A Little Bit of Pluck

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

The Tweezerman saga is a classic American story of a guy with a dream rising from rags to riches, then coming to Washington to change the world, but the truly amazing part is that the whole thing -- the gourmet tweezer empire, the movie producing, the peace mission to Iraq, the run for president -- would never have happened if not for that painful moment when Dal LaMagna, who is Tweezerman, got 32 splinters in his butt during an erotic interlude on a rooftop in Venice Beach, Calif.

Life sure is strange sometimes, isn't it?

Dal LaMagna's life has certainly been strange. It was strange enough before he founded Tweezerman, a business built on plucking, and it got even stranger when he sold the business and took his $30 million windfall and tried to end the war in Iraq. LaMagna's life story could fill a book and, as it happens, he's writing one.

"I'm writing my memoirs," he says. "It's pretty funny. It's called 'Failing to Get Ahead.' Instead of being, like, 'The Seven Steps to Success,' I decided to make it the story of failure. I learned from all my failures."

At 61, LaMagna is trim and handsome with thick salt-and-pepper hair and a face that looks melancholy, even when he's telling a funny story about himself, which is often. Now, he's sitting on the back porch of his $2.1 million home near Dupont Circle. It's an old three-story brick house with creaky floors covered with threadbare carpets and walls decorated with ancient oil paintings of venerable ancestors. They're not LaMagna's ancestors, though. They came with the house.

"I bought this place fully furnished -- everything, the furniture, the pictures, even the plants," he says. "I did a cash deal."

He bought the house in 2007, so he'd have a place to host the Iraqi dissident and the antiwar activists who were helping him try to persuade Congress to get out of Iraq. LaMagna's lobbying failed to end the war, so he went to Iraq and tried to negotiate a cease-fire. That didn't work either, so he was forced to resort to the ultimate tactic.

"I kinda felt, I gotta take this message to the American people," he says. "And that's why I ran for president."

Sitting on a 'Genius' Idea

Maybe Dal LaMagna was destined to run for president. After all, he was born on the Fourth of July, and he's a real American go-getter, a can-do guy, an entrepreneur, a hustler, a self-made man, a -- what's the term we're looking for here?

"He's a ball of fire," says his friend Jim McDermott, a Democratic congressman from Washington state. "He's really a wild stallion."

Son of a longshoreman, LaMagna grew up in Queens and attended Catholic schools, then Providence College, where the priests who ran the place were not thrilled, he says, when he used the school computer to start a computer dating business.

He arrived at the mecca of capitalism, the Harvard Business School, in 1968. It was a time of campus protests and riots against the Vietnam War, but LaMagna was more interested in making money, usually with the kind of cockamamie schemes scorned by the Harvard Business School. He opened a waterbed store and a psychedelic lighting store, and he took a year off to try to get rich by turning two drive-in movie theaters into drive-in discos.

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