Film Revives Cowboy's Matchmaking Business In Casas Grandes, Mexico, lives one of the great characters of the borderlands -- an old horse trainer who arranges marriages between lonely American men and willing Mexican women. He's now the subject of a documentary film called Cowboy del Amor.
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Film Revives Cowboy's Matchmaking Business

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Film Revives Cowboy's Matchmaking Business

Film Revives Cowboy's Matchmaking Business

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We first met Ivan Thompson six years ago on this program. He's a former rodeo cowboy and horse trader turned matchmaker. Today, Ivan Thompson is still fixing up American men and Mexican women on the southwest border. His business had fallen on hard times, but after a recent documentary movie was made about him, things could be looking up.

NPR's John Burnett revisits the Cowboy Cupid.

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

Ivan Thompson's life has never been much of an advertisement for his business. Seventeen years ago, he put an ad in a newspaper in Juarez, Mexico, for a wife. He was astonished when he got some 80 responses. One of them led to marriage, but it only lasted nine years. Despite his failed cross-border marriage, Thompson realized there was a plentiful market of lonely American men tired of American women, and lonely Mexican women tired of Mexican men. What they lacked was an introduction.

(Soundbite of Mexican radio commercial)

Mr. IVAN THOMPSON (Matchmaker): The ad says American businessman, 61 years old, looking for a marriage-minded woman between the age of 25 and 50--thin, no more than one child. Call this motel and this room.

BURNETT: Thompson and his client are waiting for applicants to the radio spot in Room 115 at Las Puentas Hotel in Casas Grandes, Mexico, a three-hour drive from the New Mexico border. The marriage broker slouches in a fake leather chair, nibbling cashews and waiting for love. He looks more cowboy than Cupid, in a hat, boots, and a big silver belt buckle. The client sits on an algae green bedspread. He's a big man in hiking boots, jeans, and a leather vest.

Mr. GARRY CHILDS (Thompson's Client): I am Garry Childs, and I'm from Michigan. I'm a rancher, retired firefighter. I met Ivan through a friend of mine, and thought it was kind of interesting to come to Mexico to find a slim, attractive young lady that appreciates a good man.

BRAND: Two American men inviting women for interviews to hotel room in Mexico? Okay, it's sounds seedy, maybe a little menacing, but Thompson's done it this way, he estimates, more than a hundred times, and he claims it works. The mail order bride industry occasionally erupts into scandal when an abusive husband mistreats, even murders, his new foreign wife from places like Russia and the Philippines.

In January, President Bush signed into law the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act that seeks to protect immigrants from husbands with criminal records. Thompson claims, to his knowledge, he hasn't had any abusive clients. Nothing happens over the Internet, he insists. Everything is face to face.

And here comes another prospect: A short, thin woman with painted on eyebrows, wearing a Sport Girl jacket, stands in the doorway.

Ms. NORMA (Bridal Prospect): I hear you in the radio. Can I sit down?

Mr. CHILDS: Sure.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, you can sit down. So, Ivan Thompson.

Ms. NORMA: Hi, my name is Norma.

Mr. THOMPSON: Norma.

Ms. NORMA: Uh-huh.

Mr. THOMPSON: Mucho gusto.

BURNETT: Childs doesn't say much. Norma sits nervously with her four-year-old son, Miguelangel, and tries to be upbeat during her brief audition.

Ms. NORMA: I smile a lot. I always happy. My friends, they always ask me how come I laugh a lot? They don't be happy, them being in a bad mood.

Mr. THOMPSON: Your boy don't have no papers.

Ms. NORMA: That's what I'm trying to get him. They already asked me for pictures. There's no problem.

BURNETT: Thompson's questions are blunt and practical. He's learned to cut to the chase. After about ten minutes, Childs stands up, indicating the interview is over.

Mr. CHILDS: Well, I'll just give you a call later.

Ms. NORMA: All right.

Mr. CHILDS: That'd be okay?

Ms. NORMA: Okay.

Mr. CHILDS: You're going to be around tonight, are you?

Ms. NORMA: Yeah.

Mr. CHILDS: Okay. Thanks a lot.


Ms. NORMA: Okay. Thank you.

Mr. THOMPSON: Thank you for coming.

Ms. NORMA: Uh-huh.

Mr. THOMPSON: Good-bye.

Ms. NORMA: Bye.

BURNETT: Thompson charges about $3,000 for his personalized matchmaking service. The business is not incorporated, doesn't have a name, there are no contracts, just a handshake. It's really only a sideline. Thompson lives mainly on his Social Security in an adobe house in a village not far from here. But he says things are starting to turn around.

Mr. THOMPSON: Just as years went along, the more the internet come on, it looked to me like the more my business went south. But, you know, right now, my phone is fixing to ring. I'm going to need probably six telephones.

BURNETT: The reason is the new documentary, Cowboy Del Amour by Israeli filmmaker Michele Ohayon, with Thompson as the politically incorrect but endearing protagonist. It's gotten favorable reviews from the around the country. Ohayon, interviewed in Los Angeles, says her film has been generating clients for Thompson in the unlikeliest places.

Ms. MICHELE OHAYON (Filmmaker): When I was at the Palm Springs Film Festival, you know, Palm Springs has a lot of retired--it's a lot of retired community. And Ivan called me the next day, all excited, and he said guess what? I got some clients out of that festival in Palm Springs. There's a lot of lonely guys out of there who want to be matched, and they want somebody they can grow old with.

BURNETT: But sometimes, it just doesn't work out. Back at Las Puentas Hotel, after Norma leaves, Gary Childs is concerned about taking on a 34-year-old wife with a four year old son.

Mr. CHILDS: I'm sixty-one years old, think about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURNETT: Childs has only a couple of hours to decide if he wants to spend the rest of his life with Norma, one of more than a dozen women he'll meet with Thompson over the course of six days.

Mr. THOMPSON: But it's not for me. I mean, it's your deal. I mean...

Mr. CHILDS: I know.

Mr. THOMPSON: ...I just introduce them. Then the guy's got to live with them. So I want him to be happy.

Mr. CHILDS: I know. I know. I know. I got to think. Got to think.

BURNETT: At last check, the rancher had returned to Michigan empty-handed. Meanwhile, Ivan Thompson is bracing for a new wave of clients when Cowboy Del Amour airs April 5th on the Showtime Channel.

John Burnett, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And to see scenes from Cowboy Del Amour, including an emotional first meeting between an American truck driver and his Mexican bride to be, go to

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