Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ford to speak at Oaklawn benefit

LOS ANGELES -- Steven Ford was 18 when his father was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.

"I was getting ready to go to college," said Ford, who will share his story with guests at the ninth annual Oaklawn Spring Spectacular on May 9. "When my dad became president, I decided to take a year off to get used to his being president."

So he headed west toward a longtime dream and started working on ranches.

"When my dad was in the White House, I was cowboying and rodeoing," said Ford, who has never lost his love for the "wild west."

The third of Gerald and Betty Ford's four children, he shared his urge for ranching with a desire to be an actor. Today, he has the best of both worlds, with a little ranch in California and intermittent side trips to movie and TV locations.

But first he studied range management at Utah State University and majored in animal science and equine studies at California Polytechnic State University.

"I thought I was going to run a ranch," he said, an ambition that proved a bit difficult with 10 Secret Service agents always around.

In '81, he earned the role for which most longtime fans of CBS hit daytime drama "The Young and the Restless" remember him, private investigator Andy Richards. It was an assignment he carried out until 1987 and again, briefly, in 2002.

"Soap fans are the best," Ford said, noting that daytime audiences then numbered between 9 million and 10 million, a long way from the estimated 2 million today. But the years don't matter.

"I can always spot a fan," he said. "I know by the way they look at me that they've recognized me."

And he is not complaining. His cinematic career includes "When Harry Met Sally," "Black Hawk Down," "Heat" and "Escape from New York."

His entry into the world of keynote speaking was another oblique segue. As an actor, "I was around some great storytellers," Ford said. "Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Roy Rogers ... all great storytellers. I think it was the combination of being an actor and being around great storytellers that did the trick. I'd tell some White House stories and my friends said put seven or eight together and do a speech."

And that's just what he did, except the stories expanded from tales of life in the White House to include some of his experiences with his mother's alcoholism and his own.

But not right away.

Ford, who has 14 years of sobriety, said he is able to talk about some of those issues because of his own experiences.

"Early on, I never talked about it to anybody," he said. "Betty Ford's son should have known better."

He started his sobriety because "life was going to come crashing down if I didn't" and plunged into the Alcoholic Anonymous program with no rehab prelude anywhere ... not even the Betty Ford Clinic.

"There was no family rate," he joked. "So it was AA and a lot of very hard work."

His life is now divided according to a somewhat academic calendar, speaking engagements from September through May, with time for a TV show or movie in the summer.

"A wise person in the program told me to keep my mouth shut for six years and work the program, then maybe I'd have something to offer," he said. He did and eventually began with talks in schools and for corporations

"I want the audience to walk away feeling that the White House is more personal to them," Ford said, adding with a chuckle, "When you can't afford Bill Clinton or George Bush Sr., you can afford me. You get the same stories but a lot cheaper.”


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