SAN FRANCISCO — Comedian Chevy Chase, who became famous in the 1970s portraying Gerald Ford as an amiable klutz, praised the former president on Wednesday and said they later became friendly in spite of the biting comedy routines.
Chase, 63, was an original cast member on the trend-setting late-night comedy television show “Saturday Night Live” and frequently opened the show pretending to be Ford stumbling and falling. The parody in 1975-6 helped reinforce a popular image about Ford’s clumsiness, even though the president had been a star athlete in college.
“He had never been elected period, so I never felt that he deserved to be there to begin with,” the actor said about Ford, who died on Tuesday at age 93. “That was just the way I felt then as a young man and as a writer and a liberal.”
“Later on we became friends and he was a very, very sweet man,” Chase said in a telephone interview from a Colorado ski resort. “He took my wife and I on a whole lovely trip through Grand Rapids to show us where he had been as a child and what not. We kept in touch and he was just a terrific guy.”
Chase, who has since starred in many film comedies, said Ford helped boost his career, but said another politician could have just as easily become the comedic punching bag in such politically turbulent times.
Chase was initially hired as a writer, not an actor but the humor he wrote mocking Ford helped change that.
“I wrote all those Gerald Ford jokes and (producer) Lorne (Michaels) put me on the air,” he said. “Doing the stunt falls and stuff ... started me.”
“As far as making my career, it could have been anybody who had been a Republican after Nixon and pardoned him.”
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