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Secrets of the Seducer

The real-life man behind the film 'The Tao of Steve' uses his own brand of Eastern philosophy to get dates . . . lots of them. The relationship part has been a bit tougher.


SANTA FE — Duncan North says it all began 20 years ago in a Georgetown fern bar. He and his companions, 16-year-olds with fake IDs, were on the make. While the others were tall, athletic and handsome, however, North was an overweight student of Eastern philosophy who yearned to be cool. He wanted to be Steve McQueen, Steve Austin and Steve McGarrett rolled into one--a self-contained hero who always got the girl without trying. Whenever he saw a girl he liked, he'd introduce himself as Steve.

As North tells the story, a beautiful girl walked into the bar. His friends tried "to pick her up with all the usual one-liner things, like, 'You're pretty.' 'You have nice hair.' 'You smell good.' 'You're smart.' Laughing at everything she said." He realized he didn't have a chance.

Then, he decided to practice the Taoist concept of desire-lessness--not trying to make something happen (so that, paradoxically, it might happen later.) "They started talking about politics," he says. "This woman said something I really disagreed with, so I argued with her. I was funny and playful, but I made some accurate, fact-driven point about politics. . . . Then, I left to go outside and smoke a cigarette."

A few minutes later, the girl followed him outside and gave him her phone number.

To the 16-year-old, it was as if he were Newton and an apple had fallen on his head. Something momentous had just occurred, but what? He analyzed the events, then jotted down what would become his rules for dating, a unique blend of spirituality and manipulation he calls the Tao of Steve--a guide that would lead to many successes, in the short term.

Basically, the theory dictates that to be successful with women, men must do three things: rid themselves of desire, exhibit excellence and then retreat. When he tried the theory out later, it worked, he says, every single time.

North's love life might have remained his own business were it not for filmmaker sisters Jenniphr and Greer Goodman, friends who used his life and theory as the basis for an independent film, "The Tao of Steve," a crowd tickler at this year's Sundance Film Festival and one whose popularity is growing by word of mouth. North helped on the screenplay, writing himself into the fictional protagonist, an overweight, pot-smoking, motorcycle-riding slacker named Dex, who works as a part-time kindergarten teacher in Santa Fe, and pursues women, including a friend's wife, with astonishing success.

North says the movie is, oh, maybe 86% true.

His perceived powers of seduction have attracted national attention. In just the past few weeks, he's started writing a book and advice columns in a local paper and on the Internet ("Ask Duncan" peppered with references to Oedipus, Plato, Aldous Huxley and Oscar Wilde. Playboy online has published his secrets of "scoring with smart chicks," complete with a kind of Cliff's Notes on Socrates, Kant and Nietzsche to get guys started. He is negotiating with 20th Century Fox for a television show. He has an agent.

"It would be great to have all this attention for pulling children out of a burning building. But getting all this attention for following my selfish desires is a mixed bag," says North. He warns potential followers to take his advice with a shovel of salt.

Nevertheless, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of social scientists and the image makers of Hollywood, it is clear that many women are looking for more than just a sculpted body or a bank account. "Whatever it is, he's got it," Jenniphr Goodman says.

Goodman says she observed his dating techniques up close in the mid-1990s, when she and her husband rented a room from North in Santa Fe. "He was the most successful charmer of women I'd ever met." According to Goodman, one woman he met had previously dated only high-powered rock stars and doctors. North, then teaching kindergarten, confided to Goodman, "I think she digs me." She laughed, "Give it up." Within a month, the woman had succumbed to his charms.

Another time, North found himself competing with his roommate, a muscular, chiseled-jaw young man, for the affections of a Vargas girl look-alike. "She's out of your league," the roommate said. Naturally, North got the girl. They had a two-year relationship. The stories go on and on.

"Another friend who even portrayed herself as a fatist"--someone who discriminates on the basis of weight--"ended up in Duncan's lap, chasing him, blah blah blah," Goodman said. He has dated a "significant percentage" of the women in Santa Fe, a town of 70,000, he says. The relationships do not always end well, and some do not end when they should. One husband demanded North quit dating his wife; jealous boyfriends have been known to accost him at his door.

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