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Read any Norman Ford lately? Maybe his novel, The Black, The Gray, and The Gold? That's his published novel, which is why on the back of the picture postcard of his house it says, "The home of Norman Robert Ford, the novelist." But there have also been a dozen unpublished novels, 125 short stories, numerous poems and several plays—the latter, appropriately, were produced, directed and acted in theaters throughout the country by Norman Ford. Also a bunch of stories that appeared in Confidential and Whisper, with Ford exposing, more or less, the "real" life in prep schools and at West Point. Or you may have read some of Norman Ford's pamphlets—designed, printed, advertised, written and sold by Norman Ford, and including such numbers as What You Can Do About Varicose Veins, $100 a Week Making Rosaries, The Love Poems of Vermont, How to Make Perfume and Make Money with It, You Can Save Your Hair, How to Recognize the Psychopathic Teacher, Hormones and What You Should Know About Them, How to Make Rubber Stamps and Make Money with Them, and the ever-popular How to Be Reborn Each Day.
For 25 years Norman Ford wrote these pamphlets, poems and plays and taught at prep schools, husbanding his finances so that he could chase the dream of becoming the great American novelist. He never once came close except, ironically, that he once taught the boy who became a great American novelist—J. D. Salinger was in his English and dramatics class at Valley Forge Academy.
In addition to teaching and writing, Ford was an Army officer, a Navy officer, an astrologer, a choirmaster, a typist and a bookkeeper. Also, he did save his hair, he did make rosaries and he did produce perfume and sell it—handing out The Love Poems of Vermont as a come-on in the deal. But always he was really just bounding after the dream, carrying one suit, one printing press ("that's the one thing I'd never pawn no matter how bad it got") and not much else, except perhaps a growing disillusionment with the world about him.
So there he was in November 1962, optimistic but down as usual, penniless, cold and hungry, trying to scrape together enough to write just the one more novel. And then—flourish and loud alarums—then Norman Ford wrote the first book in the series Norman Ford's Force Method for the Handicapping of Race Horses.
Hardly 18 months later Norman Ford moved to Newport, R.I., the geographic symbol of absolutely unbridled wealth, onto Newport's most fashionable street, Bellevue Avenue, into the mansion, Beechwood, that formerly had been owned by Mrs. William Astor—the Mrs. Astor—and had been the splendid scene for decades of society's most exclusive parties, limited to the magic number of 400.
There are 63 rooms in Beechwood. Mrs. Astor knocked down a wall and expanded the ballroom and made it the biggest in all of Newport. Beechwood is just a few doors down from Doris Duke's place, surrounded by eight acres of lawns and rose gardens, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It costs Ford $15,000 a year to lease it—he could buy it all for $250,000, but he balks at tying up that much capital—and it costs him at least another $15,000 annually to maintain it in the style to which it is accustomed. And Norman Ford lives there in Beechwood all by himself. That Norman Ford is one guy who beat the races, huh?
Ford evolved his Force Method after hardly a decade of race going, and he was not really a track regular until late in that period. He had, however, done work sporadically for his late brother Geoffrey, who had had a racing school of his own. These are the racing-school Fords.
Norman assimilated Geoffrey's ideas about both racing and racing schools, but his methods of handicapping and doing business are vastly different from his brother's. Still, it is interesting to note—though it is not surprising, Ford having written pamphlets on virtually every subject known to superstitious man—that he once wrote one entitled, yes, How to Start and Operate a Profitable School for Horseplayers. In addition to his new fortune, Ford thus wins this year's award for chickens coming home to roost.
The Force Method is, above all, not a system. System is not a word you use around Norman Ford. He is 56 now but in the youth of his success, still a sturdy, powerfully built man with flowing off-white hair. When Ford hears "system" he gets a pained look on his face—though you usually can't see his face. It is hidden behind two pairs of eyeglasses and almost always under a dirty old hat with a long green plastic visor that he found lying around the place. He is frugal, too.
Mellowing now, he seldom shows the belligerence that was born of the hard times. Instead, he is just sort of cynically whimsical, twitting the world more than fighting it. "People who think they know me often wonder how I can distrust others so thoroughly and still enjoy life," he writes in one of his self-analysis asides, this in Book Nine. Today he diffuses his scorn with wit or mimicry. The thespian in him is as alive as the novelist, and he is given to acting out old, fiery scenes that he participated in with various protagonists, such as headmasters or complaining racing students.