and I'm looking forward to that.
"Stubborn Betty Bloomer Ford intends to make it."