The Greeks had Homer, Enlightenment France had Voltaire and we have Jake: the pseudonymous author of Glamour’s “guy column,” sort of a breezy, unbylined sex and sensibility counterpart to The New Republic’s long-running TRB.
Glamour first introduced Jake to its readers in February 1956, “to bring a man’s point of view into each issue of Glamour.” More than half a century later (and just in time for Valentine’s Day), Jake will publish his first book, Always Hit On the Wingman … and 9 Other Secret Rules for Getting the Love Life You Want (Hyperion).
Access to the mind of the opposite sex has widespread appeal; the form pops up in magazines ranging from Seventeen to O: The Oprah Magazine. Cosmopolitan once had a designated Guy Spy; it now surveys men on the street for Guys Reveal. Even The Hairpin, a blog whose raison d’etre seems to be an antidote to women’s magazines, has adopted the form. Ask a Dude routinely tops the most commented and most read stories lists.
Men also seem to appreciate a native guide when traversing the psychology of the Other. Esquire has long employed the comedienne Stacey Grenrock-Woods, and Men’s Health has two female columnists, The Sex Professor and The Girl Next Door, which might make for a troubling dichotomy, were it not for a third, online-only columnist: The Men’s Health Feminist.
What separates Jake from other gender ambassadors is his secret identity. Over the years, more than a dozen different men have been Jake for four-year terms, give or take. As such, Jake is always contemporary (if not always relevant) and Jake is always candid (if not always compelling). He’s like a 29-year-old stranger, trapped at an airport bar in an eternal layover, a little drunk and looking to spill.
In each issue of Glamour, Jake offers a window into the male mind—or at least the part of it that the women of their day still wondered about after all the long-winded dates and post-coital silences, as channeled by a single man speaking for his fellows.
The first Jake was Bud Palmer, a Princeton jock turned New York Knicks captain credited with inventing the jump shot.
His print persona was a worldly gadabout with an endless supply of single cousins and female friends in his orbit, colliding at confessional lunches, cocktail parties and beach weekends. Much of Jake the First’s advice springs eternal. Be alone once in a while, a group of women intimidates us. Don’t be afraid to be smart, but don’t fake it or condescend. You look ridiculous in that hat.
But not all of his nuggets stand the test of time. Although women were his audience, it was clear that this first incarnation of Jake did not consider them his peers.
When a girl gets into something big, be it politics or an absorbing job, a great deal of the warmth and sweetness seems to go out of her.
They left that one out of the book.
The next January he suggested women “resolve toward more imaginative cookery,” and, tired of the word “fabulous,” suggested they liven up their vocabulary with new phrases. He offered “cotton picking” for humdrum days in the typing pool and “out of my Chinese mind” for exhaustion.
“If not Chinese then Oriental or Upper Manchurian, at worst.” For the sake of Jake’s legacy, contemporary readers might skip a 1958 column on the pleasures of dating a Mexican woman altogether.
A decade later, a new Jake cared less for his persona. The column became a forum for gender-driven cultural criticism. Jake teased a Missouri boarding school reader who thanked him for doing his part to stop communist influence on fashion (bikinis, low necklines) and railed at Mary Quant and her ilk for their “reactionary,” “narcissistic” baby doll dresses.
Under the polka dots and the posies there’s an actual woman who is an amiable, thought-provoking person. But the mask tends to become the face.
Sexual Revolution Jake deemed the romantic male “a feudal hangover,” but praised Claude Lelouch movies, where love made couples “stronger than their environment.” “A good thing to be reminded of these days, when Hugh Hefner is recommending … the Playboy philosophy,”
In the mid-’70s, Jake became a how-to column heavy on meandering self-analysis. Never mind how to get a man back, Jake wrote, first ask yourself why you want to. He sounded a little stoned.
After you’ve thought about it, you’ll realize that the whole situation is an unanswered question that should be cleared up one way or another.
By the end of the ’80s, such watery self-help had its own section at bookstores, and Jake assumed a different role. Although he still occasionally decoded man-speak or identified trends in sex, just as often he offered readers a racy serialized narrative of the life of Jake, single guy in New York City.
For example, one ’90s Jake, Andrew Postman, earned the gig with an audition column that transcribed a man’s inner monologue immediately before, during and after climax. Mr. Postman’s Jake was marked by the addictive saga of his long-distance love, “A.”
In one column, Mr. Postman dared to address the subject of date rape. While running in Prospect Park—where there had recently been a series of assaults on women—Mr. Postman realized that if he were a woman, he would not drink as much or party as recklessly as he does, in order to protect himself from unwanted advances. Though the column aimed to be sympathetic, he received an unprecedented number of letters, many of them irate.
A few years ago, Glamour experimented with abandoning secrecy in favor of publicity campaign, letting readers choose the next Jake. Contestants were scouted by Glamour editors and paid a lump sum in the neighborhood of $5,000 to undertake a series of tests, like blogging about their love lives on Glamour.com and answering questions on CBS’s The Early Show. The proceedings were memorably reported on by Gawker, who had a former intern, Neel Shah, in the ring, although he eventually lost to comedian Michael Somerville.
“Anonymity started to seem a little old,” then-executive editor Jill Herzig explained, at Mr. Somerville’s debut. “We have people blogging about their dating lives, we have reality shows, so it seemed like we could probably bring Jake out of the closet.”
A stand-up comedian whose bread and butter is gender and relationships, Mr. Somerville had a fan base to gain from taking Jake public. But it also put him in a more intimate relationship with his fans than he anticipated. He received one memorable letter from an 18-year-old from Oklahoma.
I’ve been saving myself for marriage, but I met a really nice guy. Should I do it?
“That’s all it said!” he recalled. Fearing how she would interpret silence on his end, he quickly responded with a multiple page letter covering every possible scenario. And those didn’t come at Condé Nast’s $2-a-word rate.
“I was afraid she’d show up at one of my shows with a baby named after me,” he said.
Mr. Somerville didn’t fight to get his two-year contract renewed, and went back to full-time comedy. (His album “Handsomely Disheveled,” is released in December.)
“Jake is something different to every woman,” he told The Observer from a courtesy phone in a lounge at Newark airport. (He dropped his cell phone in a hot tub in West Palm Beach over the weekend.)
“He’s her ex-boyfriend, or her ideal man, or an olive-skinned Mediterranean guy. If you know who he is, all of the sudden it’s just this Irish guy with curly hair.”
Mr. Postman, who left as soon as things got serious with A. agreed. (His now-wife, Alexandra Postman, is the editor of Whole Living Magazine.)
“He’s supposed to be a timeless, ageless figure,” he explained. “You owe it to Jake to inhabit that name for a short period of time and then let some new guy with a new point of view do his shtick.”
Still, a stint as Jake can be a valuable a calling card. Another ’90s Jake, Brian Alexander, authored America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction, and now writes Sexploration, a sex and romance column for MSNBC.com, but never fails to mention Glamour in his bio.
Other Jakes, ready to move on, or desperate to compartmentalize, or simply paranoid their past will be a deal-breaker for prospective dates or editors, uphold the code of silence like Bonesmen.
“I just don’t think I have anything to say,” a purported former Jake told The Observer when we reached him at a top men’s magazine. “Partly because it would be boring, partly because it would serve no purpose, partly because I have never even heard of Jake!”