- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

"The successful candidate will be articulate and at ease with major domestic and international print and electronic media," the job description states.
The finalists will be grilled before video camera and must face off against the press, the public, politicians and celebrities. They must make a big splash.
No, this is not a job search for White House spokesman. This is a search for a duckmaster.
For weeks, the 124-year-old Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., has scoured the nation for a special soul who can, well, master their ducks.
"We've heard from over a hundred people, and gotten dozens of resumes from Oregon, even Hollywood," hotel spokeswoman Maureen Gonzales said. "It's amazing, but lots and lots of people see themselves as a duckmaster."
Who could fill the bill? Aspirants must like bills, for one thing.
Twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, duckmasters must escort five Mallard ducks across the ornate hotel lobby as John Philip Sousa's "King Cotton March" plays on the loudspeakers and onlookers gape at the gaggle.
The ducks toddle with great ceremony down a 50-foot red carpet, from their own special elevator, to a marble fountain, where they paddle about until late afternoon. At 5 p.m. on the dot, the duckmaster returns and the process is repeated. The ducks march back, then retire to their penthouse, known as the "Duck Palace."
Though it has not yet declared itself a "Web site," the hotel has developed a veritable lexicon of duck puns. VIP stands for "Very Important Poultry" here, and the ideal duckmaster "will demonstrate a flair for 'fowl play.'"
The duckmaster has to wear a uniform, too: perfectly tailored red coat, golden epaulettes, duck-emblazoned tie. Then there's that media thing.
The ducks are "the five most famous mallards on the planet," said personnel director Nancy Lebrecht. They have appeared in magazines, newspapers, on television and at charitable events. They have their own limousine. The duckmaster must act as press representative, she said. There will be no web of lies, presumably.
The notion of duckmaster has proved to be such a public relations boon that the Peabody Hotel management has similar programs in its hotel properties in Little Rock, Ark., and Orlando, Fla., where the duck-watching crowd can sometimes number more than 300.
There's some unusual history to all this, though. Things got rolling back in 1934 when one nameless manager went off on a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. Upon his return, he had some libations and decided to place a few of his live-duck decoys in the hotel fountain and the rest is history. Guests adored them even more once bellman Edward Pembroke a recently retired circus animal trainer taught the ducks to march across the lobby.
These days, management must take special care to avoid any accusations of animal cruelty.
The "duck squad" is made up of three teams that rotate every three months, and the birds all receive "R&R;" on a farm with a pond. Guests cannot pet the ducks, and duckmasters must demonstrate "a love of, and respect, for all living creatures," according to Mrs. Lebrecht.
Meanwhile, the search for the Memphis-based duckmaster job has narrowed down to two hopefuls.
"They both go on camera to be interviewed. And they will have to try a duck march, to prove that they won't freeze up," hotel spokeswoman Mrs. Gonzales said. "We have to be very particular. This can prove an overwhelming job."


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