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Yenta, She Ain’t

Yenta, She Ain’t

‘We’re not looking for gold-diggers,” Patti Stanger tells a prospective contestant in the opening minutes of her fast-paced reality show.
But given that the show is called “Millionaire Matchmaker” and features Stanger fixing up highly successful men with less-advantaged women, her indignation may be misplaced.
As in Stanger’s full-time business, men get on the show primarily because they’re rich, while women go through the wringer.
This one’s too old, that one didn’t go to college and the other one has the wrong hair color. “Redheads aren’t seen as the freshest produce on the aisle,” Stanger laments, and so another dejected soul won’t be one of the lucky few who gets to mingle with a millionaire and try to win his favor on cable TV.
Packaging her very successful, California-based service as altruistic takes a lot of effort, and so Stanger only dabbles in the exercise occasionally, saying she’s screening candidates for men whose schedules don’t allow them time to meet Ms. Right.
Most of the time Stanger revels in the shamelessness of it all, noting that she gets between $15,000 and $150,000 from male clients (based on ability to pay) to arrange their dating prospects.
The clients aren’t looking for arm candy for society events or for casual sex, which they can score on their own. Stanger’s job is to find the keepers.
“They want Madonna in the bedroom, Martha Stewart in the kitchen and Mary Poppins in the nursery,” she tells the audience.
Watching “Millionaire Matchmaker,” which premieres on Bravo Tuesday night and runs for nine weeks, viewers quickly see that Stanger doesn’t have time or patience for those who don’t fit the bill, admonishing her staff for the poor selection they were supposed to sift through.
“I don’t need [the clients] coming to their first VIP event with crap like this,” says Stanger in a memorable onscreen moment.
The Short Hills, N.J., native, “46 and proud of it,” fancies herself as a third-generation Jewish matchmaker, and her energy level and willingness to ask tough personal questions match the stereotype. But she comes across onscreen as a cross between Yenta of “Fiddler On The Roof” and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, with a touch of Cruella De Vil.
“My job is to be a headhunter,” she says in a phone interview from California. “I’m not in this to make friends. I’m in it to make money and let the business progress and to satisfy the client 100 percent.”
Mom and grandma followed a more noble tradition of matchmaking, working out of Temple Bnai Abraham in Livingston, N.J., purely for the mitzvah.
“In those days [the ‘50s] if you were divorced you didn’t have a place to go,” Stanger says. “My mother and grandmother were the ones to have the social parties.”
Stanger’s late grandmother, Ann Slavitt, fixed up Stanger’s mother, Rhoda Goldstein, but it didn’t take: she’s now in her third marriage, with the second to Stanger’s father. Mrs. Goldstein is still in the shidduch business, screening candidates for her daughter in Miami Beach, presumably no longer just for the mitzvah.
Stanger herself is in a relationship with a man she’ll identify only as Andy, who’s in the insurance business in California. (Yes, he’s Jewish, and yes, they were fixed up.)
Stanger worked in the fashion industry for 10 years and for a psychic network before starting the Millionaire’s Club nine years ago. As the business took off, she says, she was approached by other reality-minded networks but decided to sign up with Bravo because it gave her more control of the show.
Like any matchmaker, Stanger deals with religious demands and concerns. “I get a lot of Jewish guys who want shiksas that will either convert or not want a Christmas tree. In other words, she shouldn’t have her religion. That’s a tactful way of saying that.”
Does the implication that Jewish women are less attractive offend her? “The first few years it infuriated me. But now I have a Jewish boyfriend who is pretty religious, keeps kosher and who thinks I’m beautiful. So I don’t care what other people think.”
Hopefully her skin will be as thick when it comes to critics of the show.
“Marriage is the most important decision of our lives,” says Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of “Hating Women,” a treatise against contemporary sexism. “Who we choose is the ultimate reflection of our values. To make money the central value is to roll the dice on the possibility of lifelong happiness and betrays our generation’s shocking superficiality.”
Meanwhile, Stanger is working on a Millionairess Club, and has her first client, a Russian-born neurosurgeon. It’s been harder finding female clients, she says. “Women always want to date up, and they never want to pay for it,” she says. “But I’m not going to work my ass off seven days a week for someone who isn’t going to pay.”

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