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For ‘old-school’ New York matchmaker, online dating doesn’t cut it

Marriage broker Dan Field of Field's Exclusive Service

Marriage broker Dan Field of Field's Exclusive Service displays photos of his clients on May 21, 1986. Credit: Newsday / Michael Ach

Editor’s note: This article is a part of series that tells the story behind photographs from Newsday’s archives.

A lot has changed about the dating game since Joe Speyer was in the matchmaking business.

But those changes may not be for the better, he says.

“All the online stuff, people aren’t into that any more,” Speyer said.

Speyer, 48, of Yorktown Heights, often thinks about offering single New Yorkers another choice beyond Tinder and Match.com with what he considers his family’s tried-and-true matchmaking methods. Speyer spent more than a decade running the old-school matchmaking business Field’s Exclusive Service, which he sold off 10 years ago.

“Maybe I should start it one more time,” Speyer said in a recent interview reflecting on his stint as a matchmaker. “There’s a lot of lonely people in New York.”

And when he says “old school” he means it.

There was never an algorithm or matchmaking software — only the trained eye of the Field family. There were no online profiles — only the matchmakers, who interviewed clients and reviewed physical profiles at the Field’s office.

When they made what they considered a good pairing, the man and woman each got a letter from Field’s and the man would then contact the woman to arrange a date, Speyer said.

Clients were encouraged to call each other to arrange the first date — Field’s wouldn’t even provide email addresses of the prospective matches.

The service collected feedback after dates to tailor their approach and find customers a spouse, Speyer said.

Though he doesn’t have numbers, he said many clients found success that way.

Field’s traditional approach to dating brought as much attention as its family legacy. The business was the subject of a number of news stories, including in Newsday, that featured photos of Speyer, his grandfather Dan Field and Dan’s uncle Irving Field at work.

In many cases, Field’s helped parents arrange to set up their children, often without the children’s knowledge. Parents would claim the match was the child of a friend or someone they worked with — not the find of a matchmaker.

“What’s the difference on how you met if you like each other?” Speyer said.

At its height, Speyer said Field’s had nearly 200,000 clients from all over the world, their records written on a typewriter and stored as neat stacks of index cards in filing cabinets.

The business began in 1920s Manhattan with Rabbi Joseph Field, a Russian immigrant with a talent for arranging marriages and relationships in his spare time. He, along with his relative Irving Field, began charging men and women or their parents a fee to find a good romantic match.

They usually looked for similar backgrounds and families.

“Irving was a little bit of a character,” Speyer said. “For him to stand out, he used shoe polish in his hair and his mustache.”

In the 1960s, Irving Field passed the business to his nephew Dan Field.

“No gimmicks,” Dan Field told The New York Times in 1999. “I see the person. A computer, you only press buttons.”

The business faced its share of controversy. People complained about bad matches, and about being told they needed haircuts and makeovers, according to Newsday stories at the time. Field’s Exclusive Service had a brush with the Better Business Bureau and politicians who claimed they were swindling customers. Speyer said such complaints were blown out of proportion.

“Some people, you could put 300 people in front of them, but if they’re not ready to meet someone or they just don’t like them, there’s nothing I can do,” said Speyer, who ran the service with Dan Field from the late 1990s until Field’s death in 2007. “We wouldn’t have been in business for so long if we weren’t doing the right thing.”

When Dan Field died, Speyer said it became harder to manage the level of clients and to offer the same quality of work while juggling life as a new father.

He traded in the work for something less romantic, running a backpack company, but still feels nostalgic for the old family business.

“It was fun and exciting, just working,” Speyer said. “You put someone together and you made them happy. In the Jewish faith that’s a direct line to God.”

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