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Love God From Hell : The Man Who Brought You Videodating Hates to Date, Loves to Taunt and Has Himself Been Unlucky in Love. Would You Buy a Relationship From Jeffrey Ullman?

<i> Amy Wallace is a Times staff writer. Her last article for the magazine was about gang-member-turned-hot-author "Monster" Kody Scott, "Making Monster Huge."</i>

The big man with the heart-shaped cuff links sits in his spacious Encino office, a “Get-a-Woman-Flames-of-Desire” candle on his desk, a rubbing of Rudolph Valentino’s headstone on his wall and two middle-aged businessmen in his clutches. The men have come to ask Jeffrey Ullman, the king of videodating, about buying a franchise. They have yellow legal pads on their laps, tassels on their loafers. Zany they aren’t.

But Ullman, founder of the world’s largest singles introduction service, can’t help himself. Midway through a discussion of royalties and fees, he lets a phone call from his publicist divert him from the business at hand to a favorite topic: aphrodisiacs. He launches into a rapid-fire rant, pacing the room as he prattles on about ginseng syrup, bone marrow jelly and chestnuts steeped in Muscadet.

“According to the no-nonsense Elizabethans, chestnuts--being flatulent--incite Venus,” Ullman says, reading gleefully from a love potion cookbook. “I never heard of gas getting your rocks off! That’s a good one!”

His guests swap terrified looks. And then, suddenly, Ullman’s back on track. Las Vegas, he tells the businessmen, is on the smaller side, but it’s ripe for the business of love. Salt Lake City, too. They’re big on marriage in Utah. Plunk a franchise in there, Ullman says, hire a few Mormons and you’ll never look back.

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“Any virgin area left in New Jersey?” asks one of the men, much relieved to be discussing the commercial, not the carnal, side of passion.

“Nope,” says Ullman happily, biting into a turkey sandwich as he sketches out the geographical sweep of his growing empire, Great Expectations. But there’s always Honolulu or Charlotte, he says. With the right management team, even Oklahoma City could be a gold mine.

The men seem impressed. It looks as if Ullman has sold them on taking video-assisted coupling into the heartland. He talked tough and refused to bargain. He spoke their language--the lexicon of the bottom line. But even as he cements the connection, he is compelled to test it one more time.

Reaching into his desk drawer, he pulls out two foil-wrapped packets.

“Condom?” he asks.

YOU MAY NEVER HAVE HEARD OF JEFFREY ULLMAN, BUT CHANCES ARE you’ve gotten his mail. “Where do You Go To Meet Quality Single People Like Yourself?” asks one Great Expectations direct-mail letter, which touts the merits of choosing a mate via videotape. “No more uncomfortable blind dates,” the mailer promises. “No more wasted time in singles bars. No more losers.”

Ullman is the man behind the pitch, which he has sent out 500 million times during the past decade. At 44, he leads the videodating industry, which he pioneered in his native Los Angeles in 1976. He and his franchisees own 45 Great Expectations Centres in the United States and one in Mexico. His company, which claims to have more than 150,000 members, takes credit for thousands of marriages and grosses about $65 million a year.

In 18 years, Ullman’s invention has done more than change the way some heterosexuals get lucky. For better or worse, it has become an integral part of American culture. And Ullman, a fast-talking, self-described “social-change activist,” is a big reason why.

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Ullman preaches the gospel of self-improvement, and he has a knack for turning almost any trend to his advantage. Feminism? It’s made dating confusing, he says, all the more reason that singles need high-tech help. Yuppie materialism? People who work all the time, he says, need an efficient way to meet. AIDS? Casual sex is out, he says, marriage is in.

“I’m going to marry America,” he says. “Why not?”

That’s where Great Expectations comes in. Ullman says losers become winners simply by joining. Great Expectations members don’t all find mates, he acknowledges. But at least they surmount what Ullman calls the biggest obstacle, “coming forward and saying, ‘I’m ready.’ ” And at about $2,000 per three-year membership, that makes him a big winner as well.

Ullman has become a millionaire by following his own advice. He never tries, he says, he does. He has little patience for weakness. He balks at timidity. He is an “emotional provocateur,” he says, whose “involving confrontational” style forces people to realize their opportunities. But the self-anointed Love God has a problem. His in-your-face ethic has helped build a thriving business. And at times, it has also made him insufferable.

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Ullman is a goofus. Once, when he needed to borrow $300,000, he wore a clear plastic tie filled with shredded dollar bills to a meeting with a banker. Another time, just for fun, he bit into a fake blood capsule and began frothing at the mouth and screaming. The nurses at the blood bank where he pulled this stunt are still talking about it, he says.

Worse, Ullman-the-prankster shares a brain with Ullman-the-bully. He has made his employees cry--a habit that once got him banned from visiting his centers. Years ago, he laid off his own mother. Then, after giving her another chance, he booted her again. “Ultimately, I had to say, ‘You just don’t get it, Mom. You’re fired,’ ” he says.

He was no easier on his sister, who until 1984 was a Great Expectations vice president. “She was excessively overweight,” Ullman recalls. “I don’t just mean overweight. I mean, her clothing, her hair, her nails--she wouldn’t wear hose. She was a lesbian! I didn’t care about that, but it showed.

Today, Ullman’s sister calls him a “rage-o-holic.” His longtime assistant calls him “very offensive.” And his wives? Ullman may call himself an expert on courtship, they say, but his three marriages have faltered.

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He seems to mean well, and he certainly does well. But whether Ullman is mean-spirited or merely tactless, whether he is driven by profit or a pure desire to join the world in wedlock, would you buy a relationship from this man?

TELEVISION TALK-SHOW HOST MONTEL WILLIAMS once asked Ullman: “Are you preying on the lonely people out there?”

“Yes,” he shot back. “Just like restaurants prey on the hungry and doctors prey on the sick and talk-show hosts prey on the people who are too bored to read a book.”

But restaurants sell food. Doctors sell medicine. What, exactly, is Ullman selling?

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This weekday evening, the Great Expectations Centre in West Los Angeles is bustling with men and women. Many of them are attractive. All of them are available. But no one is making small talk. The place is hushed as they flip through three-ring binders containing thousands of all-important first impressions, otherwise known as Member Profiles.

The Member Profile--a one-page autobiography, with photo--is the backbone of the Great Expectations system. Like the label on a can of soup, it lists basic ingredients--height, weight, religious preference--and gives some qualitative data. Members briefly describe “Who I Am,” “What I Like To Do” and “What I’m Looking For.”

“I am as wild as they come,” writes Alfonso, a fourth-grade teacher. Alan, a novelist and TV producer, promises that he’s not “the kind of guy who keeps his emotions so subterranean you need to go spelunking to find them or a Rosetta stone to interpret them.” Asked what she’s looking for, a marriage counselor named Jody simply writes “a fireman.”

If intrigued by a written profile, a member can cue up a video for closer inspection. There, Ullman promises a window into the soul. A video interview, he has said, “shows appearance, animation, personality, charm and all of the ambitions, desires, dreams, wants and needs which can be hidden in the ordinary social contacts.”

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Ullman may overstate. Despite his interviewers’ attempts to prompt fascinating answers--"When you meet that special woman,” goes one interview question, “are you going to know it right off?"--not everybody shines on videotape. And not everybody tells the truth. “One guy picked me. He said he was in PR. He said he was 5-foot-9,” says Barbara Lakin, a photo editor at TriStar Pictures, who describes her recent one-year Great Expectations membership as “a joke.” “It turned out he was a limo driver. And he was like 5-foot-3!”

Still, there’s no denying that videotape can be very revealing. Alfonso-the-wild-man, for example, confesses on his video that he takes women to karaoke bars on the first date and that he would never, ever jump out of an airplane for fun.

“People lie all the time,” says Bonnie Beaux Fullerton, a Costa Mesa comedian who met her husband, a chemist, through Great Expectations. What’s more, some folks just aren’t themselves on videotape. “It’s an unnatural thing for people,” she says. “You’d see the little sweat balls on their upper lips.” But Fullerton is definitely the consumer Ullman courts. “People join GE to meet someone, get married and have a family. That was my intention,” she says.

Victor Ramirez, a contract administrator who lives in Diamond Bar, felt the same way. Friends said he was too good a catch to need the help of an introduction service. But he wanted to get serious about his love life. The bar scene was inefficient. “I don’t want a series of one-night stands,” says Ramirez, who compared the price of a Great Expectations membership to “going out once a week to a nightclub, where I don’t meet anybody.” He concluded that videodating was more cost-effective.

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“You can screen women. And there are plenty,” he says, flipping through a binder. Several weeks later, he is still flipping. “I’ve met 10 different women in 2 1/2 months,” he says. “I’m getting what I want out of it.”

How do you measure the success of such a system? If he fried fast food, Ullman says, he’d count burgers sold. Instead, he counts marriages. Metal on the finger is the ultimate goal, and Ullman employs two full-time coordinators of so-called “Success Stories” to track the nuptials.

Ullman believes that the number of weddings now tops 10,000, but because not all centers have kept continuous records, he can only provide the names of several thousand. He also offers no data on his rate of success; Ullman says he hasn’t kept a total of how many people have joined Great Expectations, so it’s impossible to do the math.

His statistics, or lack of them, may raise a few eyebrows. And then there’s the matter of his own romantic record. Divorced twice, he separated from his third wife last fall. “I’ve been too willing to enter into marriage without carefully evaluating what was really there,” he says. “I’ve been guilty of the following three things: 1) I can change her, 2) She will change or 3) I will change. Only a fool will follow those and I have been a thrice fool.”

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But all that is irrelevant, he insists, to the workings of Great Expectations. “There’s an old line of ‘Doctor, heal thyself.’ (But) is Jeffrey Ullman hypocritical? The answer is no,” he says. “I’m here to stimulate. I’m here to inform. I’m here to educate. But I’m not here to say, ‘Follow me.’ I don’t say that.” And therein lies Ullman’s genius. While he markets himself as a modern-day Cupid (a mural on his boardroom ceiling features the winged cherub, topped with Ullman’s 6-month-old face), he never guarantees love. “Great Expectations is not a ‘just-add-water-for-an-instant-relationship’ service,” warns a guidebook for new members. “Used correctly, it provides wonderful results. Used incorrectly, it may not. . . . It’s up to you what the results will be.”

No, Ullman never says, “Follow me.” He says: Pay me, then do your best. If you fail, you have only yourself to blame.

ULLMAN HAS A WACKY IDEA. LET’S CALL EX-WIFE NUMERO UNO, HE SAYS, punching the number of a San Francisco hospital into his speaker phone. Patrice Chapman, an executive secretary, answers on the first ring.

“Department of surgery,” she says.

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“Yes,” Ullman says, flashing a big grin. “I’m looking for a vasectomy. I know a big dick.”

“I do, too,” Chapman replies, not missing a beat. “Hi, Jeff.”

Chapman and Ullman were college sweethearts. They lived together in a commune in Berkeley, rallied in People’s Park, marched against the Vietnam War. In 1973, when they married in Rough and Ready (a town in California’s Gold Country chosen for its weird name), Ullman arranged to capture his wedding on videotape.

He first experimented with video while studying journalism at UC Berkeley. The technology was new--the portable cameras were unwieldy, the quality was poor. But Ullman says he had a hunch that it could be used to help people solve their problems. Who wouldn’t pay money for that?

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He headed to the golf course. Want to fix that slice, he asked the guys on the green. For $25 an hour, he’d let them scrutinize themselves on instant replay. Tennis players, too, paid to watch themselves swing. The experiments weren’t lucrative--to make a living, Ullman was a traveling teflon salesman. But all the while, he was searching for a video niche.

At a dinner party in 1975, a friend helped him find it. Meeting men, she said, was a drag. Blind dates were too awkward. Chance encounters were too risky. “Well,” Ullman blurted out, “advertise.” And that’s when it hit him. Why not use television, the most powerful advertising medium of all, to troll for mates?

Ullman was raised to be his brother’s keeper, he says, to make a contribution, to do the right thing. As a child growing up in Los Angeles, he had wanted to be a doctor, a civil-rights lawyer, maybe even a congressman. But in video, he says, he found his true calling. “I realized it really wasn’t politics for me,” he says. “It was communication.”

In 1976, with a start-up loan from his parents, Ullman’s Great Expectations was born in a windowless office in Century City. It was to be a family project--in fact, only Ullman’s brother, Dana, never worked for the company. His father, Sandy, a pediatrician, came up with the name. His mother, Estelle, was his first employee--though for the first lean year, she donated her time, mostly working one on one with members. Chapman, his bride, helped with the books.

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But just two years later, as his business grew, Ullman’s marriage fell apart. The problem: She was “a hippie at heart,” Chapman says, “not the least bit competitive or aggressive.” And Ullman was fast becoming a relentless yuppie.

Stephanie Sharp (Member 1280) seemed different, Ullman says. They met when Sharp, a high school teacher, signed up with Great Expectations in 1978. A year later, they began dating. “Stephanie was a woman who accepted my business. I saw in her unadulterated, complete acceptance. I was enamored,” he says. They married on Valentine’s Day, 1981, and overnight, Sharp became more than just a wife. She was a marketer’s dream.

She posed for promotional photos with Ullman. He mentioned her during his increasingly frequent television appearances. “Thousands of couples, including myself, have gotten married through Great Expectations,” he told talk-show host Jane Whitney.

Soon, he would share the airwaves with Geraldo, Merv, Oprah, Phil and Sally, tossing off his spontaneous, over-the-top humor and advice that--while sometimes unnerving in person--made for undeniably snappy television. In 1983, sales of Great Expectations franchises took off. Suddenly, Orange County, Mountain View and San Diego, which had sold in the late ‘70s, were joined by Houston, Portland, Chicago, Seattle and Walnut Creek.

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At the same time, Ullman was experimenting with direct mail. These were “the golden years,” he recalls, when the novelty of receiving unsolicited junk in the mailbox had not yet worn off. “Finally. An intelligent way to meet people,” gushed one of the early mailers, which helped make him a millionaire.

But yet again, Ullman’s financial successes were accompanied by personal problems. He and his mother were at odds. “My mother wanted to put her arms around the company,” he says, recalling how she loved to help pair people up instead of letting the system work on its own. “In many ways, she throttled the company.” After he fired her the second time, they did not speak for more than a year--though they made peace before her death in 1985.

In the meantime, Ullman went to war with his sister, Dyan. By all accounts, she was a great interviewer and saleswoman. Warm and funny, she relaxed Great Expectations members and made them feel at home. But since childhood she had been heavy, and that was something her big brother couldn’t abide. “She was wonderful after you got to know her,” Ullman says. “The problem is, you’d look at her and say, ‘Oh, God!’ ”

Dyan is now a successful businesswoman in her own right; she and her partner, Terri Levine, own Just In Case, a Santa Monica luggage store. A decade has passed since Dyan left Great Expectations, and during that time--including a period when the siblings sought joint counseling--she has come up with a theory about what makes her brother so fierce.

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“Jeffrey doesn’t think about how you’re going to feel. He believes you should take care of your own feelings. He really does want you to be strong,” she says, adding that he has always been this way, even as a child. “Sometimes he seems to be incredibly proud of being an asshole. Jeffrey would call it tough love. It just gets to a point where you say, ‘Do I want to be loved that way?’ ”

Dyan was apparently not the only one asking that question. In 1989, Ullman’s second wife filed for divorce. Sharp alleged, among other things, that Ullman was obsessed with polo--they were members of the prestigious Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. She said Ullman worked too much. She also accused him of physically abusing her, though she now says those charges were not true.

“I hired some cutthroat attorneys that put words in my mouth. That came from attorneys I ended up firing,” she says. Now, Sharp says she and Ullman get along, sharing custody of their son, 10, and daughter, 9. “He’s been a very, very good parent. He enjoys doing kid-like things.”

Ullman sums up his second marriage this way: “I suffer from overconfidence. She suffers from underconfidence.” And to hear him tell it, his third marriage--to Robyn Santemire, whom he met when she worked as his personal assistant--suffers from some of the same problems.

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Ullman thinks he knows the problem with his love relationships. He has been “too entrepreneurial,” he says, applying the same no-holds-barred, full-steam-ahead strategy to romance as he does to business.

“He puts 100% into everything. He invests fully,” Keith Granirer, Great Expectations’ chief financial/ operating officer, says of Ullman’s personal life. He concurs. “I don’t date,” he says. “I marry.” The owner of the world’s biggest dating service doesn’t like dating? “That’s right,” he says. “Margaret Mead was never really an aborigine, and look what she did.”

But if his third marriage ends, Ullman says he is going to change his ways. “If there is a mind-set for the ‘90s, it’s that anything can be accomplished with an intelligent plan,” says one of his recent brochures. And Ullman’s plan is to embrace his own method and put himself on the market. For the first time, he’s going to join Great Expectations.

IN THE MAIL COMES A VIDEOTAPE LABELED “FOR MEN ONLY.” IT IS AN infomercial for single men, hosted by a motivational speaker named Richard Gant. Ullman has just completed his latest infomercial, “Romance, Reality and Results,” so he is eager to get a look at the competition.

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He pops the tape into his office VCR and watches, amused, as Gant delivers his spiel to a group of well-coiffed young men. Suddenly, one man speaks directly to the camera. Gant’s tips, he says, are especially designed for people whose “ great expectations don’t seem to pan out.”

Ullman erupts at the mention of his company’s name. “F--- you! F--- you!” he screams at the television, a big, incredulous smile on his face. “Who dresses you, bozo? Mr. Polyester?”

Ullman lives to be on top. And he works hard at staying there. He spares no expense to investigate even the least-threatening rival. Smaller videodating companies are his primary competitors, and there are more of them than you’d expect, all with optimistic names like Connections or Heart to Heart. But Ullman keeps an eye on all methods of pairing up, from personals listings to computer dating to old-fashioned matchmakers. He’s been known to put on costumes to drop in on competitors. And he has proven himself a formidable and unforgiving opponent.

When VideoDate, one of Ullman’s first rivals, went out of business, he stopped by its empty offices and ripped the nameplate off the door. He keeps the wooden plaque as a trophy. Since then, scores of other Great Expectations knockoffs have failed. And when they do, Ullman is often there to buy them out, merging their membership lists with his own.

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He is driven by more than money. Sure, Ullman lives comfortably in the San Fernando Valley, drives a new Cadillac, takes expensive vacations and collects African art. But his boundless desire to grow bigger makes him reinvest much of what he makes. “His assets are all in this company,” says Granirer, the company’s financial officer. “It’s not about money at all for him. It’s about building this company.”

Ullman has gone so far as to sue the state of New York, seeking to strike down an unusual law that places a $250 ceiling on fees charged by “social-referral” services. The cap has kept Great Expectations out of the Big Apple for too long, Ullman says. “I want a bite.”

But he has learned that growth can be painful. Four years ago, his franchisees staged a revolt. They had paid as much as $55,000 apiece and were forking over as much as 10% of their returns every month. With the recession, increased competition and a hike in direct-mail postage rates, they said, Ullman was demanding too much. They threatened to strike and withhold their royalties.

Ullman was angry. Still, in a departure from his usual combativeness, he opted for compromise, reducing royalty fees to 8% and temporarily rebating 37.5% of that money to an advertising fund that serves all Great Expectations operators.

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Today, he still chafes at the memory. “They’re quick to count my money,” he says of his franchisees. “They paid--are paying--money to be part of a system. To get the best of the best. They forever shall pay.” But he acknowledges that the mutiny forced Great Expectations to grow up: “It has absolutely proven to be a win/win for both sides.”

Since then, he has distanced himself more and more from the daily management of his company, preferring instead to act as Great Expectations’ chief spokesman and marketing guru. When a Santa Monica bank came up with the ad slogan “We handle more zeros than a dating service,” for example, Ullman organized a demonstration on its doorstep, handing out bumper stickers that proclaimed, “I’m no Zero.” (This ploy won him a mention in the Wall Street Journal).

Great Expectations has prompted its share of spoofs. When Johnny Carson received a mailer at his Malibu home, he filled out the questionnaire live on the “Tonight Show.” (“What am I looking for in a mate?” he asked Ed McMahon. “Someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word marriage .”) And TV’s “The Simpsons” invented “Low Expectations Dating Service,” where members admit their flaws on videotape.

Ullman loves the attention. He holds his head high. “Of course, it lends itself to cynicism. Like, ‘Great Expectations are followed by profound despair,’ ” he says. “Well, yeah? So? We don’t say, ‘You pay your money and it’s perfect.’ We’re not a matchmaker.”

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He reserves special scorn for matchmakers. He says their low-tech approach encourages singles to place too much trust in a stranger’s instincts. “It’s relationship fascism,” he says, adding that matchmakers “give you their opinion of what you like. I believe, as a child of the ‘60s, you should have power.”

Not surprisingly, Ullman has locked horns with a few marriage brokers. Christine O’Keefe, for example, a Beverly Hills matchmaker, former Great Expectations executive vice president and author of “How to Successfully Flirt, Date and Mate.” Today, she says Ullman is among her dearest friends. But in 1988, she sued him for, among other things, intentional infliction of emotional distress.

When she worked for Ullman, she says, he heaped such brutal verbal abuse on his employees that she forbade him to visit his own centers. “When he arrived on the scene, some people were just plain out frightened,” she recalls. “He is a terror as the boss. If he ever chooses another occupation, he could apply to be a terrorist and get the job.”

Eventually, O’Keefe too felt the sting of Ullman’s wrath. He refused to give her her last paycheck. “He just said, ‘Sue me,’ ” says O’Keefe, who says Ullman eventually paid her a settlement and then called her to patch things up. “He’ll walk all over you and he won’t even look back to see what he stepped on.”

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But O’Keefe, herself an ambitious businesswoman, still admires Ullman. “I give him credit. He does work his business.”

Helena Amram isn’t so forgiving. The self-described spouse-hunter, who claims to have arranged 8,000 marriages around the world, has loathed Ullman since 1990, when New York state sued Amram for overcharging and engaging in fraudulent business practices. A Manhattan judge later ordered her to refund dissatisfied customers. At the time, TV’s “A Current Affair” aired a story on the lawsuit and asked Ullman for comment. Never one to pull a punch, he called Amram “the Saddam Hussein of dating.”

A year later, at an L.A. trade show, Amram says Ullman added injury to insult by slapping her. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery charges and was sentenced to community service. Still, he says, Amram was asking for it. “She’s less than one foot away from me, she spits at me--a big loogie!--right between the eyes,” he groans.

Amram, a former gunboat sailor in the Israeli army who says her “high-class” clients pay as much as $50,000, maintains that she is too much of a lady to spit. In a civil suit filed in 1992, she claimed that Ullman’s single slap shook loose her dental implants, made her deaf in one ear, damaged her marriage and hurt her business.

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“Who is he to beat me up?” she asks, sitting in her posh office just a stone’s throw from Rodeo Drive. “Jeffrey Ullman will pay, OK?”

Amram has joined forces with Larry Hash, an Anaheim used-car salesman and Great Expectations member who is also suing Ullman. Ullman punched Hash twice in 1991 while Hash was picketing with a sign: “I GOT RIPPED OFF BY GREAT EXPECTATIONS.” (Ullman says the blows came after Hash whacked him with the sign.)

Hash and Amram have picketed Great Expectations together. And Amram has given Hash a free membership in her service--though Hash reports that one recent date she arranged for him was “so far off it was ridiculous.” Ullman cackles when he hears this news. “Larry is a loser in life,” he says, and Amram is “the vilest.” “I’m dealing with nuts,” he says with a shrug.

IT IS LATE SUMMER WHEN the Great Expectations family descends upon the wildflower-strewn mountains of Vail, Colo. The occasion: the annual franchisee conference, a once-a-year pep talk, strategy meeting and gripe session that this year draws about 80 Great Expectations franchise owners and employees from around North America.

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At this four-day meeting, Ullman plans to declare war on bad service. His corporate staff has been preparing presentations for weeks. The Ballistic Service Training Series, for instance, will use a military theme to drive home the importance of serving clients better. (“I’ve got a strobe light and a recording of bombs exploding,” explains the woman who thought up this gimmick. “It’s going to be a major wake-up call.”)

But before the shelling can begin, Ullman has a few things to get off his chest. “Many of you, I think, at times laugh at me in a very dispiriting and mocking way,” he says at the opening session. “ ‘Who’s that egotistical fool?’ ‘Who’s that guy who continues to put his name, picture and face on everything?’ Well, it’s the same guy who gets hate mail. It’s the same guy who’s been spit on by competitors (and) hit over the head by an angry member.”

The franchisee/franchiser relationship, he continues, is very much like a marriage. If both partners don’t pull their weight, there’s bound to be trouble. “We’re at a crossroads right now--at a pivotal place,” he tells his troops. He shifts gears to talk about the future, but he can’t resist a final poke at the past.

“What happened in 1990 set our entire company back,” he says, referring to the franchisee revolt. “It had to happen. I accept that. (But) it changed my life. Jeffrey Ullman is a different franchiser. I’m tougher. I’m wiser. I’m prepared to take Great Expectations into the 21st Century with all of you or with some of you.”

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Suddenly, his tone thaws. He reaches behind him, beaming as he grabs a big, Styrofoam tombstone emblazoned with the letters, “GE R.I.P.” “This could be (the future): GE Rest in Peace,” he says. He means to deliver a cautionary message, but his giddy pride over his homemade prop is getting in the way. He holds up another faux headstone that says: “Negative Images of GE.”

“This is the grave I want to tap-dance on,” he says.

Ullman has been thinking hard about the future, and he’s got some big, big plans. Statistics indicate that by the year 2000, half of all Americans will be single. He wants to reach every last one of them, to come into their homes via cable hookups, to probe into untouched rural markets.

Already, Great Expectations has inspired a syndicated television show, “Love Connection.” (Ullman receives royalties of $9,000 a year). But national sweep has failed to satisfy him. There’s the rest of the romantically undeveloped world to think about. Japan is intriguing. So is Canada.

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And that’s not all. Ullman dreams of expanding beyond singles, introducing his video networking capabilities to industry. “He who has information has power,” he says. “We believe that if you knew who wanted to meet you for purposes of business that would be a very powerful thing.” He doesn’t want to say too much and tip off his competitors. But mark his words--if anyone can pull it off, Great Expectations can.

“We’re a people broker, aren’t we? That’s really what we are.”

Meanwhile, lonely hearts are everywhere, and their pain is timeless. Vows will always be broken. Connections will always fail. The perfect mate will, for some people, always seem a heartbeat away. On that, Ullman can rely.


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