For Love and Money
By Jeff Berg
In his no-holds-barred book, Cowboy Cupid, about everything from Republicans to Democrats, from cigars to bald men (musing why bald eagles are held in such high esteem, but not bald men), Ivan Thompson has this to say about American men looking for a Mexican wife:
"A lot of American men want Mexican wives. They think the Mexican girls are life-sustained on a giant chile plant, and when they grow little boobs and a little hair down south, they are ripe and ready to be picked by some gringo. Just bring a sack, and pick the one of their choice. All they will be leaving behind is a dried-up chile plant. These men think Mexican girls have no families, friends or commitments like us gringo's do."
For many years, Ivan Thompson was "the Cowboy Cupid" (Cowboy Stupid is the working title of his next book in progress), headquartered in the Deming area. He matched American men with Mexican women, and found himself reaching a certain degree of notoriety via articles in larger but lesser publications than this one, and appearances on network television in Mexico and the US.
But the Internet more or less put this unusual and likable entrepreneur out of business, or at least seriously decreased his matchmaking trade. The dust settled for a while, and Thompson left the Land of Enchantment to become a full-time resident of Mexico, in the village of Madero.
And then, filmmaker Michele Ohayen tracked Thompson down and proposed to him. No, not in that way, but rather in a way that allowed Ohayen to follow his exploits for two years while she made a documentary called Cowboy del Amor.
That film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles this month, won best documentary awards at the 2005 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and at December's Santa Fe Film Festival. And it's now led to the distinct possibility that Thompson will be the subject of a Hollywood feature film, with discussions of same going on at this time.
Born in Tucumcari, NM, some 60-odd years ago, Thompson is rifle-barrel thin and still carries his southwest twang, accompanied by an unsparing wit and sense of humor.
Thompson has just returned from a trip to the dentist in Deming. We meet at the home of a mutual acquaintance between Deming and Thompson's home in Mexico, about 100 miles south of Palomas.
We had actually met several weeks earlier, when he appeared at the Santa Fe Film Festival screening of the documentary. "That went pretty well," he reminds me. "No one threw any tomatoes or eggs at me!"
For this meeting he has something new to brag about. "I just got a new partial plate to show for photos."
And now Thompson's motor is running full bore.
Speaking of the documentary, he says, "We are getting a lot more mileage out of this than we thought. There is a feature film in the works, and I have to go to New York for an appearance, too."
Underwhelmed by that city, he adds, "I bought
a horse in New York once, and was not that impressed."
Thompson's circuitous route to places like New York City and Hollywood and to something like fame arose from his own effort to find a new wife. In 1989, he moved to Anthony, NM, to manage a horse ranch. Much of his non-matchmaking life involves horses, and, in particular, racehorses.
"I was divorced and a little disgusted with American women," he recalls. "So, after a few weeks, I decided to run an ad in a Juarez newspaper, saying that a gringo was looking for a Mexican wife."
This was on the advice of a Mexican co-worker.
Thompson felt that a Mexican bride might be a bit more the type of woman he wanted to be paired with, since it was his notion that Mexican women are a bit easier to get along with than American women.
In his book Thompson says he thought there would be "5,000 peons" rushing the border for a chance to marry an American, but he rather miscalculated: "There were a lot of peons rushing the border, but it had nothing to do with my ad."
Eventually, however, about 80 women responded, and most were middle-class or upper-middle-class women. It had not really occurred to Thompson that the poor women probably could not read the paper, let alone afford it.
But from there came the idea that if this method of trying to find a wife worked for him, it would probably work for others, especially if he was the designated matchmaker. "I thought it would be a real good idea."
As Thompson tells it in Cowboy Cupid: "Well, I says to myself, 'Self, finding Mexican wives for American men will make a good business because half of the men in the US are divorced and a great percentage of the other half are gonna be.'"
But Thompson seemed to have forgotten one rather important thing: the language barrier. A co-worker from the horse ranch came to the rescue. Mario became his translator and ally, and also helped Thompson to learn the culture of Mexico.
"I used to be pretty smart," Thompson adds, "before the
oil boom ended in 1980." Not only did he lose a pile of pesos, he
also claims that "it sucked half my brain out." Good thing
Mario was there.
Thompson's hopes for success at matchmaking were initially high. "At first, I thought I would be the New Age version of a country Einstein," he says, adding sadly, "I would have been better off financially picking up aluminum cans or selling cemetery plots for Pet Rocks!"
He ran some ads in various publications, and was soon ready to go across the border to try to start teaming folks up. He and Mario went over the border from El Paso, and soon hooked up with a cab driver who was part bloodhound, Carlos. The cab driver was able to ferret out houses and addresses, and was not a man to give up.
After a while, Thompson stopped chasing around trying to find the women that he was to interview, and began having them meet him at a restaurant called El Coyote Invalido. "A restaurant is a good place to meet because you sure can get hungry waiting for some of them to show up. Promptness was not their long suit."
One of the publications he ran an ad in was called The Picture Post, which was based in Norman, Okla., a former home of Thompson's. The publication was mostly a vehicle to sell vehicles, but Thompson thought a few photos of attractive Mexican women looking for spouses sprinkled among the pictures of El Caminos and Renaults might gather a bit of attention.
Success! He was soon doing as many as six introductions at once, charging $250 for his services. That fee was later raised to $350, since he was barely covering his expenses.
"I would tell them the price is this much, and it's double if you drink," he says.
About this time, Western re-enactor and entrepreneur R.L. Curtin moved to the area, and shared quarters with Thompson. It should be no surprise that Ivan Thompson is a good friend of R.L. Curtin (see the November 2005 Desert Exposure for more on the latter). They are certainly cut from nearly the same mold.
Curtin began to help out, using his "rusty" Spanish to help with the introductions.
Thompson says that at one introduction, "this Canadian guy asked R.L. to ask this woman if she can sew. Curtin translated that to the woman as 'He (the client) wants to buy you a new sewing machine.'" Thompson shakes his head at this memory.
"After awhile," he goes on, "I was doing fiestas in Juarez, and I would have 10-12 guys with me. I needed a herding dog with me sometimes, because they would be scattered all over the place."
The fiestas would be get-togethers of men, women and interpreters. He provided snacks, beverages and light music, and tried to create a warm but festive and informal atmosphere.
He also arranged meetings in El Paso, using the International Hotel. The hotel has been closed for some time now, but back then it was busy and visible from everywhere in the city.
"I had 80 men with me one time, and probably 150 women. The men would complain that the women weren't pretty enough." The women in turn often did not understand that sometimes the men were looking for someone thinner. Thompson also always seemed to have a shortage of men, which the women moaned about.
Nor were the men always realistic about the kind of wife they were looking for. "A lot of older men tell me they want a young, thin, pretty gal who has no children and doesn't want any. I refer those men to (magician) David Copperfield. I know if he can make a jet airplane disappear, he won't have any trouble filling their orders."
Around the same time that the International Hotel closed, the ranch
he was living on also shut down, and he moved to Columbus. This also
put an end to the fiestas.
Thompson relates a few more stories about some of his more unusual clients. "I got a letter from a doctor in Switzerland, who had heard about me from a friend in Houston. He was looking for a second wife, and that was fine with his current one."
Perhaps bigamy is OK in Switzerland.
Another time Thompson paired a man from Washington state with a wife. Matched, they headed for the groom's home in the Pacific Northwest. "He was 50, and she was 25. I came home one day, and there is this guy's car in the driveway. The man says the further we drove, the more she cried. She didn't know the world was 'that big'."
It would seem likely that many of Thompson's gentlemen clients would be in some way, emotionally unstable, shall we say. Most times that was true, but of course, Thompson has another yarn to hook onto that question.
"I never had a problem with Mexican men, and with my customers, I was very lucky, since I was able to stop most of the horse's rears before they came here. It got so that I could sniff out the nuts on the telephone."
However. . .
"There was one guy from Texas who wore this red hat. He pulls into Anthony horse ranch. I had a meeting set up in Valito (Mexico) for him with some women from Chihuahua. I told him to get a room at the Motel 6 on Mesa Street, and wait for me there. He goes, comes back, and says he got a room at a Motel 6 that was closer to the border."
Things got worse from there.
"Later, a Mexican calls me from Chihuahua, and says that he's got this feller there with him, and that he (the client) wants the names and addresses of the women! He had gone to Chihuahua to try and find them himself."
Tempers flared. "The customer says, 'Give me the women's names and addresses, or I'm going to kill you, you SOB!'" Thompson relates. "I called the sheriff."
Another time, Thompson had a client in his office. In those days he kept big notebooks that contained pictures and a bit of information on a number of prospective brides. "He's looking through the books, and he looks at this one picture and yells, 'AAAAAH! There's my wife!'" Apparently, it was the man's current spouse.
For awhile, Thompson was also taking wannabe husbands
to Honduras to look for brides, blushing or otherwise. "I
went there eight times. The women were more dependable. In Mexico,
35 of 100 women will show up for meetings, and that soon weaned me
of being on time."
In the documentary film, Thompson works on introducing three bachelors to new brides. All have been married before to American women, and have more or less adopted the attitude that Thompson has—namely that they were mistreated in some way by their past wives.
Escorted by Thompson to Mexico, director Ohayen, whose previous documentaries have won numerous awards, follows the Cowboy Cupid and his customers on their various adventures. Language notwithstanding, the men experience a mixture of victory and defeat, but it is certainly not because Thompson fails to provide the services he has offered.
The sold-out screening at the Santa Fe Film Festival brought Thompson a standing ovation. It also led to a brief meeting with two shy and gentle olive-skinned women who quietly asked him after the question-and-answer session to "please find us husbands."
There is hope that another screening will take place sometime soon at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, with Ivan Thompson as a special guest. He has already confirmed that he would be on hand; now it is just a matter of getting permission to screen the film (call 522-0286 for updates).
Just don't look for a Mrs. Ivan Thompson to be by his side. Sure, you'd think that Thompson himself, after hundreds of successful introductions, would be happily married himself.
He was first married to, of course, an American belle for 17 years, and later to a charming Mexican woman, Chayo, who remains Thompson's friend (she got too "Americanized," he says). But now Thompson is trawling for a new woman for his life.
"I've had a white wife, had a brown one, and now I've got my eye
on a nice black lady," he says. "But hell, I'd consider anyone
as long as they don't come from outer space."