Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ford Owed Status as Oldest Ex-President to Gay Guy

Open memo to Hollywood:

In light of the various tributes paid to the late President Ford this week, isn't it about time for a documentary or biopic on the tragic life of Oliver Sipple? (Just don't fuck it up, OK?)

Mr. Sipple, who scored a zero percent name-recognition score at the lunch table at work the other day, was the ex-Marine who happened to be standing next to Sara Jane Moore when Ms. Moore decided to try to "allow the winds of change to start" by taking a shot at President Gerald Ford in San Francisco in September 1975. This was only a couple of weeks after Manson Family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme tried to do the same thing. Sipple was in a crowd watching the President and saw Moore aim a handgun at Ford. He lunged at her and forced her to point the gun elsewhere so that when it fired, the bullet missed its mark. He then prevented her from firing again until the Secret Service got to them.

In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished tradition, Sipple was heralded by the media, and was soon outed as being gay by columnist Herb Caen. Caen's column was carried in the Detroit Free Press, which was read by Mr. and Mrs. Sipple, Sr. back home in Michigan. Despite the 1970s' Boogie-Nights image, John Q. Midwest was not necessarily as forward-thinking as he is today, and the national revelation of their son's homosexuality caused the senior Sipples to disown their son permanently, despite his being a decorated Vietnam Vet, and saving the life of the President of the United States. Sipple unsuccessfully sued the San Francisco Chronicle for invading his privacy, and eventually died alone after years of substance abuse.

What about this? I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment, but what about Mr. Sipple's ability to just live his life in elected obscurity? And how should Gerald Ford have handled the awkwardness of having a gay guy save his life? Ford is probably high on the "Presidents You'd Like to Have As Neighbors Because They're Great Guys" list, but part of being a regular guy in 1975 was that you'd be unlikely to make waves by giving effusive public accolades to a known homosexual.

One of the people involved in the outing was the openly gay San Francisco politician and activist Harvey Milk, who later was shot to death in a city council meeting his office in city hall, along with the mayor. Years ago I watched the fascinating documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, and I think I'm going to put it to the top of my Netflix queue to watch again.
Update, 1/5/07: We're watching TToHM right now, and it's almost to the end. Not word one about Sipple, which is kind of lame... I wonder if they tried to steer clear of making Milk look like a bad guy.
In any event, I think it's time to start work on putting the Oliver Sipple story up on the big screen. (Although, by suggesting this, am I falling into the same type of voyeurism about which I question Caen's judgment? -- I hope not, because all the principles except Moore are now deceased.) Philip Seymour Hoffman would be great as a lead.

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