Local men call hunk calendar tactics misleading

A calendar featuring single Jewish men is designed to turn a profit for its publishers rather than benefit Jewish causes as promised, two East Bay men charge.

The two, originally solicited for a wall calendar of Jewish male pinups aimed at Jewish women, claim they were, in fact, doubly misled by the publishers about money.

They say they also were solicited for fees to appear in AlaskaMen USA, a monthly singles dating magazine produced by the same publishers, after being told inclusion would be cost-free.

"This is the modern equivalent of a snake-oil salesman," says Brian Barton of Oakland.

The publishers deny intending to mislead anyone, although AlaskaMen USA chief executive officer Bill Bradham admits there may have been an appearance of a bait-and-switch operation.

He says he is sorry for misunderstandings that have occurred.

Regarding beneficiaries, Susie Carter, Anchorage-based editor of AlaskaMen USA as well as the "hunk" calendars, says 50,000 calendars are to be sold to nonprofit Jewish organizations such as Hadassah, which in turn will sell them to raise funds.

Both she and Bradham, whose Red Bluff-based Citizen's Group company bought AlaskaMen USA seven months ago, readily admit their company is a for-profit business, however.

The controversy began last August, when AlaskaMen USA's publishers approached Jewish communities nationwide seeking nominations of "special, single Jewish men" to appear in two calendars: "My Son the Doctor" and "JewishMen."

Carter and Novato-based publicist Nancy Armstrong orchestrated a media campaign to target the Jewish community, hyping the calendars to a handful of Jewish newspapers across the country.

Subsequent articles, including a feature in the Jewish Bulletin, led to over 100 nominations of Jewish men by family, friends and associates.

The two would-be East Bay pinups say that after being nominated by friends they were solicited for AlaskaMen USA, which charges men to run their ads and then charges women $2 a minute for calling the bachelors on 900 numbers.

AlaskaMen USA's Bradham says all the charges are above-board. But "all guys have the option of being in the magazine at no charge," he adds.

Barton and the second man, a Contra Costa County resident who requested anonymity, each contend the word "free" was never used. Costs to appear in AlaskaMen range from $199 to $1,499, according to material sent them.

"It was a dream come true," Barton, 29, says of the pinups. "They told me, `You're in like Flynn, just send us back the paperwork.' Then, all of a sudden, it was `pay.'"

Barton also says it was never clear the fee was to be for AlaskaMen USA and not a calendar.

He and other pinup hopefuls say they got instructions about placing ads in AlaskaMen that said "there is a color separation/process fee that each man must cover of $199 [for a one-quarter page size]…Most common appearances by men in the past are half to full-page in size [priced at $399 to $789]."

According to Barton, AlaskaMen editorial staff members Charles Black and Forest Crane called him several times asking him to send in the paperwork and fee. "They kept turning up the heat. Finally, I screamed at them, `Don't call me anymore.'"

The Contra Costa calendar nominee, a 41-year-old sales manager, also was puzzled by the price sheet.

Both said they'd given up on the project when they were told an anonymous donor offered to pay for them to appear in the magazine.

The Contra Costa nominee didn't ask who his sponsor was, figuring it was "a fairy godmother." But when Barton questioned who his sponsor was, he received a letter from Carter stating the magazine has a policy not to "reveal sponsorship that has been requested to keep confidencial [sic]…You have the right to withdraw from the magazine if you would rather not be sponsored, or you can pay for sponsorship yourself."

Asked about that letter, Carter says some sponsors choose to remain anonymous for "tax purposes." Bradham, however, notes that most sponsors are advertisers who prefer the publicity.

As of now, Bradham adds, the Anchorage office has been directed to offer all 52 interested Jewish calendar nominees a free quarter-page spot in the magazine — a courtesy to compensate for delays in publishing the calendars.

When asked why the nominees were asked to pay for slots in the magazine in the first place, he says: "Charlie [Black] gets paid on commission. So he was not letting them know they could get a free page. But I didn't want this to be a bait and switch."

Charles Black declines to comment.

As for the Jewish calendars, Carter admits AlaskaMen may be charging a "sponsorship fee" not mentioned in publicity information. She won't disclose the amount but says, "It's just like the Miss America Pageant. All pageants have sponsor fees. Ours is very small."

She says that the company currently is negotiating with "a major sponsor" who would cover the cost of printing the calendars, "so the men wouldn't have to."

Bradham is prepared to go a step further. Men will not be required to pay the calendar sponsorship fee no matter what, he says. To guarantee that, he says, he will mail Jewish nominees assurances that AlaskaMen USA is not charging them to appear in either the magazine or calendar.

The four calendar nominees who have appeared in the magazine so far have "not paid a cent," adds Bradham, who says he is determined to retain the "good relationship" he has with the Jewish community.