SI Vault
 
TALES OF NORMAN FORD
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Before Taft it had been Brooklyn Academy, and then with Salinger at Valley Forge—where Ford was choirmaster and was booted out for swearing in the choir loft—and Riverside Military Academy. After Taft it was Darrow and Pawling, after which Ford tried to write for the movies. The war came, and he was stationed in Hawaii as a naval officer. Then it was back to the schools: New York Military Academy, Norwich University, the Irving School, Montclair Academy and, finally, Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa.

At Lycoming, Ford taught statistics and overwhelmed his classes with hard work. "If you were a normal person," he says, "Lycoming would be the end of the world. I began to see the futility in it, and I said to myself, ' Norman, it's getting late.' I was, uh, 49 then. I was living in a miserable $8-a-week hotel room and teaching these horrible kids. All that sustained me was that I had the idea for the West Point novel. Just before exams a bunch of the students came to me in desperation and asked how much I would take to give them A's. I needed money desperately to live on while I wrote, so I figured, ah, to hell with it. All my life I've played by the rules. For once I'll go on the take. So I said, 'Fifty dollars.'

"Six of them paid me, $50 each, and I gave them their A's, but when they paid me I made a note of their names. I said that I would get the money back to them, that this was just an investment in my novel. Well, you can tell them to come and get their $50 back now. I'd like to see the expressions on the faces of some of those kids from Taft when they find out that old Johnny-One-Suit is living in Newport now, in the Astor place."

Ford thumps about his manor in clothes that the Astors would not have permitted the servants to wear. The visor hat is traditional, it seems. So, too, are droopy woolen socks, a rumpled shirt and a pair of blue jeans, cut short and jagged, � la Daisy Mae. He still owns only one suit, and dressing up means only the concession of a cleaner visor hat and long pants. This scraggly outfit is all the more odd because of Ford's spit-and-polish, West Point background. He was in the class of 1932, but after some dispirited duty on Fishers Island he resigned his commission two years later. Still, the Point (if not the Army) retains a sentimental hold on him. There is, however, no love lost for Ford at the academy, because his one novel that was published—and which had a fair exposure—was about the cheating scandal. But Ford's affection for his alma mater, however directed, is obvious, and a disproportionate amount of his serious work has been concerned with it.

At the many schools where he taught, Ford had the problem—besides that of his just plain obstinate nature—of his West Point training. He could never forget it and was always too hard on the preppies. But he is proud of the tough-guy pose, and he has sustained it in the writing of the Force Method books. Whether or not Ford planned it that way, this tone has provided the Force Method with a certain dignity in comparison with the usual mail-order prose, which tends toward euphony and seductive phrasing. Ford starts right out calling the Method a school and demanding hard work and proper attention or he does not want any more of your lousy money. With Book One (Basic Principles) he sends along something called the Code Book. It begins with an ominous preface aptly titled A Warning to New Students. In the way of thanks for their $3, the freshmen promptly catch it as Ford answers 100 questions—stupid ones that he says people are always asking him and that he doesn't want to find students ever asking him again. Samples:

Q. Do you guarantee I can make money with this method?

A. Don't be a jackass. How do I know you can even understand it?

Q. Will you make me a package deal so that I can learn the Force Method at one mailing?

A. Dear Mr. Paderewski, send me a package deal to play the Tchaikovsky concerto in one lesson.

Q. Can you send me all the rules I need to know to make the system work without reading and studying a whole flock of books?

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7