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The Great Escape Caper: The Butlers Did It

March 01, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

It's one thing to hear that the fall of the British pound has put that country's capital on the run; but now that most venerable of British institutions, its domestic staffs--why, they want out too.

Just goes to show how times have changed. Used to be a position in the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace would be the goal of a lifetime; the head butler for someone like Lord and Lady Spencer (Princess Diana's folks) would just about die in the job before he'd leave.

Some local domestic placement agencies in recent months, however, have reported receiving a slew of inquiries from Buckingham Palace footmen just itching to get to the United States. The Spencers' former butler is already here, working at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City. The butler at Brook's Club, that exclusive gentlemen's club on St. James Street in London, left that position three years ago to form the English Butler Service in the United States and, in the course of getting that business going, worked for an Arab prince here.

The lure is money. It's also a yen for travel and adventure. Seems many of the people who are entering domestic service these days figure it's a great way to see the world. And that's something else: The butlers who are coming to the United States are of a different breed from those who traditionally entered domestic service.

The Dedication of a Law Student

This new breed of butler trains and pursues his career with the dedication and finesse of a law student angling for a partnership in a top law firm. What's more, occasionally this new breed of butler is more pedigreed than his employer.

The classic example is Reimar Constitin Heinrich Kurt Franciskus von Alvensleben zu Eichenbarleben, also known as Reili. Son of a German nobleman whose lineage is among the oldest in the world, Zu Eichenbarleben spent the pre-World War II years in castles in the Berlin and Frankfurt area and Switzerland. All were lost during the war years, the price his father paid, says Zu Eichenbarleben, for helping his Jewish friends leave Germany. Suddenly broke, his father, "who never understood money" and had only occupied himself as a hobbyist poet and painter, found himself in the position of having to make a living. He sold his antiques, worked as a gardener and as his children grew up, they found jobs too. Zu Eichenbarleben, 63, says he must have tried 10 different jobs before he got into the travel business, conducting exclusive tours all over the world. Five years ago, he decided he wanted to settle in Southern California and he liked the suggestion of Gregory Peck's former wife, Greta (whom he'd met on a tour), to become a butler.

"After all," he says, "I knew how to do it. I'd seen butlers so much as a child."

Was he bothered by the irony of his position? "No, I was always much more at ease with the help and I detest snobbism."

Zu Eichenbarleben currently works as a butler-chef for a family in Beverly Hills.

Then there's Karl Ackermann. German-born, his parents in real estate and farming, he's been training for a career in service since he was 16. Now 28, his resume includes positions as assistant head waiter at the Four Seasons Hotel in Munich, where he met Lord and Lady Spencer, who subsequently hired him as a footman at their home at Althorp, England. He accepted the position, he says, to perfect his English. He left after several years for jobs in hotels in West Germany and Johannesburg, South Africa, then returned to the Spencers in 1982 as head butler. In 1984 he left the Spencers' employ again, this time to head the butler service at the newly opened Sheraton Premiere Hotel at Universal City. The Spencers, he said, expected as much.

"When I left, they understood why, and I could go back without any problem. But I chose this profession to get around. One of my life's ambitions has been to see the U.S., to find out about American mentality."

Christopher Ely and Paul Antony Richards, both 22, say they saw Buckingham Palace as the ultimate training ground. But after several years as footmen, "I'd gotten very stagnant at the palace," Ely said. "I wanted to start using my brain more. I'd had enough laying tables. Everything had become very mechanical." Ely came to the United States on a holiday and found a job working as a butler-valet with a New York family.

Richards, who only a few weeks ago took a similar job in New York, sees leaving Buckingham Palace as "a natural progression, a way of bettering myself."

As for coming to the United States, "well, there's no language barrier," he said. But there are some other advantages.

Come here and work, says Matthew Riley, the former Brooks Club butler now working in San Diego, and you can count on making about twice as much as you did England. Figure about $1,500 a month to start, according to Robert Mann of the Sandra Taylor Agency in Beverly Hills, which specializes in placing domestic help.

'Sometimes They Throw in a Car

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