No match for Harvard ads

By Peter Carlson

ATTENTION, men! Are you looking for women? Are you looking for beautiful women?  

Are you looking for beautiful, intelligent, graceful, sensuous single women who have “Grace Kelly-type looks” or “Michelle Pfeiffer-type good looks'' or the “high cheekbones of Lady Di'' or the “high cheekbones of Renee Russo'' or the “stunning passionate eyes of Renee Russo''?  

Well, I know where you can find these women. At Harvard.  

To be specific, you can find them in the personal ads of Harvard Magazine, the official alumni publication of Harvard University.  

For those unfamiliar with Harvard, it is a medium-size Massachusetts school located across the Charles River from Boston University. It's the place that gave America Timothy Leary, Henry Kissinger and the Unabomber. I didn't attend Harvard so I'd never seen its alumni mag until a colleague handed me three issues.  

“Check out the personal ads,'' she said. “You won't believe it.''  

I was skeptical. Like most sophisticated intellectuals, I believed America's best personal ads appeared in America's best transportation magazine, Outlaw Biker, where incarcerated women advertise for Harley-riding studs:  

“Caged Kitten, 30, 5-10, 165 lbs, 38D, 30-32, Blonde, Looking for a new home ... If you are a man between 35-99, secure mentally, physically and financially, then drop me a line! My release date is 2004.''  

It's hard to beat the Outlaw Biker ads, but I picked up Harvard and gave it a look. Within minutes, I was stunned, amazed, transfixed. The women of every red-blooded man's dreams were advertising their availability:  

Grace Kelly type looks with a dash of the down-to-earth girl next door. Stunning blonde with athletic fresh appeal. Leggy and model slim.  

Stunning blonde with cover girl looks, model's cheekbones, blue eyes. Financially secure professional with ample leisure time.  

Sophistication and high cheekbones of Renee Russo plus personality of the young Katharine Hepburn.  

Head-turning good looks evocative of Diana Rigg from 'The Avengers.'  

A younger dark-haired more radiant Jane Fonda

Anne Archer-Holly Hunter combo – slim, petite, divorced

A cross between Susan Sarandon and Donna from 'Mind of the Married Man' ... Personable, articulate, sits on non-profit boards.  

An electric beauty: a cross between Meg Ryan and younger Hayley Mills.  

Graceful Geena Davis type. Sensual, slender, smart, tall strikingly pretty. 


Whew! By the time I finished, I had to take a cold shower. So many Hollywood look-alikes! So much beauty! So much self-esteem!  

My first thought was: Why the heck didn't I apply to Harvard?  

My second thought was: Well, never mind.  

My third thought was: Do other Ivy League alumni mags have ads like this?  

I asked the Ivy Leaguers, who are thick on the ground here at The Post, to loan me their alumni mags. None came close to Harvard's. The December issue of Yale's alumni mag had one lonely personal ad:  

“NYC attorney, MIT grad, Catholic, 64. Dark brown hair, seeks educated, conservative woman. Loves the city, Poconos, and hates Alan Greenspan.''  

Which raises the question: Does a loathing for Alan Greenspan arouse the smouldering passions of Yale women?  

But that's a question for another day. First, I had to make contact with some of the gorgeous Harvard goddesses who'd advertised their availability in 80 or 100 superlatives at US$4.75 (RM18) a word.  

Fortunately, many ads provided phone numbers. I took a few deep breaths to calm my racing heart and called a few. I got answering machines. I left my number.  

Five minutes later, I got a call from Jane Lederman, 44, a divorced Boston business manager whose ad touted the “high cheekbones of Renee Russo plus personality of the young Katharine Hepburn.''  

She didn't write the ad, she said. It was ghostwritten by Susan Fox, founder of Personals Work, a professional personal ad ghostwriting service in Boston.  

“She interviews you and gives you homework assignments,'' Lederman said. “She asks you to name an actress you identify with. And you have an assignment to ask your friends, 'If you were to think of me as a celebrity, who would you think of?' ''  

It was that process that inspired Fox's lyrical ode to Russo's cheekbones and Hepburn's personality.  

Now, Lederman says, she can pick out a Fox-written ad at a glance: “When you see a reference to an actress, you figure she had a hand in it. Or somebody was copying her style.''  

Lederman got about 20 responses to her ad and met some interesting men, although none proved to be Mr Right. A Smith grad, she learned a lot about Harvard men: “A classic Harvard MBA type is sort of focused and there's not a lot of human element to it.''  

But not all responders were Harvard men: “A lot of people say they saw it in their dentist's office,'' she says.  

As soon as I hung up with Lederman, the phone rang. It was “Head-turning good looks evocative of Diana Rigg.'' She was willing to talk but not to be identified by name. Her ad, too, was ghostwritten by Fox, who came up with the Diana Rigg line.  

“I said, 'I don't look like Diana Rigg,' '' she recalls. “And she said, 'This is advertising!' ''  

I was stunned. Could this foxy Fox woman be bamboozling hundreds of Harvard men, and their dental patients?  

I called Fox. She was eager to talk. The former freelance writer has been a full-time personals ghostwriter for 11 years. She charges US$125 (RM475) an hour for a job that she says takes at least three or four hours. She has “hundreds'' of clients, 75% of them female. She places ads in many mags but Harvard Magazine is a favourite.  

“It really does have a niche - well-educated, professional and successful people,'' she said. “Harvard Magazine has been very good for our clients.''  

How many ads in the current issue were ghosted by her?  

“A bunch of them,'' she said.  

Fox doesn't think it's cheating to hire a ghostwriter to compose your personal ad. Nor does she think she was deceptive when she used the phrase “evocative of Diana Rigg'' to describe a woman who says she doesn't look like Diana Rigg.  

“We said evocative of,'' she explains. “We didn't say a look-alike or a carbon copy.  

“It is, after all, advertising, and people have to put their best foot forward,'' she says. “If you say you've got a botox appointment and a screwed-up 17-year-old kid in addition to being bright and fun, it doesn't work.''  

And so, a word of warning to all you Harvard men, and all your dental patients: Be careful. Either that or start subscribing to Outlaw Biker. – LAT-WP 

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