by Andrew Malcolm
Before we get too far into the brand-new presidential campaign of Fred Thompson, which began in the wee hours of this morning in a webcast at Fred08.com, we need to straighten one thing out for the official record.
This may come as a major shock to the nation just discovering the latest presidential wannabe. Major publications have written long profiles of Thompson without revealing this detail. And it's certainly not news that the Thompson campaign wanted to leak out right at the peak of publicity.
But it turns out that the newest candidate's name in the Republican race for president is, in fact, not Fred D. Thompson.
It's been a family secret for many, many years, uncovered only by the most diligent reporting. Few people know this. But Fred Thompson's actual first name isn't Fred.
It's really Freddie. No, seriously.
Official marriage, birth and divorce records in Alabama and Tennessee show that the newest Republican presidential contender was born Freddie Dalton Thompson. (His mother, who lives outside Nashville, refuses to explain how this came to be.)
But Thompson was known as Freddie growing up in Lawrence County, Tenn. And he used the Freddie name all the way through college and all the way through law school.
But when he returned to his hometown to practice law in 1967, his wife's uncle, a wise local politician named Ed Lindsey, gave the young man an important piece of lifetime advice: “I told him one day that if you’ve got any ideas of wanting to be in politics, I would highly recommend that you get rid of this Freddie business.”
Freddie took Eddie's advice and that year, as a member of the Tennessee bar, Freddie Dalton Thompson forevermore became Fred D. Thompson.
The name Freddie did live on among old friends, and, in fact, it became something of a code word that they could use to reach him directly as he became a famous Hollywood actor and U.S. senator.
Bobby Alford, a local historian in Lawrenceburg who was Freddie's Babe Ruth baseball coach, recalls that on a visit home from Washington shortly after his 1994 election to the U.S. Senate, Freddie told all his hometown friends: "You all ever need anything up there, you call the girl in my office, and when you do, call me Freddie. Don't call me Fred. She'll know you're from Lawrenceburg and take care of you."
Indeed, a few years later when a group of some 30 Tennesseans lost their tickets for a long-awaited tour of the Capitol, Alford tried the trick. He called the senator's office, used the name Freddie and, by golly, the hometown group immediately got a brand-new set of replacement tickets from Thompson's staff.
"Freddie," Alford recalls, "was the magic word." You can learn a lot more interesting details about the past life of Freddie Thompson in a fascinating profile of the former senator by The Times' Joe Mathews that appears here on this website and in Thursday's print editions.
Andrew Malcolm writes for the Top of the Ticket, the Los Angeles Times' political blog.