From the 1960’s through the 1990’s, there was a trend in television and movies to portray happy (if sometimes dysfunctional) families and their faithful servants. Of course, nobody questioned how these average income families could afford employees like Hazel, Alice, and the many other live-in cook / maids / referees that often kept their huge families functioning
As an impressionable youth during that period, the uber domestic help in my opinion was the butler. Mr. French not only raised Uncle Bill’s kids in “Family Affair”, but he was the ultimate rich man’s accessory. Elegant, discreet, and impeccably dressed, he could decorate, cook, and clean to create the ultimate seductive lair for the many sophisticated female friends Uncle Bill would bring home. Ditto for Dudley Moore’s faithful Hobson in the “Arthur” films. Hobson upped the anti by bringing the boss Bloody Mary’s to the bathtub, and taking Arthur’s female conquests home the next morning in a Rolls Royce. Of course, two single men living together, with one that was fashionable, and could cook, clean, and was not opposed to scrubbing your back in the tub might now be a bit suspect, but… Along with Benson and Mr. Belvedere, these incredible gentlemen convinced me that as soon as it was financially feasible, I needed a butler!
So last year, even though I am now happily married and no longer in need of a cohort to assist with my sexual adventures, I convinced my wife that it was time to find our own Mr. French. There was some financial justification. When we totaled what we were paying for maid service, visits from a personal chef and car services, and added on the potential convenience factors of having someone to help manage two homes, it seemed to make sense.
Unless you live in one of the largest four or five metro markets, finding an experienced and classically-trained butler is not easy feat. While there are a few domestic-help websites that offer to assist with placement anywhere in the country, we initially chose to work through personal contacts, and were surprised to get two strong candidates.
The choice was easy when we met Jeeves (believe it or not –not his real name but I want to avoid litigation). Jeeves drove up in a meticulously maintained classic Jaguar, looking like he just came straight from Butler central casting. Clad in a finely tailored blue blazer, he was a handsome bald man with a wonderful mustache and a perfect European accent. He had completed his degree in electrical engineering in Europe, and trained as a butler after moving to the US. Jeeves had worked for several famous families, including one Hollywood legend, so we assumed he would find us easy in comparison. We explained to Jeeves that we needed a very versatile employee, and his duties would include cooking, cleaning, driving, and managing the household. He accepted the position with enthusiasm, and we all celebrated what we all hoped would be a great move for all of us.
Jeeves moved in, and at first all went well. I loved rising to find my latte and breakfast just as ordered, and my cocktail waiting when I arrived home. Jeeves carried around a little notebook, and he seemed just as efficient and interesting as Mr. French ever was! And while not an exceptional chef his food was quite good considering all his other duties.
But within a couple weeks the cracks began to show. Despite being an immigrant himself, Jeeves apparently had a bit of a racist bent, and we began to receive complaints from some of the construction workers at the house. He also had quite a temper, and our architect and contractor had consistent run-ins with him over silly issues. Unfortunately their nickname “Little Mussolini” stuck. He also proved to be more uptight than we had anticipated given his past Hollywood employment. Jeeves freaked out when one of our very liberal friends offered him a marijuana joint as a thank you for a lovely dinner.
Our butler experience only lasted about a month before we jointly parted ways with Jeeves, but we learned a few things from the experience that I would encourage anyone in the market for a butler to consider.
- Be very clear about the position. Many butlers are actually house managers – overseeing a staff that would potentially include a cook, maids, gardeners and other domestic help. While we told Jeeves he would be doing it all, I don’t think he comprehended what that entailed until he was in the position.
- Do you want a generalist or “best in class”? Ultimately we decided that we would be happiest with a professional part-time personal chef, a daily cleaning service, and professional car services when we don’t want to drive ourselves. While Mr. French made it look easy to be incredible at everything he did on TV, I suspect it is more difficult to find someone with extensive culinary credentials that also doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets.
- How do you feel about a roommate? Unless you live in a fifty room English manor, you are going to notice another person roaming around the house. Make sure you are compatible.
- You get what you pay for. We have discovered through trial and error that it pays to pay well when you find the right people to work in your home. Hiring the lowest cost option doesn’t make sense when you are entrusting someone with your most private and priceless possessions.