Writes of Passage

Charlotte Leibel knows all about the handwriting on the wall, and she uses it to unlock the secrets of personality

Handwriting analysis, although derided by most psychology experts today, had greater prestige when Leibel first started practicing it. Her first teacher, Marcuse, had served as a consultant to famed psychiatrist Carl Jung and had helped promote the concept of handwriting as a key to unlocking the subconscious. Leibel later learned the tenets of graphotherapy -- as opposed to just handwriting analysis -- from a variety of books.

Using all those insights, she slowly began establishing a client base, first in Boston, then in Miami after she moved here in 1946. She gave lectures at Kiwanis and Lions clubs as well as to members of other civic groups, impressing those in the audience and gaining a following that brought her as many as three clients a day. After one talk, for instance, she studied a woman's handwriting and determined that the rigid stroke leading into some letters indicated a strong resentment against a family member (her husband, the woman admitted). Leibel asked her, "Do you have ulcers?"

"I sure do," the woman answered. Leibel's prescription: Abandon the rigid stroke and steer clear of disturbing situations. As Leibel tells it, about a year later, she again met the woman, who reported that her ulcers had disappeared along with the writing stroke that Leibel decried.

Much of Leibel's work over the years has served men and women seeking to determine the compatibility of potential mates -- she firmly believes it's all revealed in the writing. At various times, Leibel claims, she's forecast ill-fated relationships that have ended in divorce, and warned men against "gold diggers" (the giveaway: enlarged lower loops). Sometimes she even has found people who were well matched. But often her clients are not happy to hear what she has to say. Even her own niece complained "that I was horrible and interfered with her relationships." Leibel pauses for a moment and then adds, "She finally had to admit I was right."

Given Leibel's zeal, though, she never has been content with merely counseling others, but rather always has sought to spread the graphology gospel. By the 1960s, she had close to two dozen students she taught privately in Miami Beach, and in 1972 Stein and Day published about 2500 copies of her book, Change Your Handwriting...Change Your Life, a summation of her 30 years of work in the field. It still can be found in many public libraries around the country. She also developed a flair for self-promotion, appearing a few dozen times on local radio and lecturing widely to civic groups.

Eventually, however, she drifted into obscurity, and after her husband lost virtually all their life's savings through bad investments in the commodities market and then died about fifteen years ago, Charlotte Leibel faced a seemingly grim existence. "We were wiped out," she recalls, and, at age 80, she went to work part-time as an adult education teacher for Dade County Public Schools, a job she held until she was 93 years old. Through it all, her feistiness and optimism remained undiminished, even as she found it necessary to move into a housing project for the elderly about two years ago. (She likes the amenities, but "as soon as I get a little money, I'm out of here," she declares, hoping for profits from sales of her book.)

About a year and a half ago, she met a man who would put her back in the limelight. At her chiropractor's office, she struck up a conversation with Jeff Starkman, a long-haired, hard-charging marketing consultant and real estate investor. Skeptical at first when he scribbled a few lines for her, Starkman was wowed by Leibel's ability to determine a variety of his traits and problems, from his fondness for fast cars to his confused thinking that led to serious mistakes (he recently had lost a bundle in real estate). He remembers, "I'm thinking like, 'Fuck, this old lady is practically taking my clothes off'" [by pinpointing so many personal attributes]. She even spotted -- but didn't tell him then -- his bisexuality.

Starkman, now 44 years old, was so impressed that he vowed to republish her book. He also became a loyal student and client, changing his script to write more clearly and with smaller letters, in order to improve his concentration and mental clarity. But his goal of putting out a revised version of her book remained an unrealized ambition. "The book was filled with great material, but it had no sizzle," he says. He needed a fresh angle, and then he got his lucky break: O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder last June.

"He's a great salesman," Leibel now says of her publisher and promoter. The new book includes two analyses of Simpson's handwriting, including one by forensic handwriting expert Ron Rice of Boston. Additionally, its cover is emblazoned with a pink headline about an "exclusive O.J. Simpson profile" and a reproduction of O.J.'s famous note. Starkman and the book's printer, Sol Roskin of Miami-based Hallmark Press, invested the funds needed to produce a first run of about 7000 copies.

Along the way, Starkman has become a skilled novice handwriting analyst himself. During a recent meal, he casually asks the waiter to write a few lines, and then begins reeling off personality traits to the dumbfounded worker. "You do a lot of self-preservation, keeping people at a distance," Starkman says. "Very true," the waiter, Alex Pacallao, responds. Starkman recites other personal features: "You're a most loyal friend.... You're in control of your emotions.... You live a hermetic lifestyle...." The waiter keeps saying yes, and finally exclaims, "This is scary. You've read me more accurately than anyone has ever come close to. I got goose bumps listening to you."

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