The Betty Ford Story (1987)




Director:     David Greene.

Starring:     Gena Rowlands (Betty Ford), Josef Sommer (President Gerald Ford), Nan Woods (Susan Ford), Concetta Tomei (Jan), Jack Rader (Long Beach Doctor), Joan McMurtrey (Diane), Kenneth Tigar (Dr. Lukash), Laura Leigh Hughes (Gayle Ford), Daniel McDonald (Mike Ford), Brian McNamara (Steve Ford), Bradley Whitford (Jack Ford), Michael Greene (Head Usher), Stanley Grover (General Alexander Haig), Peter Jason (Counselor), Don Stewart (Nelson), Richard Kuss(Will).

Made for TV movie.

Betty Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, goes public with her fight again alcoholism



Spoiler Warning:

April 10, 1978.  Naval Regional Medical Center, Long Beach, California.  Everyone is waiting for the arrival of Betty Ford.  When she arrives the reporters swamp her. 

Betty goes up to the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Service department.  The director welcomes Betty.  He thinks it's best to show her her room first.  Betty is disturbed that she will be rooming with three other women.  The director says that all they have are rooms for four people.  She says she thought she was to have a private room.  She keeps insisting, so the director gives in and says he will tell the other three ladies to move their stuff out of the room.  Betty then thinks better of it and says she will share the room with the other women.

The director talks with Betty about her problems with overmedicating herself.  He comments that there is no mention of alcoholism in her files.  Betty says that's because she doesn't have a drinking problem.  The director replies that that's not what her family has been telling him.  He levels with her.  'You're her because you're a prescription drug addict and an alcoholic."  He tells her she has to admit that she has an alcohol problem before one day she just drinks herself to death. 

At night Betty can't sleep.  She looks at a family photo.  Everyone looks happy and healthy. 

Flashback.  July 14, 1974 (four years earlier).  In the kitchen Betty is cooking, while her daughter Susan and her son Steven are putting frosting on a birthday cake for their father.  Family friends Pete and Louise arrive at the Ford home.  Dad, however, doesn't show up.  He does telephone and tells Stephen that he will be a couple of hours late.  Pete jokes around about Betty giving them some insider information about the Watergate scandal, in which the whole Nixon White House is involved.  Everyone gets tired of waiting and they decide to cut the cake. 

Betty has a lot of pills in her bathroom.  She tells her husband that it's her pinched nerve bothering her.  Jerry apologizes one more time for being so late to his own birthday party.  She tells him to stop apologizing to her.  He asks her what's really bothering her, and she replies that she is afraid of what's going to happen to them because of the Watergate scandal.   Jerry was supposed to be retiring at the end of his term as the vice-president, but now Betty fears he won't be retiring because of the scandal.  He says he will retire. 

At his office, General Hague comes into see the vice-president.  He says he has just read the transcripts of the Watergate tapes and they prove without a doubt that Nixon was in on the cover-up all along.  Hague now asks Jerry if he is ready to assume the office of the President of the United States?   Jerry answers slowly:  "If it comes to that." 

The Ford family is going to be moving into the vice-presidential house very soon.  Jerry, however, is very distracted by the political situation. He tells Betty that because of the Watergate Scandal, Nixon is going to have to resign. 

Nixon gives his resignation speech.  The vice-president will now be the president.  At night, Betty says to her husband:  "Good night, Mr. President."

Betty and Susan get a tour of the White House.  The host says that there will be separate bedrooms for husband and wife, but Betty absolutely rejects that idea.  They will just be using one bed in one bedroom.

Betty holds a press conference for the reporters.  They ask her if she believes in the Women's Liberation Group?  She answers the question with a liberal answer and then her "handler" puts a stop to the conference.  Betty is irritated about the incident. 

Betty says good-morning to the staff, but the staff say nothing to her.  Betty complains to her personal secretary about the silent treatment she's being subjected to.  The personal secretary says that someone told the staff not to speak to the president and his family:  "The Nixons didn't believe in the help fraternizing with the first family."   Betty says someone is going to have to change that policy or she's going to go crazy.

Now Betty interviews Jan Thompson who is interviewing for the position of press coordinator.  Betty is very frank and asks Jan if she could tell her what's the job of a press coordinator and is Jan good at it? 

Betty asks Jerry what's he going to do about Nixon?  Jerry says he's going to pardon Nixon, even if it means political suicide for himself.  Jerry surprises her when he says he's going to run in the 1976 presidential election.  She is upset with him, but she decides not to start a war with Jerry. 

Betty goes in for a medical checkup.  The doctor tells her and her husband that he found tumor growths in Betty's breasts.  They may be benign, but if they are cancerous there will have to be a mastectomy.  There also may be some chemotherapy. 

Betty goes in for the biopsy.  If the tumors are not benign, they will start on an immediate mastectomy. 

The biopsy news is bad and Betty goes through the mastectomy. 

Betty gives the go-head on letting the public know about her mastectomy.  

Betty comes home from the hospital.  She comes in with her husband.  Susan and the staff are all there to wish her a happy homecoming.  And Susan got her father a golden retriever to keep daddy entertained. 

Betty gets thousands of letters from people expressing their support for her.  Many of the letters praise her for her bravery in telling everyone about her mastectomy.  The number of women going in for breast check-ups has risen by 300% percent.  Betty becomes a very popular first lady. 

The television news program 60 Minutes interviews Betty Ford.  In the interview, Betty is extremely open and talks a little bit too candidly for many conservatives, and Betty gets a lot of criticism from the political right.  She goes into the president's office to say that she can't just be some political robot without opinions.

Betty works hard on the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women's rights.  Mr. Nelson asks her if her husband knows she's making all these phone calls?  She shoots back that she wasn't calling on behalf of the president. 

An opinion poll comes out saying that 70% percent of those in the poll supported the views of the First Lady.  That's good news for Betty. 

Gerald Ford has decided to run in the 1976 election.  Betty is not happy about it, but she doesn't argue with him.  Betty starts even drinking more. 

A woman in Sacramento, California pulled a gun on Jerry, but the secret service grabbed her in time.  This upsets Betty a great deal.  She starts crying. 

For the third time in a week, Betty might miss a scheduled luncheon.  Jan goes to check on Betty, who says that it's her arthritis that's keeping her down.  Jan goes to telephone the doctor to get Betty stronger pain killers. 

San Francisco, September 22, 1975.  Betty is riding in a limousine with a police escort.  She asks the driver to slow down.  He apologizes but he was told to get the First Lady to Air Force One as soon as possible.  When they get to the airplane, Jerry tells her that there's been another assassination attempt.  It's another woman, but this woman managed to get off a shot.  Betty takes her valium because she's upset.  And she's going to have a drink. 

Jerry and Betty are going to be so busy with their schedules that they will not see much of each other for awhile. 

A political button is made that says:  "Betty Ford's husband for president."  Betty says she hates campaigning.  Jerry says:  "You should have thought of that before you became so popular."

Betty opens a new Jerry Ford Campaign Headquarters.  Jerry is speaking before a New Hampshire crowd.  A reporter wants Mrs. Ford to tell them what she has done as First Lady so far.  There isn't much she has done. 

Betty is constantly touring on behalf of her husband, but the wear and tear is starting to show on her.  Susan tells her mother that she has been taking a lot of pills lately.  Betty reacts with anger, which is another bad sign. 

The election for the president is held.  Jerry's opponent is Georgian Jimmy Carter.  It's Carter who wins the election. 

Palm Springs, California, fall 1977.  Betty almost falls asleep at an important charity event.  Betty forgets her plans for a fun afternoon and dinner with Susan.  Jerry is going to go away for a week.  Susan tells her father that she is really getting worried about mother.  Jerry is too busy to deal with his wife's situation.  He just dismisses the idea of Betty having serious problems. 

Vail, Colorado.  December 1977.  It's Christmas at the ski resort, but mom is far off somewhere in her mind.  Now the whole family realizes that something's definitely wrong with mother. 

At Christmas dinner, Betty is buzzed and she's rude to the help.  Again the whole family notices it.  Dad has blinders on and he says she's okay.  The family now also see there's a problem with their father.  He doesn't want to see that mother is having a big problem. 

Palm Springs, California.  Susan tells her mother that mom is taking too many pills and drinking too much.  Betty just takes this as betrayal of her personally.  She doesn't think she has any problems.  In fact, she tells Susan to get out of her house.  A crying Susan has to run out of the house.

One day the whole family comes to talk with Betty.  Also here is a nurse and the director of the alcoholic rehabilitation unit.  Dad speaks first, then the doctor and nurse, and, finally, they go around the room so all the children can plead with mother to go to rehabilitation.

Betty breaks down crying. Jerry apologizes for always being away so much.  He says this family is falling apart because the person who held it together isn't there any more.  They want mother to check into the hospital and get better.  Now mother starts really crying and says she's really sorry. 

Back to the present.  Betty is off the pills, but she still won't admit she's an alcoholic.  The director, the nurse and Jerry try to get her to see that.  Betty walks out of the room.  Jerry follows her.  She tells him that she can't muster up the strength to handle the alcohol situation.  Jerry tells her she can find the strength to deal with her alcoholism. 

Betty attends the group meetings with other alcoholics led by the nurse and a group leader.  Betty doesn't talk in group.  With more time, however, Betty finally starts participating in the work group. 

With more time, Betty admits that she's an alcoholic.  She admits to her husband that she is the one that has to change.

May 5, 1978.  Betty checks out of the rehabilitation center. 

In October 1981 Betty Ford breaks ground for the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California at the Eisenhower Medical Center (southeast of Palm Springs and between Cathedral City and Palm Desert).   The center became one of the leading treatment centers for drugs and alcoholic addiction.  Over 5,000 people have received treatment since the first patients in 1982. 



Betty Ford was a very popular First Lady.  She was known for being outspoken.  She openly discussed her mastectomy for breast cancer and that helped a lot of women go for check-ups.  She openly spoke out about her fight with drug and alcohol addictions.  And she is also famous because of her Betty Ford Clinic that treats drug and alcohol addictions.  She helped the whole country become more open to what were once forbidden subjects to talk about.  She's a woman to admire. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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