"Updated" Story of Ted Weisgal and Leisure Learning Unlimited
Written by Rick Archer
I wrote my first story about Ted in
2002. You can find it further below.
Unfortunately our paths parted in
April 2010 when I sold my dance studio SSQQ to another man.
I went into semi-retirement and kept a low profile for the
next two years. However, I did raise an eyebrow when I
noticed that my successor and Ted had parted ways almost
immediately after the sale of the studio.
The details of that split are murky,
but it was none of my business. I shrugged my
shoulders. At that point, there was a feeding frenzy
in the Houston dance community to acquire a business
relationship with Leisure Learning. I stayed out of
it. I was retired.
However, when I came out of retirement
in 2012, I wasted no time restoring our previous
relationship. Here is the 2012 story.
IT FEELS SO GOOD
Written by Rick Archer,
I am happy, thrilled, tickled pink, elated... whatever you want to
call it... to report that an old friend of mine has signed on board
to help launch Fundance Houston towards its destiny.
Last week I wrote to announce that I have been reunited with my
friends Mario Robau and Donn DeGeorge in a three-way alliance at
Melody Club starting in September.
The very next day after Mario made his announcement last Tuesday, I
made a beeline to recruit the one man most instrumental for my
success during my years at SSQQ-Bissonnet. I threw myself at his
feet and begged him to take me back. I may have even wept a little.
That's how important this guy is.
I am pleased to announce that I am reunited with my long-time friend
Ted Weisgal. Ted is the owner of Leisure Learning Unlimited. As you
probably already know, Leisure Learning makes a business out of
marketing adult education courses. Dance lessons are just a small
part of this amazing operation. Be sure to pick up a schedule the
next time you visit Melody Club or, better yet, just visit the LLU
website and see for yourself.
Many of you have probably never heard of Ted. Unlike me who can't
shut up, Ted is more the behind-the-scenes strong silent type.
However, I would venture to say that no other person in Houston has
been more important to my career than Ted Weisgal. Operating as my
business partner, Ted helped SSQQ become a very famous dance studio
Am I grateful? Oh my goodness, yes. Leisure Learning will down as
the cornerstone of the success of SSQQ-Bissonnet when I get around
to writing the book.
But you don't have to wait for the book. I will share the story with
TED, MY FRIEND DONNA
Strange as it might seem, both Ted and I got our start thanks to the
Back in 1978 I worked for a man named Lance Stevens, eponymous owner
of Stevens of Hollywood. Mr. Stevens was a master at Whip and
Ballroom, but absolutely detested Disco music. When Saturday Night
Fever hit, Mr. Stevens hired me specifically to teach Disco classes
because he didn't want to be anywhere near that music. His first
instruction to me was to close the door and don't even think about
playing the music loud.
One Saturday afternoon in June I showed up at the studio early for a
private lesson. At the time, I had been teaching for all of six
months. I didn't know much about the dance business, so naturally
whenever I wasn't busy I hung around the studio to watch Mr. Stevens
Mr. Stevens was teaching a Country-Western crash course in the main
ballroom. With time to kill, I stood and watched as he taught the
pre-Urban Cowboy step-touch, step-touch walk-walk belly rubbin'
Twostep. I grimaced as I watched. It was the old style Twostep with
the man's arm wrapped around the woman's neck and the woman's finger
in the man's belt loop. Today many Western dancers resemble elite
Ballroom dancers, but back then it was pretty ugly. Believe me,
Western dancing has come a long way in the past 30 years.
As I watched Mr. Stevens teach his class, I noticed a woman standing
about 10 feet away staring daggers at my boss. As she observed the
class, she was obviously unhappy about something.
I knew what she was upset about. Mr. Stevens had just insulted a
woman in his class.
I respected Mr. Stevens a great deal for his knowledge and for
creating his studio, but he might actually have been the grouchiest
dance instructor I ever met. His teaching style was laced with
hostility. In particular, Mr. Stevens liked humor that embarrassed
Considering teaching dance is a people business, Mr. Stevens' rough
personality was ill-suited for his profession. He could be very
sarcastic. I am sarcastic too, but I do my best to make sure my
jokes aren't too vicious. Not Mr. Stevens. When Mr. Stevens picked
on you, it stung a bit. His jokes sometimes felt like put-downs.
Some lady had stumbled in class while learning the Cotton Eyed Joe.
Mr. Stevens came over and moved a man on either side of her and
placed her arms on their shoulders for balance. "Here," he said to
the men, "Make sure you keep her standing up." He meant it as a
joke, but no one laughed.
The woman standing near me shook her head in disgust. Unable to
control her anger, she turned and stared at me. I can still
remember the first thing she said, "Is he always this mean?"
I smiled ruefully and nodded yes. It was a stupid thing to do on my
part. I had no idea who this woman was and she probably could have
gotten me fired for admitting what a grouch the guy was. However I
sensed that this stranger wasn't a big fan of Mr. Stevens, so I
wasn't taking much of a risk. Unfortunately he had directed his
sarcasm at me enough times that I wasn't going to cover for him.
The woman turned back and watched some more. Mr. Stevens always
thought he was being funny, but to many people he seemed gruff and
condescending. Soon she was fuming again. So she turned to me to
complain again. I said something that made her laugh and she cheered
up a little. I think she liked our conspiracy.
Now this lady looked at me directly. I could see she was sizing me
up. She decided to introduce herself.
"My name is Donna. I run an organization called the 'Class
Factory'. Are you one of the teachers here?"
I said, "Yes."
Then she asked me if I taught Country-Western. I suppose I could
have had Mr. Stevens' class on the spot. Only one problem...
at the time, I hated Western music and dancing with a passion!
"No", I told her. "I don't have a clue how to teach Western
Donna frowned. This wasn't the answer she wanted. She was definitely
uncomfortable with Mr. Stevens' sense of humor.
Now she grew quiet and began to watch Mr. Stevens teach some more.
Meanwhile I had grown curious about this woman so I asked a couple
questions about the Class Factory. I explained that I had never
heard of the Class Factory.
Donna fished in her purse and handed me a catalogue. I looked
through it and noticed it contained adult education classes. Then I
realized her organization was practically brand new. In fact, the
Class Factory was so new that I think Donna was at Stevens of
Hollywood that day to make sure her first class with Mr. Stevens was
going okay. She definitely did not like what she saw.
Then Donna broke the silence. She said she was looking for
instructors. She asked me if I would consider teaching a dance
class. My eyes grew wide. Donna didn't know a thing about me, yet
here she was offering me a teaching job based on the fact that I
agreed my boss had made a couple inappropriate remarks. Pretty
strange job qualification.
I admitted again I didn't have a clue about C&W. But I had an idea -
maybe I could teach a Disco class for her. The Saturday Night
Fever surge was just getting started. Donna liked that
idea a lot and accepted my idea on the spot.
Starting with Donna's next schedule, I began to teach Disco classes
for the Class Factory in mid-1978.
This was a very lucky break for me. I sometimes call it my "Lana
Turner" moment... Lana Turner of course was 'discovered' as she
sipped a coke at the counter of a local Hollywood coffee shop.
Considering I don't have Lana Turner's looks, I cannot imagine what
I did to deserve this kind of opportunity. However I wasn't stupid.
The door opened and I walked through it.
Disco was just getting starting when I met Donna, yet it would soon
bring me countless new students. My Class Factory students would
help me get started as an independent instructor. I may not have
been the greatest dancer, but I was a fairly good teacher and
definitely enthusiastic. I might add I was polite to my students.
Funny how much they liked that.
Donna's program jump-started my career. It was an extraordinary
break for me. You can easily understand why I felt so grateful to
MY CLASS FACTORY
SUCCESS CREATES A RIFT WITH MY BOSS
When Donna asked me to teach, I needed a place to hold my classes.
So I asked Mr. Stevens if I could rent a room. He didn't even give
it a second thought. He shrugged and said, "Sure. $15 an hour. Keep
the music down." Then he walked away.
Just like that, Mr. Stevens had given me permission to work for
myself in HIS studio.
Bad move on his part, incredible break for me. I hate to say it, but
I think he underestimated me.
Everyone works a lot harder for themselves than they work for other
people. I was no exception. These were MY STUDENTS. I worked like a
dog. I put the hustle in doing the "Hustle".
For the next year and a half I worked for Mr. Stevens and for myself
under the same roof. At the end of that time, thanks to Class
Factory and my hard work, I had a larger program than Mr. Stevens.
It was absurd, but it was true. The highly ambitious upstart had
somehow created a bigger program than the owner in his own studio.
This situation was absolutely intolerable to Mr. Stevens. It was
preposterous to think a relatively untrained novice dance instructor
like me had more students than he did. Well, come to think of it, I
didn't blame him one bit for being upset. I grasped every nuance of
the strange situation - it was weird! However, let that be a lesson
to everyone - it never hurts to be nice to the people who keep you
Finally in September 1980, Mr. Stevens couldn't take this daily
insult any more so he told me to get out. That's the reason I landed
over at Bissonnet.
When I started my own dance program, I vowed I would never make the
same mistake as my boss had. It would be insanity to let someone
work for themselves at my own studio!
Consequently I always insisted my instructors work exclusively for
SSQQ and no one else. That was the rule and I always stuck to my
guns. No exceptions.
This got awkward at times. One year I discovered two of my
instructors were also helping out at the D'Amico studio without
bothering to tell me. I don't think they were doing anything to hurt
my studio, but I asked them to choose nevertheless... I lost. It was
tough to lose them; they were good instructors. But I would not
tolerate divided loyalties.
Another time the same thing happened with my best East Coast Swing
instructor. I didn't bother asking this guy to choose... I fired him
on the spot. He was not only teaching elsewhere, but he was
soliciting my students behind my back to take his class at the other
I still don't know why Mr. Stevens allowed our situation to
continue. Letting me work for myself was like pouring acid on his
business. During the time I worked for Lance Stevens, I cannot begin
to tell you how many of HIS STUDENTS wandered over to my program,
especially the younger students.
Because my Disco classes were more fun, his skill meant nothing to
many of his students. They could have cared less that Mr. Stevens
had ten times as much training or knowledge as I did. All they
wanted to do was meet girls or meet boys and go out dancing. They
would be in one room with Mr. Stevens and overhear my students
laughing and carrying on. The next month they took my class
instead... and paid me directly behind closed doors.
Don't misunderstand - I had permission to operate in this fashion...
but why Mr. Stevens didn't put his foot down and say enough is
enough remains a mystery to this day.
My time at Stevens of Hollywood taught me my lesson. An instructor
works for me and no one else. Nor would I ever permit an instructor
to teach a group class in my own studio. Why on earth would I allow
my own instructor to compete with me under my roof while I am paying
the rent, utilities, advertising fees and insurance? That's suicide!
You simply cannot have a dance instructor working for himself in
your own studio. He will take every student he can and funnel them
to his own class. At that point the students will become loyal to
the instructor, not the studio.
I honestly cannot imagine any dance studio owner being foolish
enough to allow this situation to continue, but that's exactly what
Lance Stevens did. In the end, it cost him dearly. When he threw me
out, 200 students followed me over to Bissonnet.
Over the years, I have fielded a couple questions about the business
ethics involved. Did I feel guilty? Yes, to some extent
I did. I understood that I had taken advantage of a man who perhaps
wasn't the smartest businessman in the world. However, in my
defense, I asked him several times to sit down with me and work out
a solution. I wanted to stay there. He just sniffed at me with
contempt, then walked away. Oh well. It was his own
DONNA CREATES A
RIFT WITH HER RIGHT HAND MAN
Meanwhile, at this same time, my patron Donna over at the Class
Factory was really struggling. Donna had made a mistake just as
critical as Mr. Stevens had. Donna had a gifted employee named Ted
Weisgal who had helped her get started. Ted actually had more
experience in the business than Donna did. So Donna had made a
promise to pay Ted a percentage of the profits.
Ted agreed to this for a simple reason - it is easier to bust one's
tail for a percentage than a salary.
As promised, Donna did pay Ted a percentage of the profits for a
year. But one day in April 1979 Donna told Ted she had decided to
pay him a salary instead. No more share of the profits. This was a
huge blow to Ted.
Ted would later tell me that Donna had not anticipated her business
would become so lucrative so quickly. Her decision basically meant
that Ted would become an employee rather than a partner. This meant
less reward for his efforts and far less control of the business.
Furious at Donna's U-turn, Ted went home and told the story to his
wife Kathy. She listened sympathetically and let him vent his
frustration. Finally when Ted had calmed down enough to listen a
little, Kathy spoke up.
"Ted, why do you keep working for other people? You have built three
organizations from the ground up only to get pushed around and
receive nothing in return. You need to be in charge of your own
Kathy's keen observation hit home. Ted immediately recognized the
perfect way to fight back was to form his own organization and go
into direct competition with the Class Factory. That was the night
Leisure Learning was born.
Ted went back the next day and told Donna that her change of mind
was unacceptable. He had no intention of agreeing to this switch.
Ted was understandably angry at the thought of working so hard
without the promise of major financial rewards. But Donna held her
ground, so Ted walked out.
Bitter at the way he had been treated, Ted went right for the
jugular. Since Ted had recruited almost all of Donna's instructors,
they were more loyal to him than they were to Donna. They jumped
ship en masse. Ted even came after me... but I declined out of
loyalty to Donna.
I remember feeling at the time like I was backing the wrong horse.
The determination in Ted's voice on the phone left me very rattled.
He lacked Donna's flair, but I could tell he was relentless. This
guy would never give up.
Unfortunately, my instincts proved correct. Almost instantly the
fortunes of Class Factory fell. My enrollments dropped by 50%. It
became obvious that for all Donna's intelligence and sophistication,
she was no match for Ted's immense drive. It was like a hobby to
Donna, but an obsession to Ted.
After fighting a losing battle for the next year, Donna sold the
Class Factory and left town. I rued my decision to back the loser in
a two-team fight. I had done it out of loyalty. After all, Donna had
given me my start. But once Donna announced her move to Washington,
DC, I wasn't honor-bound to continue the struggle.
Ted had always been the enemy, but secretly I was starting to admire
Ted in a begrudging way. His old-fashioned work ethic had thoroughly
vanquished the flash and dash of Donna. No stranger to hard work
myself, I appreciated the depth of his accomplishment. Ted had
totally beaten a very talented competitor who had a huge head start
on him. Impressive.
Looking at the letter explaining Donna's decision to sell, I picked
up the phone and dialed Ted at Leisure Learning.
To my utter relief, in the past year Ted had not found another dance
instructor to take my place. I was incredulous at this stroke of
good fortune. I signed on immediately. The date was September 1980.
Strangely enough, just a couple weeks after signing on with Ted, I
was unceremoniously tossed out by Mr. Stevens. Finish out the month,
then hit the road, Jack. Consequently, not one Leisure Learning
student of mine would ever set foot at Stevens of Hollywood.
Instead the first LLU students showed up at my new address on
Bissonnet in October 1980.
The results were incredible. Things had been looking pretty grim
that summer. Now with a great new location and a steady supply of
new students courtesy of Leisure Learning, I was ready to start the
next phase of my dance career.
Now that I had escaped from under Mr. Stevens thumb and acquired the
backing of LLU, my dance program accelerated with explosive force.
This moment marked the start of SSQQ-Bissonnet.
TODAY AND TOMORROW
That was 32 years ago. In September 2012, Mario and Donn will join
me to begin Fundance Houston over at Melody Club. Backing us is none
other than Ted Weisgal.
Can lightning hit twice? I certainly hope so. The timing could not
have been better.
Ted and I have
never discussed the coincidence, but we share one very curious bond
- we both started our careers thanks to incompetent decisions on the
part of our bosses.
The Story of Ted Weisgal and Leisure Learning Unlimited
(the original article)
Written by Rick Archer
As a long-time resident of Houston, for 30 years I have been directly involved in adult education in three different ways - as a student, as an instructor, and as the employee of
four different programs.
Basically I have seen it all.
Back in the 70s Houston had four different adult education programs:
- The University of Houston Sundry School
- The University of Saint Thomas Courses a la Carte
- The Class Factory
- Leisure Learning Unlimited.
At different times the first three organizations were highly successful, then fell upon hard times and disappeared.
Thirty years later only one
organization still stands - Leisure Learning.
Maybe there is a reason behind the
survival of Leisure Learning. There
was one man who was a major part of
all four organizations. His name is
Ted Weisgal, co-director of Leisure Learning Unlimited.
I would like to share the story of Leisure Learning and chronicle its importance to Houston and to SSQQ over the years.
Leisure Learning is an adult education/life-long learning program run here in Houston by Ted and his wife Kathy
Kamin-Weisgal. The first issue of the LLU catalogue appeared in
Many SSQQ students are familiar with LLU since they first heard about SSQQ through Leisure Learning. Over the years people have noted the similarity of the SSQQ and LLU schedules. This is not an accident. We have been in business together since 1980. When I first started with
LLU, I set up my classes to parallel the Leisure Learning schedule.
Today there is no other Houston adult education program that even comes to mind with the size and widespread recognition of
LLU. Leisure Learning towers over its competition. I am aware of other community adult classes since they contact me from time to time about teaching classes for them. They are sprinkled across Houston such as Bellaire, Katy, Kingwood, North Harris County, Houston Community College,
the Jewish Community Center (where I got my start!!), and Spring Branch among others, but their operations pale in comparison to the Leisure Learning juggernaut. The gap is so great I don't even know who is in second place.
Ted and I have been in business for over
two decades. Long ago we hitched our wagons together and we have helped
our mutual businesses grow to prominence.
He is clearly the strongest business ally I have ever had.
When you open a Leisure Learning catalogue it is easy to assume LLU has been around forever. LLU currently offers 500 different classes per catalogue and runs 33,000 people a year through its program. The catalogue of courses is impressive for its diversity and comprehensiveness. Their courses range from fun stuff to practical stuff, from hobbies to career-enhancement, from self-help to adventure, and of course from slow dance to romance. Check it out:
Believe me, it hasn't always been that way. For example, when we watch someone who has made it big like a Robert Redford or a Barbara
Streisand, we often take their success for granted. It is only when we see an Arts and Entertainment documentary that we begin to realize just how hard they had to work to get there.
I have had a front row seat to watch Ted and Kathy's business grow from zip nada nil nothing into the huge operation it is today. In fact I probably have a better perch than anyone because Ted's career and mine were running a parallel path long before LLU even came into existence.
One note - as I relate the history of LLU, you will notice I don't say much about Kathy. She stays pretty much out of sight, perfectly content to handle the money end of the business.
She prefers to keep a low profile, but
I am well aware of Kathy's important "power behind the throne" role as the financial wizard in the family business. I might add Ted is quick to credit Kathy's help whenever I compliment him on the success of his business.
Ted and Kathy run a true Mom and Pop organization. They ARE Leisure Learning.
Ted and Kathy have every right to be proud of their success. They
built their business from the ground up. There was no family business handed down to either person nor any silver spoon.
They had to take a lot of chances and work very hard to get where they are today. If they went under, there was nothing to fall back on. Operating without a safety net made for some pretty tough times.
But they made it. I think the story of how they accomplished their goal is excellent reading for anyone interested in starting their own business.
Chapter One - Ted Weisgal
Ted Weisgal developed his interest in lifelong learning as early as junior high school. During the late 50s/early 60s the Los Angeles school district gave flyers to all its students to take home to their parents. These flyers would publicize cooking classes, typing classes, auto repair classes, and language classes - practical things for the adults to take at the junior high campus during the evening. Ted read the flyers with interest and realized he was attracted to a career in education.
Ted went to college at San Jose State in the late 60s. He majored in Journalism with a minor in Recreation and Leisure Studies. Those were the days of the Vietnam era and social idealism on campuses. A California boy, Ted was sent clear across the country to spend his entire junior year in the Baltimore ghetto doing social work as part of Vista.
Ted came back to San Jose State for his senior year. After graduation he stayed on campus at San Jose as part of their Experimental College in the early 70s. This gave him the experience needed to get a job with the University of Houston in 1973 as their Campus activities director.
The University of Houston Sundry School
It was at this point that Ted established the Sundry School, an impressive adult education program affiliated with the University of Houston.
I remember participating in many Sundry School classes such as Disco Line Dancing with Beth Kennedy and my first-ever Ballroom dance class with Jack Flanigan during these days. The Sundry School was one of my favorite places to find dance classes in 1974-1975 in the days when Disco was growing but still flying low under the media radar screen.
Unfortunately the Sundry School had a huge Achilles Heel - parking. Their classes were held at night on the University of Houston campus at Cullen.
Campus security was becoming a problem.
One day some genius decided to make Sundry School students register their vehicles in order to take classes. The administrative hassle was too much for most people to put up with. Who wants to wander around looking for some office and stand in line to get a parking sticker just to take a cooking class?
Consequently the program had begun to struggle in
1977-1978. Ted identified the problem, but couldn't get anyone to agree with him to change the policy. It was also about this time that Ted had a huge run-in with his boss over
'Robert's Rules of Order'.
You should know Ted has a passion for Robert's Rules of Order, a system devised for running meetings. In his course write-up in Leisure Learning, Ted asserts that "Meetings are fundamental to Democracy". So you can assume that
in Ted's mind, an attack on Robert's is an attack on Democracy.
Although I don't know the details, there was obviously a serious disagreement. As usual when arguments of this nature get heated, someone has to go.
Exit Ted in 1978. He didn't mind too much since the Sundry School was already headed downhill.
What the Sundry School didn't know is that showing Ted the door would accelerate its demise dramatically.
Chapter Two - Donna Gordon and the Class Factory
In the summer of 1978, I was fairly new to the dance world. I had been teaching for about eight months. My first job as a Disco dance teacher was at Stevens of Hollywood, a dance studio located on Westheimer a block west of Shepherd across the street from St. Anne's Catholic Church.
One Saturday afternoon I showed up at the studio early. Lance Stevens, 55, the owner of the studio, was teaching a Country-Western class in the main ballroom. With time to kill I stood and watched as he taught the old step-touch, step-touch walk-walk belly
rubbin' Twostep. It was the old style Twostep with the man's arm wrapped around the woman's neck and the woman's finger in the man's belt loop. Believe me, Western dancing has come a long way since then.
Mr. Stevens had a rough personality at times. For starters, he
could be sarcastic. He also liked humor that embarrassed women. I am sarcastic too, but I do my best to make sure my jokes aren't too vicious. When Mr. Stevens picked on you, it stung a bit. His jokes felt like put-downs. An attractive woman about my age at the time - 28 - was standing near me shaking her head in disgust. She turned to me and commented on how mean some of his humor was. I can still remember the first thing she said to me, "Is he always like this?"
I smiled and told her yes. Mr. Stevens thought he was being funny, but to many people he seemed gruff and condescending. The woman turned back and watched some more. She was fuming. Then she turned to me again to complain some more. I said something that made her laugh and she cheered up a little.
Now this lady looked at me directly. She was sizing me up.
She decided to introduce herself.
"My name is Donna Gordon. I run an organization called the 'Class Factory'.
Are you one of the teachers here?"
I said, "Yes."
Then she asked me if I taught Country-Western.
"No", I told her.
I didn't have a clue about Western dancing
nor did I like the music very much.
Ms. Gordon frowned.
This wasn't the answer she wanted. She definitely
was uncomfortable with Mr. Stevens'
sense of humor, that was obvious.
Now she grew
quiet and began to watch Mr. Stevens teach again.
But now I had grown curious about her so I asked a
couple questions. Since I had gotten my start as a
dance teacher by taking dance classes offered through
adult education programs such as the Sundry School,
Courses a la Carte, and the Jewish Community Center, I
was always interested in programs like the one she
appeared to be running.
So I asked her about the Class Factory.
I explained that I had never heard of the Class Factory.
Donna handed me a catalogue.
I looked through it and noticed it contained
classes similar to what Leisure Learning offers today.
I also liked her catalogue - it was really cute!
It was decorated with all sorts of little Gremlins (see
pictures), all of whom clearly were full of excitement
and mischief. The creativity of her catalogue
impressed me quite a bit.
Donna continued to watch the dance class as I leafed
through the catalogue. That is when I
realized I had never heard of her organization
because it had just gotten started.
In fact, the Class Factory was so new that I think Donna was at
Stevens of Hollywood that day to make sure her first class with Mr.
Stevens was going okay.
Then Donna broke the silence. She asked me if I would consider
teaching a dance class.
I explained that Mr. Stevens was the right
guy for Western dancing. I admitted I didn't have a clue about
C&W. But I had an idea - maybe I could teach a Disco class for her.
Saturday Night Fever was
just getting started.
Donna liked that idea a lot and accepted
my idea on the spot.
Starting with Donna's next
schedule I began to teach Disco classes for the Class Factory.
This was a very big break for me. In fact, I consider it
one of the four biggest lucky breaks in my life.
The Class Factory helped me get started as an independent
instructor. Disco was just
getting starting when I met Donna, but it would soon bring me
countless new students. I may not have been the greatest dancer, but I was a good teacher.
In other words, my chance meeting with Donna
was another one of those amazing blessings. I was in the right place at the right time.
Each new student was a gift from heaven
in my opinion. Whenever a Class Factory class ended, I offered the students a
chance to take an Intermediate class, then an Advanced
Donna's program jump-started my career. It was an
extraordinary break for me.
You can easily
understand why I feel so grateful to her. (For more information, see
History of SSQQ)
During the next two
years Donna and I became good friends.
I learned that she was happily married with a beautiful house in Fondren Southwest.
This area was definitely the 'in-place' to live back in those days. Her home looked like something out of 'Better Homes and Gardens'.
However Donna was not content to relax in the armchair of luxury.
She had plenty of ambitions of her own.
Since her husband Bruce had an executive job which kept him pretty busy
and they had not begun their family yet, Donna
found herself spending a lot of time at home with nothing to do
while he left on frequent business trips.
Donna had a lot of options. For one thing she was very bright and very poised. Donna reminded me of a Vassar graduate - educated, polished, and
gifted at dealing with people.
had every skill necessary to succeed in business. Judging from the size of that house, she had money too. Donna didn't have to work, but
to her credit she wasn't going to sit
around and waste her time. Donna decided to set up a business of her own.
Thus the Class Factory was born. It was an immediate hit in
the Houston area. The design of the catalogue was
clever and many her ideas were very innovative.
This sophisticated lady with her marvelous communication
skills was definitely the perfect person for the job.
(Editor's Note: Donna's last name is NOT Gordon. In 2006,
Donna emailed me from another city to demand her name not be
used in this story. Since I owed her a huge favor, I acceded
to her request.)
Chapter Three -
The University of Saint Thomas Courses a la Carte
The University of Houston Sundry School came
first in 1973.
Watching its success carefully, St. Thomas University decided to develop its own adult education program in 1977.
Titled "Courses a la Carte", I
was very excited about their program because
most of their classes were held in the Montrose area where I
lived at the time.
In early 1977 I immediately signed up to take their Disco classes which were held at Stevens of Hollywood.
On a side note, this was the move that would lead to my teaching there
eight months later.
While taking a Disco Line Class, I noticed the owner, Mr. Lance
Stevens, perform the Whip on several occasions. In
September 1977 I came to take Whip classes from him. This is how
he noticed me which led to me getting hired there. But that's
Despite the Sundry School's head start, Courses a la Carte caught
up quickly. Personally I thought Courses a la Carte had a program superior to the Sundry School. For one thing their catalogue was easier to read than
its counterpart at the Sundry School. Even more important, the St. Thomas campus was much closer and more accessible than the Sundry School for many students.
Plus its campus had a vastly friendlier environment.
The parking and location problem hadn't killed at the Sundry School,
but they had made the program vulnerable.
Once Courses a la Carte came along,
their stiff competition finished the job. There was a
third reason the new program pulverized its predecessor, but we
will save that for later.
Alex d'Alessandro, The
Almost immediately after Donna
Gordon hired me to teach for the Class Factory, I had the idea to go work for Courses a la Carte as well.
Using the fact that I taught for the Class Factory as a reference, Courses a la Carte hired me on the spot.
Once I landed the Courses a la Carte
job, I felt secure enough to quit my day job
in late 1978. This
meant I had time on my hands during the day. Since the offices of Courses a la
Carte were just a few blocks from my home, I visited them frequently.
The main reason I visited was
because I enjoyed shooting the breeze with Alex d'Alessandro, the director
of the program.
Of all the people I have encountered over the years in my business
journeys, Alex is easily the most charismatic guy I have ever met. He was a modern day snake oil salesman. Alex was
30, tall, blonde, preppy, and very good-looking.
He resembled a clean-cut version of David Lee Roth, the famous singer for Van Halen.
Alex was a lethal combination of good looks and great personality.
I thought of him as Alexander the Great, the Wonder Boy. He was always full of good cheer, good bull-shit,
and good charm.
Alex was definitely groomed to zoom.
I had several reasons that visiting Alex
became one of my favorite daytime activities. One of the
reasons I visited Alex was because he was so darn interesting.
He was quite the raconteur.
Another reason I visited Alex was in hopes that I would discover
the origins of his effortless charm. Perhaps some of it would
rub off on me!
But I had a darker
reason to visit Alex as well. The man was a complete
mystery to me!
As much as I admired Alex for his
gift of popularity, there were two things about him that bothered me.
The first eyebrow raiser were teeming masses of young girls who worked part-time at the
Courses a la Carte office on a campus work/study program. Whenever I
came to visit, it seemed like Alex would have one of these beautiful St. Thomas coeds
in his office laughing and hanging onto his every word.
have been in the other office working, but keeping Alex company
obviously was part of their job description. Nor was it
particular coed - since these young ladies all
held part-time work-study jobs, there was a
different girl for practically every day of the week. Judging
from their smiles they all had crushes a mile wide.
Was I envious? Hell, yes, I was
envious!! I was only 29 and these girls
were old enough to have me salivating. But at the same
time I knew they were also about two or three years too young
for me to chase.
But I wasn't sure Alex thought the same way I did. I
strongly suspected that Alex took advantage of their crushes.
At this, I frowned because I didn't
think he was playing fair. Although these
young ladies were college age and therefore 'legal targets', they had to be pushovers for someone as smooth as Alex with his position of authority, his Warren Beatty charm, and his rock star good looks.
I think it is only fair to say that my
suspicions were totally circumstantial.
There was something else about Alex that bothered me as well - I never saw him
working! I was curious about the girls, but
the 'secret of his success' became a real mystery to me.
For example, when I would visit Donna Gordon at the Class Factory, she was always taking calls, answering messages, editing the catalogue, paying bills, or writing something. Our conversations were rarely longer than 5 or 10 minutes.
Donna would gracefully excuse herself to take a call and then I would go visit other people in the office.
But when I visited Alex, he would immediately call me in to his office,
find me a chair next to the coed de jour, get me some coffee, rock back with his legs
up on the desk and shoot the breeze. Our talks would last an hour, two hours sometimes, but I never saw Alex do a lick of work!!
Never! I enjoyed our talks so much, but at the same I couldn't
figure out where he found the time. Not one time did he ever
suggest I come back later because he had an urgent project or
something of that nature.
There was never a crisis. There were
never any signs of stress. Alex was the Boy Wonder!
Once I peeked through his window before entering the office just to see if he ever touched a piece of paper when no one was looking. He was on the phone laughing.
Alex may have been working, but I doubt it. More
likely he was developing his connections, something Alex was
The only thing I ever saw Alex put energy into was playing campus politics.
This was his gift. When it came to politics he was the best I have ever seen. He would have to run an errand and would
invite me to go with him for company.
Alex knew everyone in the Saint Thomas administration on a first-name basis.
He schmoozed constantly. He shook hands, introduced me to people, paid compliments, dropped names, patted backs, asked questions, showed concern, told people to give him a call, do lunch, blah blah - Alex seemed destined to become mayor.
The guy had it made. I never saw
So How Did Alex Do It?
One theory I had was Alex's seemingly
limitless supply of beautiful college students who worked there
part-time. Certainly this had to be one of the answers.
But none of these girls were there on a regular basis.
Where was the glue that kept them organized?
Then one day the mystery was solved.
On one of my visits, Alex introduced me to his assistant, a man named Ted Weisgal. Ted was a tall, quiet, serious-looking guy with red
hair and a light complexion. The moment I met Ted, I had a strong hunch I had
found the answer to my mystery.
There was something about Ted that made light bulbs go off in my
brain. Here was a guy who looked like he worked...and
liked to work
hard! Ted radiated intensity and responsibility. I would have bet money on the spot that Ted was doing his job and Alex's at the same time.
I never got to know Ted while he at Saint Thomas.
For one thing his
concentration was always on his work.
Second, Ted lacked the easygoing affability of his boss, Mr.
Sunshine Alex. Ted usually didn't even look up
when I arrived.
And for that matter, frequently Ted wasn't even there, but if I tell you
the reason now it would ruin the secret of another mystery later in
It would be several years later
before I discovered that it was Ted all along who was making Courses a la Carte explode with enrollments.
After Ted left the Sundry School, Alex had hired Ted to be his second-in-command. However
Ted was hired for the position
only on an interim basis.
Apparently St. Thomas was conducting a national
job search for this position.
The conjecture was that Alex had burned out his previous assistant by letting him or her do all the work so they quit.
Despite the job search, someone was needed to fill in immediately or else Alex would actually have to work for a while.
As I said, Ted was available because he had just been fired from his
previous job. It was a real coupe for Alex to get Ted.
First of all Ted had built Sundry School from scratch and knew how to run a program like this. Second, Ted brought many of his loyal Sundry School teachers with him to teach
their classes for St. Thomas. This created a seesaw effect. Losing
these teachers hurt the Sundry School while gaining them immediately
boosted enrollment for CALC. Although I did not know it at the time, it
had been Ted
working behind the scenes who was making the real
difference. He put Courses a la Carte on his back and carried it to its highest level.
Alex was taking the glory while Ted was doing the work.
And despite my frequent visits, I never had a clue at the time.
That is one example of how skillful Alex was - as long as he was
getting results, he was getting the credit.
Then a funny thing happened. After only 6 months, Ted was gone from Courses a la Carte.
Apparently the nation-wide job search was over and Ted finished second in the running. Someone from the outside was brought in to take Ted's interim position.
This meant Ted was out of a job again. Bad move -
didn't Alex know that firing Ted was a jinx?
Believe it or not, within a year after Ted was gone, Courses a la Carte folded!
The first victim of the "Curse of Ted the Dread" was the Sundry
School. Now Courses a la Carte became mysterious
Victim Number Two of the mysterious "Curse of Ted the Dread".
Ted left two programs. Both folded.
And what about the Boy Wonder?
I asked Ted what ever happened to Alex.
Ted told me Alex was caught in an embezzlement scheme at St. Thomas and disappeared.
Chapter Four - Ted Weisgal and the Class Factory
(Editor's Note: As I mentioned earlier, Donna's last name is
NOT Gordon. In 2006, Donna emailed me from another city to
demand her name not be used in this story. Since I owed her
a huge favor, I acceded to her request. Donna also
challenged Ted Weisgal's version of this section of the
story. If forced to choose, I believe Ted's version.)
It turned out that the Class Factory office was located across the street from Westbury Square where I took private dance lessons twice a week from
Glen Hunsucker. As a fledgling dance instructor, I knew if I was going to make a living at teaching dance I needed
to improve my own dancing. Since I had free time during the day,
occasionally after my lesson I would visit the Class Factory
offices just like I did with Courses a la Carte.
One day early in 1979 I dropped in to chat with Donna Gordon.
To my surprise I saw Ted Weisgal working at a desk in the Class Factory office. I was completely unaware of the shameful way
Ted had been treated by Alex. In fact I barely knew Ted since
as I mentioned earlier. Either he was so busy working he didn't
even look up or he wasn't even in the office to
As I noticed Ted at the Class Factory office,
I remembered what a strong impression Ted had made
on me the first time I saw him at the Courses a la Carte.
It seemed like a good move for Donna to hire him.
Sure enough, Ted provided a strong immediate
boost for the Class Factory. He worked the same initial magic for Donna that he had done for Alex.
Ted used his experience and his connections to boost her business dramatically.
It turned out there were many instructors at Courses a la Carte who were loyal to Ted.
Many of them had begun an association
with Ted all the way back in his Sundry School days. In
fact, Ted had found many of these instructors himself and had
given them their first job. Naturally they were just as loyal to
Ted as I was to Donna.
So when Ted left the Sundry School to move over to CALC, he
recruited them to come with him to Courses a la Carte. Now
that Ted had moved to the Class Factory,
history repeated itself. Ted lured
many of the same people away from Courses a
la Carte. Now the seesaw effect took place again - Class
Factory attendance rose while Courses a la Carte dropped.
I believe Ted was the first person Donna hired. She didn't have a lot of money so Ted worked for free for a couple months to show his value.
Ted's version of the understanding was that Donna promised Ted a share of the profits. Ted would become a partner. So naturally he worked his tail off.
With Ted's help, the Class Factory's
business expanded rapidly.
As promised, Donna did pay Ted a percentage of the profits for several months. But one day in April 1979 Donna told Ted she had decided to pay him a salary instead.
No more share of the profits. This was a huge blow to Ted.
Ted told me that Donna had not anticipated that her business would become so lucrative so quickly. Her suggestion basically meant that Ted would become an employee rather than a partner.
less reward for his efforts and far less control
of the business.
Ted told Donna that her change of mind was unacceptable. He had no intention of agreeing to this switch. Ted was understandably
angry with working
so hard without the promise of major financial rewards.
Furious at Donna's U-turn, Ted went home and told the story to his wife Kathy. She listened sympathetically and let him vent his frustration. Finally when Ted had calmed down enough to listen a little, Kathy spoke up.
"Ted, why do you keep working for other people? You have built three organizations from the ground up only to get pushed around and receive nothing in return. You need to be in charge of your own program."
Kathy's keen observation hit home. Ted immediately recognized the perfect way to fight back was to form his own organization and go into direct competition with the Class Factory. That was the night Leisure Learning was born.
In April 2006, Donna Gordon sent this email to present her side of
the story. Under threat of a libel lawsuit, I have edited
the juicy portions out of the following email. She
sent a second email which she claims I had no right to
publish since it contained a copyright warning. For
the record, I saw a far different side of Ms. Gordon in her
two emails to me. )
From: Donna Gordon
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 6:01 PM
Subject: The Class Factory Inc.
Imagine my surprise, after all these years, to have your
online story about The Class Factory brought to my
I am rather distressed, however, at the inaccuracies
included in your account. Details about my agreement with
Ted are incomplete and misleading
Obviously one's memory can be unreliable after 25 years. I
understand that. But I simply can't allow these inaccuracies
to float around in cyberspace unchecked. Much of the
paperwork from The Class Factory is still safely tucked away
in a safe deposit box and will refute most of what you have
said. This paperwork includes the agreement Ted signed to work for a
percentage -- until I could afford to pay him a salary.
My Reaction to Donna's email above:
I certainly do not know the real story. Most of what I
have written was told to me by Ted. No one but Ted
or Donna knows what the truth is. And since both
people have been very good to me, I am reluctant to take
I will say this - Ted is
a very powerful man. He loves control and he needs to be
in charge. I cannot imagine a more unstable partnership
than him and Donna Gordon, especially if Ted was second in
command. This is not meant as criticism to Ted, but it is
not in his nature to 'follow'. He is born to do things his way.
Nor does he take 'No' for an answer gracefully. He will
push for what he believes in because that is his nature.
That said, Donna is an incredibly talented woman. I cannot
imagine her tolerating Ted's constant insistence that they do
things his way for very long.
Ted had left two previous organizations because I am sure he
presented a threat to his bosses. At some point, I am sure
he and Donna would have butted heads. Their styles were total
January 19, 2007. Since all the
information above was given to me by Ted Weisgal.
I decided to get a second opinion. In a January
2007 phone call to Kathy Kamin-Weisgal, she told me the
1. Kathy could not verify that
Donna Gordon promised Ted Weisgal a partnership.
2. Kathy was certain that Donna Gordon promised to pay
Ted a percentage of the profits.
3. When Donna reneged on this offer, Ted quit the Class
Factory and took every teacher he had brought on board
with him over to his new organization, Leisure Learning.
4. Kathy recalled working many nights
for the Class Factory at no pay in an attempt to help
get this business up off the ground.
Chapter Five - Leisure Learning goes Head to Head with the Class Factory
One morning in
July 1979, out of the blue I got a call from Ted.
He invited me to work for him at the new program he was putting together called Leisure Learning. I declined as gracefully as I could. I explained that Donna was my friend and I was loyal to her.
After I hung up the phone I wondered if I would regret my decision. There was something about Ted that worried me. I barely knew him, but I nursed
the distinct feeling that he was a definite threat to the Class Factory and my patron Donna.
Often times your brain may not have the facts, but your gut sends
out powerful warning signals. My gut told me
that Ted was
a huge threat.
It didn't help that I had big problems of my own. There was a lot
of uncertainty in my life.
For one thing my beloved Disco dancing was beginning to go the way of the dinosaurs. Disco had been replaced that summer by the
new Urban Cowboy-inspired Western era.
I didn't even know how to Western dance at the time. I was faced with the decision to either embrace what I considered "Dancing For Hicks" or get a real job again (inside joke).
Second, I was having a lot of trouble at Stevens of Hollywood.
All the Disco students I had received
from the Class Factory had resulted in an awkward situation. It
seems I actually had more students than Mr. Stevens.
Understandably, he wasn't very happy about this situation.
There was constant tension between us. I was bending over backwards to appease Mr. Stevens, but it wasn't working.
The writing was on the wall that eventually I would have to leave,
a prospect that worried me a lot.
Third, I was not getting any new students from Courses a la Carte because
it had mysteriously just gone under.
The temptation to jump ship and go with Ted was great, especially because enrollments from the Class Factory were
Plus I didn't
have all the facts. What I didn't know is that
Ted's leaving back in April was the major reason for the
Class Factory's maladies. If I had made the connection
between Ted's departure and Class Factory's slump, I
would have been even more tempted to jump ship. In
the end my loyalty to Donna and my lack of knowledge
about Ted made it difficult to go with the unknown new
After turning Ted
down, I was sick with worry. I called Donna to tell her
about the recruitment contact from Ted. She
did not seem concerned. Although I could
be wrong, it is my recollection that Donna said Ted would
have trouble succeeding because he was too
hard on people.
It was her opinion that Ted would have trouble succeeding in a 'people business'
because he was so intense. She said that Ted had a lot
of drive and determination, but his lack of political
finesse would ultimately prove to be his Achilles heel.
I was taken aback by her nonchalance.
My gut told me the guy was a serious threat not to be
dismissed. Nonetheless I was reassured by her prediction that losing Ted would not affect the Class Factory.
Like a little boy reassured
by mommy that the bogeyman wasn't real, I went back to running my own business.
As you have guessed, Donna's prediction did not
hold. There is something very
powerful about working for yourself. There is something
even more motivating about not having anything to fall back on.
Ted was on the war path from the moment "Go".
After Ted left the Class Factory, I saw an immediate
change for the worse.
Once LLU came on board in
September 1979, enrollments for the Class Factory began to
drop. I didn't know what Leisure Learning's numbers were, but every time I picked up a catalogue, it seemed to have doubled in size.
speed of Class Factory's decline was alarming.
To be honest, I don't think Donna's heart was in it any
One day in the summer of 1980
I got a surprise phone call from Donna. It seems that
her husband Bruce had been transferred to Washington,
had decided to sell her business.
My worst nightmare had come true. The Ted Jinx had hit again. The Class Factory was
I had backed the wrong horse.
The Class Factory stayed around for a
couple of years after Donna sold it, but it was never
the same. Donna had been the heart and soul.
After the new owners stiffed me on my salary several
times I dropped them.
Chalk up Victim Number 3 to the "Curse of Ted the Dread".
Ted Weisgal was
the last man standing.
Chapter Six - SSQQ and Leisure Learning Join Forces.
Ted was the enemy. That was pretty much how I saw him.
Beyond a cordial hello in the rare times when I would see him at the Courses a la Carte or Class Factory
office, I barely knew the man.
Ted was not the conversationalist - he was always too busy working.
Therefore my main perspective on Ted was what my two friends had said about him. First Alex had bad-mouthed Ted as the single most humorless person he had ever met, then Donna
told me he was the most relentless person she
had ever met. For two years I had heard nothing good said about him
from either of my two benefactors.
now his Leisure Learning program was the only one still
in business. Imagine that.
I have always valued actions over words. No matter what my friends had said about Ted, it was plain as day that Ted had
some kind of magic or maybe
it was voodoo.
Whatever it was, "It" was powerful. When Ted joined an organization, it grew. When he left the organization it dwindled.
In a nutshell, Ted giveth, Ted taketh away.
I am not stupid.
Out of loyalty I had backed the loser in a two-team fight.
But once Donna announced her move to Washington, DC, I wasn't honor-bound to continue the struggle. Besides, I was starting to admire Ted in a begrudging way. His old-fashioned work ethic had thoroughly vanquished the flash and dash of Alex and Donna.
Ted had beaten two of the most talented people I had ever met - the charming master politician Alex and the intelligent, sophisticated Donna.
Work had beaten Mr. Smile and Ms. Style. Was it possible this guy had some talent after all?
I swallowed my pride and went to ask Ted if I could teach for him. To my absolute surprise, he accepted on the spot.
I figured it likely after I turned him down a year earlier that Ted would hold a grudge and tell me to take a walk. Instead Ted was very diplomatic about it. He said he understood why I stayed with Donna. After all, she had recruited me. He appreciated the value of loyalty too. And
Ted just happened to have a glaring vacancy in the dance class department.
To this day I have never understood why another dance teacher wasn't already in the LLU catalogue. That spot had stayed open for nearly a year.
Why I don't know, but thank goodness
the opening was still. Just like
Donna's decision to hire me on the spot, I consider Ted's
decision to hire me as a huge stroke of
Almost immediately after Leisure Learning hired me, in October 1980
Mr. Stevens decided he had had enough
of this "two dance studios under the same roof". He
basically told me to get the hell out . Luckily, my dance teacher from Westbury Square, Glen Hunsucker, had just rented a huge new space on Bissonnet. Glen was more than happy to sub-lease a couple of his side rooms to me.
I was incredibly fortunate. I lost Class Factory, but Leisure
Learning took me in. I lost Stevens of Hollywood, but Dance Arts
Unlimited took me in. I was able to land on my feet.
Those were the days when I led a charmed life.
Things had been looking pretty grim that summer. Now with a great new location and a steady supply of new students courtesy of Leisure Learning, I was ready to start the next phase of my dance career. This moment was the true start of SSQQ. Now that I had escaped from under Mr. Stevens thumb and acquired the backing of LLU, my dance program accelerated with explosive force.
Thanks to Ted,
I have enjoyed a great climb up the ladder ever since.
Chapter Seven - The Secret of Ted's Success
dance classes were offered in Leisure Learning, the difference
in enrollments was immediate. I was shocked.
My curiosity was definitely aroused.
How in the world did Ted do it?
Where were these huge numbers of people coming from?
You have to understand that here I was working for Ted, but I barely knew anything at all about him at the time. For two years Ted had always been this shadowy figure lurking in the background.
Based on what Donna and Alex had told me, Ted wore a black hat, had a Snidely Whiplash mustache and pushed little old ladies off the sidewalk for fun.
Neither one of them had a good word for their former employee.
Now this so-called loser was sending students to me at a phenomenal clip. Something didn't make sense. The same guy who drew nothing but contempt from two of the brightest people I had ever met had turned around and put them out of business.
Who was this masked man? Where were these students coming from?
Just what was this guy's secret?
All I knew was that
Ted was "The Man" now.
Like a boy sent to live with a distant relative after his parents died, I wanted to know
as much as I could about him. How much
could I count on him?
I was determined to figure this guy out.
The first thing I discovered was that Ted and Kathy worked out of their apartment. You should have seen the place - catalogues in the living room, catalogues in the dining room, catalogues in the bathroom. I didn't have the courage to look in the bedroom, but I will tell you there was a running joke what the catalogues in the bathroom were used for…
I also found out that Ted and Kathy had risked everything to form this business. Kathy had quit her job with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department
to help Ted get the business off the ground.
Ted got a $3,000 loan from his parents for living expenses and took
out his life savings - another $3,000 - to print the first LLU
issue. After that Ted had nothing - his whole adult life had been Vista, experimental programs, volunteer work, and jobs where he did all the work for little or no pay.
If this venture failed, Kathy and
Ted would be in debt up to their necks. Talk about guts!
These guys had crawled way out on the limb.
They were scared.
I decided this had to be a major piece of the puzzle.
Unlike Alex or Donna, it was sink or swim for these guys. They had their backs to the wall.
Every day they had to get up running and make it happen or the bill collector might
be gaining on them.
The second discovery I made was that Ted treated his teachers like a rare stamp collection. He collected them, guarded them, and cherished them. They were his source of income and he let them know he appreciated their work.
One time I came by their apartment to drop off my new schedule of classes. I could barely get in the door and had to work my way past twenty prospective teachers jammed into the living room. They were there to get their 'introduction to the organization' lecture from Ted.
After I finally worked my way to Kathy's office in back, I let out a sigh of relief. Amazed at all the people crammed into the tiny apartment, I asked Kathy if it was always like this. She smiled and said there were old teachers and new teachers and god only knows who else in their home day and night. She added the only benefit of being poor was there wasn't anything for them to take.
I smiled at her joke, but
inside I was incredulous.
Over the years I have learned that Ted lets his teachers have a lot of leeway, pays them fairly and sends them a lot of students. In return his teachers have been extremely loyal.
Now I had the second piece of the puzzle. The loyalty of his instructors is a major reason for Ted's 'giveth and taketh away magic' I have alluded to. Every time he goes to a new place, his most productive teachers leave the old place to come with him. This phenomenon enriches the new organization while crippling the previous one.
I was making progress, but I was certain there was something else that I was missing. I could understood why losing a whitewater rafting instructor would hurt the Class Factory overall, but I could not figure out why losing the whitewater rafting instructor would drop enrollments in my Class Factory Disco class. This question gnawed at me.
I recalled that after Ted left the Class Factory, the wind had gone out of its sails almost instantly. My dance class enrollments were cut in half. How could one man have such a powerful effect?
One night I got my answer. I was at Miller Theater in Hermann Park on a hot summer Saturday night in 1981 for the TUTS performance of 'West Side Story'. As I walked toward the hill with my date, something caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks. There on a sidewalk corner was Ted Weisgal handing out catalogues to anyone and everyone as they passed by.
I stood there and watched Ted with fascination as he worked the crowd. He was not afraid to approach anyone and rejection didn't faze him. He was handing out a lot of catalogues!
I shook my head in awe. It was Saturday night for heaven's sake!
It was the night when the rest of the human race was relaxing from a tough week at work. Not Ted. He was working the whole night long - I know because as I sat up on the hill I watched him more than 'West Side Story'.
My date asked me why I didn't say hello to him. I was ashamed to admit it, but I told her the truth - I was afraid to say hello because I was certain he would ask me to help him distribute the catalogues. If you think I am jesting, believe me, I am not.
As I sat on the hill slapping mosquitoes, I was also kicking myself for overlooking something this obvious.
I was the definitely the fool on the hill at Miller Theater.
Despite all my speculation, I
had totally missed the biggest factor in Ted's success -
he was willing to outwork the entire human race.
Three programs had fallen
flat on their face when he left. I had assumed that the
defection of the instructors was the reason one program
got a boost while another program fell.
Tonight for the first time I was seeing the real reason
behind his success - Ted worked day and night
Ted's true power was his
dogged determination to get out as many schedules to as many
people as he humanly could.
Whoever replaced him as "catalogue distributor" for Sunday
School, Courses a la Carte, and Class Factory certainly
possessed on a mere fraction of this man's drive.
I had discovered the voodoo behind the "Curse of Ted the Dread".
Whichever program lost Ted lost a phenomenal
distributor. Whichever program gained Ted gained a
phenomenal catalogue distributor. It was so obvious, but I had
never realized it before until this chance meeting. I felt
like falling on my knees and honoring the man right there on the
Whoever had been hired to take his place could
never hold a candle to Ted. It wouldn't matter two or three men
took his place for that matter.
Wherever Ted went 24/7, he would drop
off catalogues. No one on earth could match his drive, his determination, and his ceaseless effort. This was Ted's greatest Magic - he was a
I had found the final piece of the puzzle, the most important secret of all - Ted was unbelievable when it came to catalogue distribution. He would work tirelessly to get them handed out, even at the cost of his own personal life on a Saturday night.
The next time I saw Ted, I asked him about
seeing him at "West Side Story". He told me he is a regular at every Miller
Theater event. He also works the Houston International Festival.
said he will go to any special event if it is an opportunity to hand out
Ted even gets his teenage daughter Amy to help him!!
(If you are a parent like me, I am sure you wonder what magic Ted
uses to accomplish a feat of this magnitude. Maybe he tells her it
is Houston Community College instead of Rice and a bicycle instead
of a car if she doesn't give him a hand.)
Through the years I have observed that Ted keeps as many catalogues in the back seat and trunk of his car as the poor old vehicle can hold.
In response to my question, Ted admitted that back in the beginning, practically every day of the week he would drive around town single-handedly supplying all of Houston with LLU catalogues. Sometimes it was morning, sometimes it was noon, sometimes it was night, and sometimes it was morning-noon-and-night, but Ted would do anything to avoid failure. Ted was unceasing in his prodigious effort to make sure no supply stand ever went empty. And it was always eight days a week.
Twenty years later
and counting, Ted still has catalogues in his back seat.
One day we went to lunch in Ted's car.
I watched with a grin as he
left catalogues behind at
This wasn't the first time I had seen him action. He does this
all the time.
Practically wherever I go, I see his
LLU catalogues prominently on display. Despite a mailing list of some 25,000 people, Ted still distributes 50,000 more every two months. I know he has help now, but I will never forget that in the beginning he did it all by himself. That is a phenomenal amount of work.
I am in awe of the man. I can work hard for prolonged periods, but then I want to relax. I don't know when Ted relaxes. I am not even sure he does
ease up. Ted has been like this twelve months a year for 20 years. His dedication is unbelievable.
I suppose when you look at the big picture Ted is better off for being forced to go out on his own, but I am still sorry for the hard times and humiliation he had to endure. Ted may not always be the easiest guy to get along with, but he is honest, hard-working, and responsible.
On the other hand, maybe they did him a
favor. Ted has always had something of a score to settle.
When you see how hard he worked, how he was backstabbed, how he was insulted and disrespected by Donna, Alex and his Sundry School boss,
he probably has a right to have a chip on his shoulder.
They say we should forgive our enemies, but only after they've been taken out and shot. In this vein I imagine the 'Curse of Ted of the Dread' has definitely evened the score.
Chapter Eight - Another One Bites the Dust
I got a phone call from Ted in 1986. He told me the Learning Annex was coming to Houston. The Learning Annex was the LLU of New York City. It had a fabulous reputation. They figured Houston was ripe for a more sophisticated operation. They knew about LLU, but expected their big city bucks would bury the competition.
Ted was clearly worried. The Learning Annex had lots of money behind it. He had beaten Sundry School, Courses a la Carte, and Class Factory, but this
would clearly be his biggest challenge yet.
He asked me not to jump to the Learning Annex if they asked me to. I promised him I wouldn't.
Ted must have known something. Sure enough, I got a call from the Learning Annex. They were conducting a teacher raid. At the time I was running the biggest dance studio in town although Marilyn's Dance Studio was a close second. I told them I preferred to stick with Leisure Learning.
Then I got a big surprise - they offered me $1,000 to run dance classes behind Leisure Learning's back under another name. Again I said no. Ted had treated me fairly when I was down. I owed it to him to return the favor.
The Learning Annex was beaten swiftly. They had three weaknesses.
They spent a ton of money on fancy display racks for their catalogues, but the
racks were too big and took up too much space. They had trouble finding places around town to put them.
Second, they didn't pay their teachers very well.
And third, they underestimated Ted Weisgal. No one works as hard as for a salary as someone who is working
to survive. For that matter no one works as hard as Ted does.
The Learning Annex was gone in six months. Victim Number 4 for the fatal "Curse of Ted the Dread".
Chapter Nine - Leisure Learning is Everywhere
One day in 1997 my daughter Samantha came home and announced to her mother and I that she had discovered we were famous. It seems Judy and I had posed for the cover of Leisure Learning and two different girls in her class had brought a catalogue to school to show everyone else. I don't think Sam has ever been more impressed with me than that moment.
In March 2001 I was playing volleyball at the Jewish Community Center. A man named Alan Shapiro asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a dance teacher. He said his wife wanted him to take classes and did I have a schedule or a card. I said no, but then I had an idea. I walked into the lobby and found a Leisure Learning catalogue to hand to him.
In May 2001 I was eating breakfast at the 11th Street Café in the Heights when a student named Billy Steward recognized me and said hello. He introduced me to the waitress. The next I knew the waitress was asking about dance classes. I knew exactly what to do. I walked over to the corner and found an LLU schedule to give to her.
Leisure Learning catalogues are everywhere, a constant reminder to me that Ted Weisgal is incredible in the devotion he gives to his business.
Mattress Mac, another Houston entrepreneur well known for his work ethic, offered this is his motto:
Late to Bed, Early to Rise
Work Real Hard and Advertise
Along those lines I decided Ted deserved a poem too:
Early to Rise, Put on your
Get in Your Car and Distribute.
Ted Weisgal is without question the single hardest working man I have ever met in my life. I have never seen anyone like him. I am in awe of his tenacity.
Ted is a bulldog. He never gives up. You cannot just kick him. He will keep going. It does no good to knock him down. He will get back up. Ted will out-work you. And don't hope to stall him either by saying let's get back to
it later. That does no good because Ted never forgets. You might as well do what he asks because he will never rest.
He will wear you down with Will Power.
Ted is the Terminator - he is relentless.
He will never give up. He just keeps moving
forward until you give in. I should know. I have
worked with him for twenty years.
Ted can be stubborn, he can be heavy-handed, and he can be controlling, but the bottom line is that he is the man who puts the bacon on the table for a lot of people. I have never before seen someone like Ted who has the ability to achieve success through determination.
His family, his employees, his creditors, and his teachers all depend on him to get up every morning and play Atlas as he continues to put out the same prodigious effort he has expended for 30 years in pursuit of his career.
In the "Jimmy Stewart - It's a Wonderful Life" mode, I cannot imagine the success I have achieved without Ted.
Since he is not the flashiest guy around and certainly
not one to toot his own horn, I would bet a lot of people probably take Ted for granted. Not me. I am completely aware of the significance he has made in my
life and grateful for his help.
I feel very fortunate to be able to have Ted Weisgal as my friend and business partner.
Follow-up to this story
Tuesday, August 20, 2002 9:00 PM
Letter from Ted Weisgal to Rick Archer
"Rick, As much as I appreciate what you've written, I'm sorry I come across as so serious.
You've opened my eyes to the way I come across to others. Hopefully some people see me in a different light. Thanks for the story. I hope what you've written will inspire me to do more of what you claim I do.
Wed 08/21/2002 10:55 AM
My Response to Ted
"Ted, you seem to be concerned about your seriousness. For what you accomplished, I think your intensity and focus has served you very well. You found the perfect job to match your nature. Your intensity is a gift. You have it; other people don't. Your force of will is something to behold.
I knew Alex and Donna pretty well. I meant it when I said I thought they were talented.
Alex had immense personal charm. His political abilities were the best I have ever seen.
Donna was very creative, very bright, very poised, and unlike Alex pretty committed herself.
You were a huge underdog.
Yet you beat them both and put their programs out of business. Both Alex and Donna underestimated you. They didn't see what you had inside - your heart, your willingness to work 24/7. You left them both shaking their heads saying "how in the hell did he do it?"
So quit picking on yourself for being serious!! It is a strength, not a weakness. I doubt you would have succeeded without your amazing drive. You are the embodiment of the American ideal - that hard work pays off!!
Considering the head start both programs had on you, your come-from-behind victories are a testimony to your own considerable talent. My girlfriend Marla, no slouch at business herself, proof-read my article. When she finished, she smiled in acknowledgement and said your story impressed her a lot.
I have admired your drive for twenty years and I finally decided to tell the community you serve about it.
So embrace your seriousness!! Keep up the good work and quit worrying about your image. You are starting to sound like Alex... ;-)
I will take your substance over his style any day.