Imagine George Bush making an appearance as a Tool Time guest on Home Improvement. Picture Richard Nixon seeking the protection of NYPD Blue cops. Maybe not the most dignified gigs for retired residents of the White House, but think back: There is a presidential precedent for such work. On Dec. 21, 1983, Gerald R. Ford played himself in a cameo on Dynasty, the prime-time soap about the superwealthy that rode the extravagance of the ’80s to the top of the Nielsens.
The former President’s acting debut happened by chance. Dynasty‘s producers had arranged to film the series’ characters mingling with the real crowd at Denver’s Carousel Ball, an annual charity event that drew the rich and famous from around the country. While cameras followed the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Blake Carrington (John Forsythe and Linda Evans), the couple bumped into guests Gerald and Betty Ford. Dynasty producer Esther Shapiro quickly jumped in and asked the former President if he wouldn’t mind greeting the Carringtons. ”You can’t be President of the United States and not be an actor,” Shapiro says.
After lobbying to get his wife included, Ford agreed: With Betty at his side, Ford looked Forsythe squarely in the eye and said, ”Blake, it’s wonderful to see you.” Reminded today that he addressed Forsythe’s character by name, he says, ”Did I?”
Ford has no trouble recalling that Henry Kissinger attended the ball too — and also appeared on the TV show. The former secretary of state was filmed flirting with Alexis Colby (Joan Collins), who quipped, ”Henry, hello. I haven’t seen you since Portofino. It was fun.” Whenever he runs into Kissinger at formal affairs, Ford says, they have a good old time kidding each other ”about making a soap opera.”
Like all special guest stars — as they were credited — the Fords and Kissinger were paid for their acting stints. Although Kissinger doesn’t remember receiving a stipend, Ford sure does. ”We were paid the minimum, whatever it was,” he says. ”I don’t recall.” (The scale then: $330 each.)
Dynasty‘s per-episode costs zoomed from $700,000 in 1981, when the Reagans moved into the White House, to more than $1.5 million at its cancellation in 1989, four months after Ron and Nancy had packed their bags. ”It was the height of the Republican years, the age of glitz and greed,” Shapiro says, and Dynasty ”just seemed to work, just seemed to capture what the ’80s were all about.”
TIME CAPSULE: Dec. 21, 1983
Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were humming ”Say, Say, Say,” while Cher and Meryl Streep were getting raves for Silkwood. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was alive and well atop the best-seller list, and one of TV’s first AIDS stories aired on St. Elsewhere.