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They Found Their Valentines Via Videotape

Times Staff Writer

There was the time, Jeffrey Ullman recalled, when a client seeking a date was thumbing through an album containing snapshots and written profiles of other unmarried members of the introduction club.

Suddenly the man slammed the book to the floor and shouted: “I want my money back! Why do you let people like her in?”

It was his ex-wife.

“Funny,” Ullman came back, “she said the same thing about you.”

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The Video Generation

It has been 10 years ago this month since Ullman started with a concept--that the video generation had arrived and the previously conventional methods for unattached males and females to meet each other were ripe for a change.

Enter an introduction service named Great Expectations. Over the past decade, more than 40,000 persons nationwide have become members. At present the enrollment is more than 20,000, around 8,500 of them in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. It is the largest thing of its kind in America, Ullman said. Many commercial dating services, however, exist using various approaches from bumper stickers on cars to computerized introductions.

What began with 30 members in a windowless, one-room office--with the founder’s pediatrician father stopping by after work to empty the ashtrays and haul out the trash--has come a long way. The son, as Winston Churchill once said of himself, has much to be humble about.

He even was flattered to see his original slogan--"Choice, not chance"--subsequently borrowed by the military.

One problem to be overcome by the dating service at first--and probably still existing to a degree--was the I’m-not-a-loser, I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-a-dating-service attitude.

“Even though they don’t mind being caught in a bad romance,” Ullman retorted.

But on this St. Valentine’s Day, let’s hear it for the good kind, especially if marriage is involved. Such as is hopefully the case with the more than 1,000 couples who became husband and wife as a result of the locally started video dating service.

“I remember that we first agreed to meet after work in Westwood Village,” Marian Schneider, a secretary at Hughes Aircraft, said.

“Andrew and I had a cup of coffee in a coffee shop. I think he didn’t want to commit himself for the whole evening. After a while he asked me if I wanted to take a walk, which we did, and finally he asked if I would like to join him for dinner. We went Dutch.”

Andrew Schneider, an engineer at Hughes, was the first man who had signed up for the new dating club. As he contemplated videotapes of female members (identified only by first names), several caught his interest.

“I called some of the women, and there were others who called me, but Marian was the first one I went out with,” he said.

Wonders of Electronics

The Westchester couple married, and next month will observe their ninth anniversary--all because of the wonders of electronics.

Late in 1975 Ullman made the rounds of the singles bars, the divorce recovery seminars, all the singles events he could find--to research the totally different club he felt he could form. “I think I talked with Jeff at some kind of a consumer meeting, he told me about his project, and I became the first male member,” Andrew Schneider said.

The first female in the club, a member of Ullman’s family, married an attorney two years ago, the founder said.

As for the Schneiders, “I had been legally separated a year and was looking for companionship,” Marian recalled. “I had hoped to meet some adult man to have conversation with. I hadn’t socialized at all for a year.

“The concept of meeting people after considering how they came across on TV was brand new. I had two daughters, one a teen-ager and the other a pre-teen, and they egged me on to try it.

“One day after work I went to the place, with some trepidation. I was interviewed and made a tape that presented me, and later I went through their albums of the men and read the bios, which you do in order to choose which videos to watch.

Shy but Nice

“As I thumbed through the albums, Jeff’s mother played the little matchmaker. She would kibitz and say things like: ‘This one’s not for you.’

“When we came to Andrew’s bio, she encouraged me to check his video. She said he was shy, but nice, and that we had similar interests--hiking and camping.”

The couple, both in their mid-40s, have a son of their own in addition to the two girls by her previous marriage. “Andrew had never been married before, and at first he didn’t know how to parent--especially stepparenting, which is more difficult. It took work on the part of all of us, but things have worked out.”

Another twosome who met through video dating, subsequently were wed, and who each brought children from a previous marriage, are Jacquelynne Jones-Corby and Dennis Corby of Pasadena.

After their wedding at the Crystal Cathedral last June--exactly one year to the day when they first met--they observed a tradition. They cut off the top of their cake and have preserved it in their freezer. It will be brought out in a few months and served as part of their first anniversary party.

‘Someone Wants to Meet You’

The romance began when Dennis perused her written profile (which included snapshots), viewed her videotape and scribbled her first name and code number on a form. The club then sent her what it calls a Someone Wants to Meet You post card.

A week or so later, she came in to read Dennis’ bio (he is a mechanic with the Department of Water and Power plant in Pasadena) and watch his videotape.

“In the meantime, I saw one other woman I had asked about, but we only had a glass of wine together and nothing came of it,” he said.

When there was what Great Expectations calls “mutual consent” between Jacquelynne and Dennis, their full names and phone numbers were provided each other, and they made their own arrangements.

“He called me and we went to a restaurant in Hollywood,” said Jacquelynne, now 40, a principal administrative analyst with the City of Pasadena. “The farthest thing in my mind was a committed relationship, namely marriage. But he showed me the qualities of a man I was willing to commit to.”

She said that most--but not everyone--lived up to the profile he had composed. “I like to laugh,” she said. “One guy wrote that he had a sense of humor, but in person he told crude jokes, which isn’t my definition of a quality sense of humor.”

Not a Joiner

For his part, Dennis, now 35, said he also didn’t have marriage in mind when he joined the group. “I was raising a daughter, now 15, and I wanted a woman in my life. I’m not the bar type or one who joins organizations.”

His wife-to-be had a son, now 21, and a daughter, now 12. The wife said that when she told her girl about the impending marriage, the reaction was: “Well, it’s about time!”

Everyone agreed that the biggest hurdle that has been overcome this first year of marriage was merging two families that had been living separately.

Which brings us to Ullman’s personal life. It was a case of physician, heal thyself.

In 1979, the business was catching on, but his first marriage hadn’t, and he found himself divorced.

It happened that a year earlier a high school teacher named Stephanie had joined the tube-togetherness association, but then had returned to her hometown in Ohio.

“After a few months, I returned here, resumed my private high school teaching, and decided to resume my club membership as well,” said Stephanie, now 34.

“Jeff remembered me. He saw my videotape and liked the fact that my interests range from ballet to boxing.”

One of the things that startled Ullman, now 36, was her birth date--Jan. 13. It is also his.

The two began dating, married on St. Valentine’s Day of 1981, and now are raising a 2-year-old son and a 15-month-old daughter in their Tarzana home.

Video dating isn’t for everyone. For one thing, there are the fees--ranging from $625 (with responses only if your tape attracts another member, and has a six-month limit) to nearly $2,000 (with unlimited responses and selections and no time limit).

And it must be reported that sometimes salespeople are involved, working on commission. One potential member was turned off by what she felt was a “slick and hard-sell approach.”

To this, Ullman replied: “We continually warn our salespeople against (this). The member will be coming back in again and again, so we can’t just take the money and throw the person to the wolves.”

He said he can understand whatever negative reactions do occur: “People who may have been emotionally dumped on don’t want to be taken advantage of.”

Demand Is Booming

Judging from the countless shelves of profile albums and five- to eight-minute videotapes (conducted by interviewers) in the Westwood headquarters, however, the demand for this introduction service is a booming one.

Over the years, other such outfits have come and gone, but G.E. continues to electrify. It has six California locations, plus offices in Portland, Houston, Seattle, Washington and Chicago.

“The median age of our members is 34. The current breakdown is 53% male, 47% female,” Ullman disclosed. “A good percentage of the couples who marry after meeting through us have been married before.”

Over the past decade, the club has undergone a few changes. “When we first started, the members composed one-page hand-written personal resumes, but without any snapshots for the albums,” the organizer recalled. “The members rebelled. They were and are busy people, and wanted to get an immediate sense of whether they should spend their subsequent time watching any given tape.”

Also, in the beginning, the viewers sat in one large area either perusing the books or peering into one of two TV sets. Now they have access to any of 14 private booths, each with a set.

“Some viewers take notes,” Ullman said. “Occasionally, laughter can be heard. Sometimes there is an audible response--to no one in particular--such as: ‘Really!’

The Hit-or-Miss Method

“You can,” he added, “meet more people in an hour on video than you could in a year of using the traditional hit-and-miss methods.”

Almost like a public library, the number of tapes a member may watch is limitless, but there is a daily maximum of five coded selections--to whom post cards will be sent advising that another member wishes a meeting.

Although it isn’t part of the planned procedure, Stephanie Ullman mentioned several unintended instances that, nevertheless, had the intended outcome: “We have had people who met and dated as a result of seeing each other filling out forms or while watching separate tapes in the office.”

Members don’t always arrive by themselves. Ullman knew of one single parent who brought his 10-year-old son along to ponder the tapes with him.

Suddenly a boyish voice was heard loudly piping up from inside the booth: “Daddy, she’s great!”


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