The Secret Life of Henry Ford Hardcover – Jan 1978
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Headline: MAN WHO SAID HE WAS SON OF HENRY FORD I DIES OF CANCER
Byline: PATRICIA MONTEMURRI, DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/22/1984
John Cote Dahlinger, who six years ago co-authored a book in which he claimed to be the illegitimate son of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford I, has died in a Saginaw hospital of cancer at age 61. Mr. Dahlinger, who lived in Lexington on Lake Huron, died Friday at St. Mary's hospital.
In "The Secret Life of Henry Ford," Mr. Dahlinger wrote that his mother, the late Evangeline Cote Dahlinger, Henry Ford's personal secretary, was also the auto pioneer's mistress.
MR. Dahlinger had operated nightclubs in the Detroit area for many years. His family's former estate is a mile upstream from Henry Ford's Fair Lane mansion, now located on the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus.
Ford, Mr. Dahlinger had said, built the mansion, which was occupied by Evangeline Dahlinger and her husband, Raymond. Ford had showered him and his parents with expensive gifts, Mr. Dahlinger wrote.
Both Raymond and Evangeline Dahlinger had worked for Ford in the early days of the Ford Motor Co. Evangeline began work as a secretary for one of Ford's design consultants for the Model T, and later was Ford's personal secretary, handling correspondence for Ford's wife, Clara, and overseeing the development of Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum. Her husband, who died in 1969, worked as a bodyguard for Ford and later managed the Ford Farms in Dearborn.
MR. Dahlinger had said in his book, co-authored by celebrity biographer Frances Spatz Leighton, that as a boy he had played with Henry Ford's four grandchildren. In his book, Mr. Dahlinger said his mother would never discuss his parentage, but he said her diaries and her close relationship with Ford convinced him that Ford was his father.
His mother seemed obsessed with Ford, despite their 30-year age difference, wrote Mr.Dahlinger. "She kept track of everything he was doing day by day in her diaries. She seems to have destroyed some of her diaries as she grew older and more discreet," he wrote. "Even so, I found enough of the little books secreted around the house, painstakingly written by hand (partly in French) to get a good picture of their relationship."
After the death of his mother in 1979, Mr. Dahlinger sold the Dahlinger estate. In an interview in 1978, Mr. Dahlinger said he wrote the book to put his parents "back into history."
Most Ford biographies include brief references to Raymond Dahlinger as
the manager of the Ford Farms. One Ford family biographer, David Lewis, named Evangeline Dahlinger as one of the 10 people who had the most influence on the Fords.
Mr. Dahlinger never worked for Ford Motor Co. He had been a pilot in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was a professional race car driver for several years. In 1959 he bought Cliff Bell's, a popular downtown Detroit supper club. He and his second wife, Elizabeth, operated the Act IV nightclub on W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit for five years until 1969.
Mr. Dahlinger had one son, John, 28, from his first marriage.
If you look at the cover photo that is inside the book John looks like his father around the eyes and forehead. His father somewhat resembled Ford so I do not agree with his claim to be Ford's son, but this does not detract from the book.
Ford was disappointed with his son Edsel and wanted John to be part of the business. Ford took very good care of John and his parents and they saw a side of Ford few saw. If you are interested in Henry Ford and want a more complete view of him this is a good book to read.
I read Dahlinger's Secret Life a few days ago in a single sitting on an airplane trip. It is an interesting story and gives a perspective on Henry Ford that only one person could give.
John Dahlinger has no axe to grind, but seems justifiably sore that his and his mother's contributions to the Ford Museum have been ignored. As he says, he only wants to set the record straight, which he does in this book.
I see no reason to think that the Ford Family has tried to "cover up" his story, but the book would have benefitted from him addressing that topic-- he does little or nothing of that besides noting that they ignored him in later life. But most of our early friends ignore us later on, no?
The book reads more like a final draft of a manuscript than a finished book. For example, the long verbatim passages from his mother's diary at the end seem out of place. Was his ghostwriter on a hurried schedule?
The narrative jumps around almost like it was a worked-over transcript from a series of tape-recorded conversations. Which I suspect it was.
More and better pictures would have helped greatly.
Most important, why was there no mention of DNA testing anywhere in the book? I'm sure every reader has on their mind one single question: Is he really Henry Ford's son? Avoiding mentioning the obvious issue of DNA testing, even in 1977, only weakens this story.
I would recommend this book only after you read others such as Stephen Watts' The People's Tycoon, and Robert Lacey's Ford: The Men and the Machine.