She was one of our most outspoken, dynamic, fearless and memorable First Ladies. She was Betty Ford, née Elizabeth Anne Bloomer, in Chicago in 1918. Her improbable ascent to First Lady as the wife of Gerald Ford, our 38th president, was, however, a role she was born to play.
Slow dancing in the White House
And while The Leaf is not an obituary writer (click here to read Mrs. Ford’s obit from the always masterful New York Times), she used to have a segment on her erstwhile cable access TV show, The Looseleaf Report, called Who’s Dead Now? During that bit, she and her co-host, Eric Malone, would discuss the notable – as well as the outré – deaths of that week. The Leaf also dedicated each one of the more than 400 Looseleaf Reports to somebody’s memory. Alas, sometimes the list was quite extensive, including those who had been guests on the show, guests such as Timothy Leary, George Carlin, Steve Allen, Ivan Moffat (click here to read The Leaf’s recent remembrances of dear Ivan), and the list goes on.
Betty Bloomer in dance class
But The Leaf digresses: This is about Betty Ford…the dancer. Bet or Bets, as she was also called, had moved with her family to Grand Rapids, Michigan when she was two, where she began taking dance lessons six years later. And for two summers after graduating from high school, she also attended the prestigious Bennington School of the Dance. Then, at 20, living in New York’s boho Greenwich Village, Betty attended dance classes (as would the late actor Leslie Nielson and pop superstar Madonna), with the one and only Martha, i.e., Martha Graham, the Mother (capital ‘M’), of modern dance. (Click here to read more about Martha, including The Leaf’s recent Los Angeles Times review of Martha Graham Dance Troupe).
Betty Bloomer must have had some damn good moves, as she subsequently joined Martha’s company. And while Betty always had said she was “disappointed that she hadn’t been quite good enough” to be a first-rate terpsichore, for the rest of her life this remarkable woman showed off her dancing chops whenever the occasion rose. Here, then, is a small pictorial tribute to our Betty, not only a breast cancer survivor and advocate for early mammograms, as well as a champion of women’s rights, including abortion, but also an innovator in addiction recovery (who on this planet has not heard of the Betty Ford Center, where Liz Taylor met and subsequently married Larry Fortensky), and one of the supreme movers and shakers of our time.
Thank you, Betty Ford, for being you: Long may you jeté!