steven ivory

Steven Ivory

*Whatever you do, don’t make any references to Marvin Kingsland using such terms as “procurer” or the infinitely unacceptable “pimp.” Not even in jest.  The mere implication raises his dander. “Would you refer to a waiter or a cab driver as a servant?” he asks rhetorically.  “I’m a businessman.”

And what a business it is.  Kingsland is  CEO of  Mr. Right Now, Inc. (MRNI).  For almost ten years now,  the privately held Dallas-based  firm  has represented men who, for a fee,  make themselves available to women for personal and/or professional activities.

I know what you’re thinking. Shame on you. This is not about sex.  Mr. Right Now is strictly about the business of appearances.

“You’d be surprised at the number of women who want to have a man around just for the sake of how it looks,” says the affable, mild-mannered Kingsland.  Tall, impeccable in a gray suit and mostly silver-haired, the 61 year-old entrepreneur strikes a distinguished pose. Think a “Dynasty” era John Forsythe or  a younger version of TV game show legend Bob Barker.  “Some women who aren’t married or otherwise involved [with a man] only want  a man’s presence  on certain occasions.”

Like when she’s attending a wedding–or going to the movies, going to see a play or out to eat–but doesn’t want to go with a girlfriend and feels uncomfortable going alone.  Or the professional event where she might find it    advantageous to be in the company of a man.

According to Kingsland,  Mr. Right Now’s  core female client is aged between 30 and 65 and is generally professional, but not exclusively so.  She comes from every cultural background and is not the person most people would assume she is because she uses his service.

“She can  get  dates,” Kingsland  says of his main customer.  “Problem is, she’s tired of meeting  ‘good guys’  who turn out to be bad apples–men who misrepresent themselves.  She may or may not be done with men in the romantic sense.  In the meantime, she utilizes [men] the way she utilizes her washer or her car.”

Or her computer.  In fact, the Apple Store  at Los Angeles’ Beverly Center mall is where I happened upon Kingsland,  both of us  perusing lap tops.  He asked me what I used mine for; when he told me what he did with his, I was intrigued.  A week later, in a West L.A. office he used when in town,  Kingsland shared with me some details of his unusual enterprise.

The seed  was planted early 2003 in Las Vegas, where  Kingsland and his wife Maureen,  restaurateurs and owners of a small insurance firm, resided at the time.  A cousin of Maureen’s, in town for a business convention, asked Marvin Kingsland if he’d  join  her  at  her  company’s dinner.  “She wasn’t afraid to go solo,” he says, “but the rest of upper management was married and she didn’t want to be the only single woman there.  My presence also kept some of  her tipsy coworkers off her.”

Later,  the cousin and the Kingslands joked about the idea of  Mr. Kingsland “renting” himself to single women as their “partner.” The laughing    stopped a couple months later, when  the cousin called and asked Kingsland if he wouldn’t mind accompanying two of her fellow female execs in Vegas to a  business  event.  Says Kingsland, “Maureen,  the most understanding woman in the world, said to me, ‘Somewhere in this is a real business.’”

Almost a decade later, Mr. Right Now–based in Dallas, where the Kingslands now live–operates, according to Mr. Kingsland, in some sixteen states.  He won’t say which ones.  “The people who use us know how to reach us.  A hallmark of our service is  discretion and illusion.”

Kingsland says he owes the success of  Mr. Right Now in large part  to the changing times. Indeed, they are. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, married couples now represent 48 percent of all U.S. households,   down from 52 percent in the last Census.

The fast-growing older population is more likely to be divorced or widowed later in life, and 20-somethings-for reasons that  include unemployment fears, a  growing labor market for women, and not having kids at a young age–are putting off marriage for longer periods.  “Somewhere, among those women is potential business,” says Kingsland.”

He refused to explain  how  his client and Mr. Right Now connect. Remarkably, the firm has no Internet  presence.  Somehow, a client chooses a man from a collection of photos and background info of the type of man she requests.

Kingsland maintains the company’s unique service  is  nationally marketed  unobtrusively through select women’s salons, health spas, beauty resorts, book clubs and oddly enough, some churches.  “There’s the Christian lady  uninterested in  a relationship,” says Kingsland,  “who might want male companionship  for a day or an evening without the pressure that comes with dating.”

Regarding his men for hire, Kingsland insists he’s got a  substantial pool.  There’s a silver-haired, retired CEO of a fortune 500 company;  30-something law enforcement types;  a former Olympic swimmer, an airline pilot, several firemen and a couple of plumbers.

“I’ve got big men,  little men, medium sized men, white men, black men, Native Americans.  I got a Latin Nerd. A couple of guys from the Ukraine. I’ve got Average Joe; your metrosexual.   We got young guys for women who want to look like cougars.   I got a fella who used to play Arena football.  I got men.”

The men find  Kingsland  largely through the recommendation of other men at the service. Sometimes he’ll stop a guy on the street  “who seems to have it together” and invite him to consider  joining Mr. Right Now.

“This is not a full time job; it’s something they can do in their leisure.” All are required to be single, as in not married. Most don’t survive the company’s ferocious background check. “We background check our female clients, too,” says Kingsland.  “Crazy comes in both genders.”

And there is absolutely no sex.   Both parties sign contracts agreeing that  transactions are casual and that  neither  will attempt to form liaisons outside of  the written agreements. Hand holding and hugs are figured into some contracts for the sake of appearance.

Why would  a guy sign up to do something like this? “Ego,” says Kingsland.   “These men like attention.  And they don’t have to worry whether they’re enough for the woman they’re out with-she CHOSE him.”

There’s also the money.  The men are hired by the hour for a minimum of three hours. Kingsland wouldn’t talk rates,  but admits some men earn more than others.  He points to a member of the Mr. Right Now pool who recently learned to ball room dance. “That’s a marketable skill. I can get more for him.”

I ask him if he ever meets anyone who thinks this is creepy. He bristles.  “The online dating rage, to me, that’s  creepy. Meeting murderers on Craig’s List. Facebook-that’s scary to me.  They’re  advertising  peter  enhancers on  TV. That’s just plain nasty.  What I’m offering is an option for women to be  with men  that is legal, safe  and sincere.  I’m saying, ‘Can’t find Mr. Right? Come meet  Mr. Right Now.'”

Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love  (Simon & Schuster),  has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via STEVRIVORY@AOL.COM