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If You’re Having a Party, Let the Butler Do It

April 23, 1989

PARMA, Ohio (AP) _ A woman who went all the way to England trying to find a butler - and then found him much too stuffy for her American ways - has started a butler school.

″When we looked into the idea, we didn’t know exactly what a butler was. I talked to a butler from England, but he was overbearing and hard to get along with,″ said Julia Rice, founder of the Cambridge School for the American Butler. ″There’s a big difference between cultures, between tone and approach.″

Relying heavily on the writings of etiquette experts like Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt, and a 1939 U.S. Department of Labor job description, Ms. Rice decided to develop her own course of study geared to American needs and a part-time market. She says it’s the only one of its kind in the country.

Ms. Rice said she tailored the course to meet the needs of modern American households that no longer maintain large staffs or serve seven-course meals.

The school graduated its first class of eight butlers in January. They now work for Ms. Rice’s Butler Exchange, which offers tuxedo-clad butlers at $25 an hour, she said. Ms. Rice has not yet scheduled another term for the three- day course, held on Saturdays.

″People like the idea of picking up a butler. It’s like a fantasy,″ Ms. Rice said. ″You can get one and then let him go.″

Unlike traditional butlers who lived in large homes and were in charge of other household staff members, butlers from Butler Exchange work on a daily basis, usually at parties where they greet and announce guests, serve food and drinks and clean up afterward, Ms. Rice said.

Sim O’Dell, 57, a Cleveland native, said he decided to become a butler after retiring to Cleveland from sales jobs on the East Coast where employment was difficult to find at his age.

O’Dell said his sales work, which took him to top hotels in Europe and the United States, prepared him for butler work. He was judged top student in the class and Ms. Rice said she hired him as corporate butler to oversee the butler school and business.

″You have to develop a certain attitude,″ O’Dell said. ″The butler is an extension of the family, and his main concern must be the family.″

The course includes how to mix drinks, serve dinner, wear a tuxedo and white gloves properly and make the host and hostess feel warm and secure, O’Dell said.

Fred Antil, director of career planning at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, said there is a growing need for butlers in the United States.

″I think the market is very strong. A lot of wealthy families would love to have someone who can manage their households,″ Antil said.

He said he had heard there were other American butler schools but did not know where they are. ″There are some schools popping up. How good they are, I don’t know,″ he said.

At least one other organization, the Lancaster Hotel in Houston, sporadically offers a three-week condensed course for traditional butler training. The course is offered in conjunction with England’s Ivor Spencer School of Butler Administration and Housekeeping, said Judith Hillmann, assistant concierge at the hotel.

So far, Butler Exchange has placed butlers on daily jobs only in the Cleveland area, but Ms. Rice said she is in contact with one family seeking a full-time butler and chauffeur.

″We are thinking about going national. We’ll be targeting two areas, Palm Beach and Beverly Hills,″ Ms. Rice said. ″People are looking for the image, the aura, elegance for a couple of hours.″

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