Originally published April 8, 1987
It didn't have the action of "Top Gun" or the laughs of "Ruthless People." And the star, even at the top of his career, wasn't known as a scintillating personality.
Still, the hottest videotape in town Tuesday was a half-hour cassette of former President Gerald Ford talking about his 1975 encounter in Capitol Park with Manson follower Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme.
In a brief moment, Fromme pulled a .45-caliber automatic pistol from beneath her flowing red robe and pointed it at Ford.
She was later tried and convicted of attempted assassination, and the star witness was the president himself, who offered his testimony on videotape from the old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
The tape of Ford's testimony has been kept under seal for more than 11 years, but it was ordered opened Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas MacBride.
Newspapers and television stations from several cities in California sent reporters and film crews to Sacramento to take a look at the testimony seen only by the jury and spectators at the Fromme trial.
Excerpts were telecast locally and sent to at least one network for distribution nationally.
As a victim, Ford was surprisingly relaxed. He displayed no animosity or ill feeling toward Fromme or her lawyer, John Virga.
And as a witness, Ford was direct and matter-of-fact with his answers to Virga's questions.
He said he first noticed Fromme "approximately halfway between L Street and the state Capitol" among a group of people lining the walkway.
"As I stopped, " Ford said, "I saw a hand come through the first row . . . and in the hand was a weapon."
It was 2 feet away, Ford testified, and was aimed "at a height between my knee and my waist."
Ford said a Secret Service agent acted instantaneously, grabbing the hand and the gun, and the president was immediately hustled out of the area.
Fromme was sentenced to life imprisonment. She is confined at the women's detention center at Alderson, W. Va.
The unsealing of the Ford videotape was sought by Federal Defender E. Richard Walker, who said Tuesday that he asked for it in response to a broadcast media request.