Resemblance to a "Love Boat" character foretold Michele Schwartz’s career pretty closely.
"My nickname in high school was: Julie McCoy, cruise director," the Jewish wedding expert recalls. "I was very social. But I always had to be in charge."
Her hyper-sociability did not abate. Now the San Antonio-born Schwartz, 44, is married. And rather than plan weddings as she once did, she coaches others to do so.
Schwartz, whose features would look right on the lead comic in a 1950s sitcom or variety show, advises mostly through her blog, "The Modern Jewish Wedding." She also consults directly with still-active wedding planners.
"I fell into event planning," she says. "But trained for it my whole life. Judaism, I was born into."
It’s easy to see how Schwartz undercuts the stress of event management with snappy wit.
An only child — "that was part of the pressure to get married" — Schwartz grew up mostly in Austin and excelled at Anderson High School. Her early social composure might be related to the way her parents raised Schwartz.
"My parents treated me very much as an adult," she says. "We traveled a lot. They took me on vacations. I was around adult social interactions. I was perhaps a little outspoken. Them, too. I’m a lot like my mom."
Not everything went her way. At the University of Texas, the Jewish Community Center-level swimmer served as manager for the UT women’s swim team.
"I thought it would be an amazing opportunity," she says. "It was my first time out of the cocoon. It was also the first time I experienced anti-Semitism. It was a really hard two years for me. There were prayers in the locker room. Everyone went to Fellowship of Christian Athletes. One person said: Don’t Jew me down."
Meanwhile, Schwartz wanted to be a reporter like Woodward and Bernstein, but was shocked to find out that even a writer or editor’s choice of subjects can be colored by unconscious bias.
"One of my professors was open about you having finite space, and what you choose to make your lead creates the news," she says. "Anyway, it all worked out the way it was supposed to."
Schwartz instead followed another dream that led straight to Disney in Orlando.
"I started at the front desk as a hostess wearing a beautiful pink polyester bow tie at the Grand Floridian Resort," she says. "The best first job anybody could ever get out of college. Best place to learn about customer service, business, branding — then get the hell out."
"We called it the pixie dust," she says of working her way up the Disney ladder. "Once the pixie dust wears off, it’s a really, really hard job for really, really low pay and really, really bad hours."
After Orlando, Schwartz headed to Dallas, home to a larger Jewish singles population than Austin.
"I was serious with a non-Jewish boy once," she explains. "But once I realized that the faith issue came between us, there was no question that I would marry someone Jewish — and a Democrat."
At age 39, she met Jesse Gordon, a computer scientist with two children, ages now 17 and 13. Just the ticket.
She moved back to Austin in 2003 to study social work, concentrating on Jewish "life-cycle language." She didn’t finish the degree.
"I’m too crazy to give anyone else therapy," she says with a laugh. "But I learned enough to help in event planning and being a stepmom."
She could teach others to do Jewish events, which is less stressful than actual wedding planning.
"I have bad wedding mojo," she says. "I once ruined a ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract and the original pre-nup agreement. Had an engagement break off, a bride faint, wine spilled on a dress."
While she now coaches wedding planners, she agrees to oversee the coming-of-age bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, which must appeal to a wide range of guests.
"It’s for 13-year-olds, but also everybody from pishers to altercockers," she says. "From the youngest and oldest in Yiddish."
Given all the modern variations, what’s essential to a Jewish wedding?
"Two things are required: the ring or an object of value, and the ketubah," she says. "Everything else is tradition."
She teaches planners to find the right blend of tradition for the converging families.
"It’s done on a case-by-case basis," she says. "I have to do it in my marriage all the time. My husband is Conservative and I’m Reform. It’s honoring and respecting your own family’s traditions as well."
To add a twist, Jewish same-sex couples now wed, adding another layer of management.
"Planners are always surprised by the level of actual fun at Jewish weddings and life-cycle events," Schwartz says. "We like to drink. We like to dance. They are very joyous occasions."