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Me and the Fords 

Part I

In the late 1940s, when I was a 9- or 10-year old, my mother sent my brother and me to a dance class at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The class was conducted by an elderly woman named Annie Ward Foster. Dressed with white gloves, we were taught ballroom dancing.

Among those in this class for boys and girls were the two daughters of Henry Ford II, head of the Ford Motor Company. They were Charlotte and Anne Ford. I remember Charlotte in particular as being quite vocal and assertive.

I attended Detroit University School, an all-boy school, from the 5th to 9th grades. The school was located in Grosse Pointe Woods on Cook Road. By the time of 9th grade (1954-55), this school had merged with an all-girl school, Grosse Pointe Country Day, so that we had both boys and girls in the classes. I think I remember seeing Charlotte Ford as one of the 9th grade female students but cannot be sure. I doubt if we ever spoke.

Later that year my family moved to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb north of Detroit I attended 10th grade at Bloomfield Hills High School and was a boarding student at Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills for 11th and 12th grades My ties with Grosse Pointe were largely cut.

Then I went on to attend Yale University for college. However, I dropped out of Yale in the middle of my junior year because I thought I had insufficient life experience to make good use of that opportunity. I wanted to experience something outside of school.

Instead of having challenging and useful experiences, I stayed at home with my parents at 131 Guilford Road in Bloomfield Hills for much of 1961. Nicolas Bosquet, son of the president of Renault’s North American subsidiary, lived with us for a time. I think I spent much of my time memorizing poetry.

In the summer of 1960, Charlotte Ford had a debutante party that became famous around the world. I think her father, Henry Ford II, spent $250,000 on it. Then, in 1961 Anne Ford had her party, not as lavish as her sister’s but still impressive. Now a full-time resident of Michigan, I wanted to be a guest. My mother arranged it. Nicolas Bosquet attended this event with me held on June 19th, 1961.

I drove out to Grosse Pointe with Nicolas only to become stalled in a traffic jam as we approached the house. Eventually, I got out of the car and began walking ahead to see what was happening. Someone called my name as I walked by the line of cars. It was George Romney, my father’s boss at American Motors and later Governor of Michigan. But I had no information of value to share with him about the unfolding events.

The party itself, once we arrived, was quite lavish. I think singer Ella Fitzgerald was hired to entertain the guests. I remember seeing Henry Ford II who seemed a bit tipsy while making an announcement to the guests. I also had an opportunity to dance briefly with Anne Ford, the debutante herself. The dance may have lasted a minute before someone else cut in.

Later in the year, perhaps in September, I went to Munich, Germany, to live. I was in Europe - Bavaria, France, and Berlin - until late 1962 or early 1963 when I returned to the United States and later resumed my junior-year studies at Yale. I graduated in June 1964 rather than two years earlier.

Part II

In the summer of 1961 while I was living at my parents’ home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, I was invited to an event at the home of John Bugas, also in Bloomfield Hills. Bugas and his daughters and their friends were watching an unreleased or soon to be released film, “Splendor in the Grass”, starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. This turned out to be one of my favorite films. (The lines from Wordsworth's poem made an impression on me since I was then spending much of my time memorizing poetry.) John Bugas himself was at the screening. He told me he knew my father (then a vice president of American Motors)

John Bugas was then a vice president and director of the Ford Motor Company. He had previously been an FBI agent. In the early 1940s, Henry Ford was becoming old and senile. He relied increasingly on a strong-armed assistant, Harry Bennett, to quash unions and keep control. Under some pressure, Henry Ford turned over control of the company to his grandson in 1945.

The younger Ford immediately brought in FBI agent Bugas to help take control of the company from Harry Bennett. The task was accomplished. The Ford Motor Company was then restored to health as the second largest (after General Motors) automobile company in the world. All this was happening as Bugas, the industrial-relations manager, was for a time effectively second in command (after Henry Ford II) at the Ford Motor Company.

One of the elder Henry Ford’s last public appearances - he died in 1947 - was at the Automotive Golden Jubilee held in Detroit in late May and early June 1946. A gold stripe was painted down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. An automotive parade featuring a variety of old cars ensued. General Motors chairman, William S. Knudsen, was the titular head of the event. George Romney of the Automobile Manufacturers Association was general manager. My father, also at the Automobile Manufacturers Association, was the public-relations director of this event. I remember everyone dressing up in period costume and posing in or in front of old cars.

 

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