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Frank Deford
October 04, 1965
TALES OF NORMAN FORD or How to Save Your Hair, Make Perfume, Be a Best-selling Novelist, Take Years off Your Face, Move into Mrs. Astor's House with Only One Suit—and Beat the Races
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October 04, 1965

Tales Of Norman Ford

TALES OF NORMAN FORD or How to Save Your Hair, Make Perfume, Be a Best-selling Novelist, Take Years off Your Face, Move into Mrs. Astor's House with Only One Suit—and Beat the Races

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4) SIGNAL. Ford believes that a horse's readiness is most transitory and is signaled by the way he ran in his last race. He considers only the last race. "Other things being equal," he writes in Book Seven (Long Shots), "the player who can solve the riddle of the most recent race is the player who will select horses that pay."

The signal, Ford says, is "the key" to the Force Method. Those signals that Ford sees, however, are often different from the ones that grand old handicapping traditions suggest. Contrary to all racing folklore, for example, Ford usually dislikes a horse that was closing fast in his last race. He likes a horse that quit last time out. He figures it means the horse was tired in that race but is fresh now. On the other hand, a horse that drove and fought to close ground may have looked courageous, but the effort probably tired him for his next race. "We want a horse who did a smooth job last time," Ford writes. "The Backward Smoothie is most desirable; we like an F horse [an F (Forward) horse is one that gained on the leaders; a B (Backward) horse lost ground] too, but we are always on the alert for an F horse that ran too hard and exhausted himself last time out."

Putting the four factors together, Ford has evolved something called Uniscore, which produces one score for every horse in a race. It is the ultimate refinement of the Force Method.

It also was one of his memorable dramatic achievements, for, like an old treasure map—the one half buried, the other half committed to memory and swallowed—Uniscore was shrewdly devised by Ford to be revealed in two books. Both are marked TOP SECRET on their covers but, Ford contends, one is gibberish without the other. Students are instructed to learn what the numbers mean from the Key and then, for security reasons, to take only the book of tables to the track. "The Uniscore Tables present utter confusion to anyone who has not studied the Force Method," Ford writes in the Key, in explaining his victory over the evil forces that may attempt to steal precious Uniscores.

The Force Method began merely as an advertisement, Ford having long before decided that it was wise not to write anything until he had a good idea how much demand there was for it. He was absolutely dead broke at the time and hocked some jewelry of sentimental value that he was holding for a friend. That got him $6 to pay for an ad for the Force Method in a tawdry freak sheet in Montreal.

There were enough inquiries to encourage Ford to start writing, so he bummed paper and the use of a mimeograph machine from the bookstore where he had held the autographing party for his novel, The Black, The Gray, and The Gold. "I had them," he explains. "They couldn't very well turn down the only author that had ever held an autographing session in their place." He figured that if he was lucky with the Force Method he might be able to make $100 a week for long enough to bang out his new novel and then he could start bugging Doubleday again. As it turned out, the novel—attacking the American educational system—never had a chance. The Force Method was making more than $1,000 a week within four months, and next stop, baby, was Newport.

Since the Force Method attained the four-figures-a-week plateau, Ford has deliberately stabilized profits. He makes about $600 for every $100 worth of newspaper advertising he pays for and, because he does not care to expand his staff beyond the two devoted helpers whom he has, he regulates how much he works and how much he earns by the number of ads he places around the country.

Actually he's a little bored with it all now, craves a capital gains deal and is asking $125,000 for the whole shebang. ("A gold mine," the circular says. "The two largest selling points in my property are the books themselves...and my name, which is well known in literary circles, familiar to most reading people.") Since no enterprising member of the literati has bitten yet, Ford figures he will just have to keep on turning out the books. He says he has 500 students who would buy a book every week if he cared to bang them out that fast. As it is, he can produce a complete book in 36 hours, including time off for a night's sleep. That means from the minute he types the first word—directly onto the stencil (he never makes a rough draft)—until the time the book is written, mimeographed, proofread, corrected, covered, folded, stapled, bound and mailed out by the suspicious Newport post office, 36 hours will have elapsed. Each copy costs all of 8� to produce. Ford says that he can make more money more efficiently in the mail-order field than anyone else in the world. There seems to be no reason to dispute that claim.

"My great forte is organizing," he says. "But, you see, I didn't realize it myself. It took me all that time to see that I was doing the wrong kind of writing. I never thought. It was just a fight all the time to stay out of the schools. Stay out of the goddam schools. I seldom stayed at one for more than a year. I'd just take everything and disappear. Just disappear." His mention of the schools usually precipitates Ford into a more or less fixed speech, or rant. Other targets include taxes, the government, Babbittry and the general decline of the 20th century. But he never, apparently, fully appreciates the severity of his words, and even at his most vitriolic he remains hopelessly amiable and delightful.

"I was at Taft one year—best school I ever was in—and the kids all called me Johnny-One-Suit. Not to my face, but I knew. I heard one of them mumble it in the dining hall, so I just got up and pinned him up against the wall and held him up by his snotty little collar. I suspect—well, they never said—but I guess that was the reason they didn't want me back."

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