First to enter the restaurant, passing under the balcony famously lined with 21 cast-iron lawn jockeys, were Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, a young real estate operator whose father, also big in real estate, had been a regular. Then a motorcade zoomed up, disgorging the Donald with wife Melania, accompanied by Tiffany Trump, Donald Jr. and Vanessa Trump, and Eric and Lara Trump, plus the inevitable Secret Service contingent. They had surprised everyone, and especially the press and their staff, by leaving the security of Trump Tower on Tuesday evening, November 15, to dine at the famous 21 Club, a time-honored Manhattan institution on West 52nd Street but a few blocks from the tower, a former speakeasy now known for its superb cocktails and mediocre food.
The block was promptly shut down by the police, and when the press, alerted by a report from a diner inside, came flocking, only a few reporters were allowed to stand outside while the royal banquet proceeded within. A standing ovation greeted the president elect as he arrived and again, albeit modestly, as he left; in between, fellow diners were snapping photos of him. Since his usual table, no. 11, was too small for the group, the Donald and his family were seated at no. 14. And what did our teetotaling future lord indulge in? According to an observant fellow diner, a burger with fries and a virgin (meaning nonalcoholic) Bloody Mary. A modest repast, but a burger there costs $36.
Ivanka, Melania, Tiffany, Donald Jr., Vanessa, Eric, Lara – what a lot of Trumpies! With Bill and Hillary it was just three, then four once Chelsea got married – so easy to keep track of. But the Trump clan is huge by comparison. So let’s sort them out while they’re still all here in New York. And since Melania is the third of the Donald’s beauteous marital adornments, we’ll include the two exes as well.
His first wife was Ivana, but that’s about as much as is certain about her earlier life. She was born in either postwar Communist Czechoslovakia, or maybe Austria. When they were married in 1977 by the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale in his Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, she gave her last name as Winklmayr, having married an Austrian by that name so she could get a passport. But at times she used her maiden name, Zelnickova, and while residing in Catholic Montreal she claimed to be married to a live-in Czech boyfriend named Syrovatka, a skier who had defected to Canada.
Clearly, a woman of mystery, and that’s just the beginning. She may have been on the Czech skiing team at the Winter Olympics of 1972, or she may simply have been a good non-Olympic skier. In any event she made her way to Montreal, where she became a much sought-after fashion model, or just one of many such. Certainly she was attractive; photos show a young beauty with abundant blond hair. It was probably at a fashion show in New York that Trump met her in 1976, and he was instantly smitten. He followed her to Montreal, introduced her to his parents in New York, and whisked her off to Aspen for Christmas, where he skied clumsily while she whipped past him on the slopes. Yes, she was an expert skier, and he didn’t like being outskied, least of all by a woman, however beautiful. But his bruised ego recovered, and he proposed on New Year’s Eve and then, after she broke off with Syrovatka, they were married in April 1977.
But first there was the little matter of a prenuptial agreement that he asked her to sign, stipulating that, in the event of divorce, she must return any gifts he had given her – an agreement suggested by his attorney, the notorious Roy Cohn (see post #237, June 22, 2016). Ivanka was no fool; a lawyer represented her in the ensuing negotiations with Trump and Cohn, and she demanded $150,000 to be deposited in an account under her name. Both finally yielded a little, an agreement was signed, and they were married in Peale’s lily-adorned church before 200 guests, including Mayor Abe Beame.
The married couple were apparently at first quite happy, and three beautiful children resulted: Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. It was Ivana who gave her husband the name “the Donald,” and it was stuck to him ever since.
Alas, happiness is a perishable item, especially among the rich and famous. Trouble came in the form of another dazzling blonde, this one from Georgia, U.S.A.: Marla Maples, a frequent beauty pageant contestant who had almost won the title of Miss Hawaiian Tropic International in 1985. In that same year she moved to New York, hoping for a career in theater, and met Trump at the gala reopening of the famous Rainbow Room. When he invited her to lunch, she hesitated, then accepted. The lunch was a five-hour affair at the St. Regis Hotel, in the course of which he confessed that his marriage was all but over. Marla was 24, 14 years younger than Ivana, and her relationship with Trump developed slowly and, at first, out of the public eye. Becoming aware of the affair, Ivana confronted Marla in Aspen and allegedly said, “You bitch, leave my husband alone!” Rumors circulated, and it was soon known that the Trump marriage was unraveling. When the New York Post blazoned on its front page “Marla Boast to Pals About Donald: ‘Best Sex I’ve Ever Had,’” Marla denounced the anonymous story as false, but the scandal shredded her budding career in theater. Ivana was distraught, her children troubled; finally she filed for divorce, and after prolonged negotiations got a check for $10 million plus $650,000 a year to support herself and their three children. But Marla didn’t marry him at once, even when pregnant with their daughter Tiffany; meanwhile, ever resourceful, she introduced and promoted a new line of fashionable maternity clothes. Finally , on December 20, 1993, they were married before 900 guests at the Marble Collegiate Church, but only after she had been pressured to sign – you guessed it! – a prenuptial agreement.
The new marriage did not go well. Marla discovered that her husband was so obsessed with business that he was emotionally detached from loved ones, including his four children. For Trump, life was all about getting and less about keeping, and it showed in his failed marriages. In his third book, Trump: The Art of the Comeback, he would depict women as sexually voracious “killers” who used their beauty to dominate men, then observed that “I seem to bring out either the best or the worst in women.” By 1997 they were ready to divorce, but months of quiet negotiations followed before she accepted the prenuptial agreement’s provision of $2 million and ongoing support. The divorce was finalized in 1999, but they still met from time to time, having a shared interest in their daughter Tiffany. Their marriage had lasted a mere six years.
In 1998, a year before the divorce, another woman entered his life: Melania Knauss, an immigrant from Slovenia, an attractive model whose affair with him went for many years before they married on January 22, 2005. This time the wedding took place at a church in Palm Beach, with 350 guests at the reception, including Oprah Winfrey, Rudy Giuliani, and then-Senator Hillary Clinton and her husband.
To have your name linked to the Donald is to expose you to scandal-hungry tabloids and gossip magazines (those mags that assault your eyes at checkout counters of supermarkets); privacy is hard to come by. Those two divorces involved real heartbreak for the rejected wives, and confusion and insecurity for the children. The kids are all now involved with their sire, but what deep feelings they harbor is not known to the public. More temptations and dangers await them as the Donald ascends the throne of this nation. So let’s sum them up:
By the first wife, Ivana:
· Donald Jr., 39, a real estate developer and Executive Vice President of Development & Acquisitions of the Trump Organization; married to Vanessa, a former model and actress; 5 children.
· Ivanka, 35, a former fashion model, Executive Vice President of Development & Acquisitions of the Trump Organization (which makes two of that breed), founder of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, its flagship store in the Trump Tower; married to Jared Kushner, described by Wikipedia as “an American businessman, investor and political operative,” owner of a real estate holding company and publisher of the weekly New York Observer; 3 children.
· Eric, 32, Executive Vice President of Development & Acquisitions of the Trump Organization (which makes three), founder of the Eric Trump Foundation, owner of Trump Winery, and overseer of his father’s 18 golf clubs (courses, not implements), married to Lara, who is described as “an avid equestrian” and animal lover; no children to date.
By the second wife, Marla:
· Tiffany (named for the famous jewelry store, whose air rights her father bought so as to build the Trump Tower), 23, an Internet personality, singer, and model; unmarried.
By the third wife, Melania:
· Barron, 10, who lives with his parents in the Trump Tower.
And what do the kids say of their father? Here’s a sampling, culled by his biographer Michael D’Antonio in interviews:
· “There’s no more all-American guy than him.” – Eric
· “He’s going to say exactly what he is thinking. He doesn’t need to hear what the question is or the story is in advance so he can craft an answer.” – Ivanka
· “He’s a polarizing guy. That person who hates Trump the most still wants to get their picture taken with him when he walks by.” – Donald Jr.
Their remarks convey admiration and wonder, not resentment.
The whole slew of Trumpies are a beautiful bunch, with a tendency toward long-haired blondes among the women. The Donald won the election by appealing to white blue-collar workers in the Midwest, but he and his family are elite in the extreme, steeped in glamour and glitz: real estate men and fashion models, investors and entrepreneurs, most of them executives of one sort or another and linked to the Trump Organization, connections with which may prove problematic, now that the president elect plans to turn his businesses over to them so as to avoid conflicts of interest.
Daughter Ivanka’s presence at her father’s meeting with the prime minister of Japan has already stirred controversy. And her New York residence at the Puck Building (owned by her husband and his father), at the corner of Houston and Lafayette in downtown Manhattan, inspired a peaceful demonstration there on November 28 by more than 150 artists, curators, and gallery owners protesting her father’s policies and pronouncements, while a new Instagram account is posting similar messages to her, since she is thought to be more attuned to culture and art than her father is.
And the two ex-wives? Ivana has since married and divorced, then married again, the wedding for 400 guests hosted by none other then the Donald at Mar-a-Lago, his palm-tree-adorned estate in Palm Beach, with daughter Ivanka as maid of honor. Ivana has since separated from hubby #3, with whom she has an “on-again/off-again relationship.” She has also developed lines of clothing, fashion jewelry, and beauty products sold through TV shopping channels; has investments in Croatia; and has written several books. Hardly a has-been.
And Marla? She has appeared in films and on radio and television; supports charities and non-profits; has declared herself “mostly vegan”; and has released an album, one song from which won a Hollywood musical award. Yes, there is life after Trump; these girls don’t fade away.
As for Melania, future challenges await her as First Lady. She has already been described as unsmiling and ice-cold, a sharp contrast with Michelle Obama. In September she filed defamation lawsuits against a British tabloid and a Maryland political blogger, because of their allegations that she had worked as an escort for a gentlemen’s club in Italy in the 1990s; the tabloid and the blogger both published retractions and apologies. As First Lady she hopes to help women and children, and especially wants to combat cyberbullying among children, having herself quit social media because of the “negativity.” Good luck on that, Melania. She will not immediately move with her husband into the White House, since she wants her son Barron to finish his school year here in New York. (From Barron I anticipate a future blockbuster memoir: “I Grew Up in the White House.”) So the Donald will probably be hopping back and forth between Washington and New York. Trump Tower, after all, has things the White House can’t offer: spaciousness, glitz, and Melania.
Source note: For much of the information in this post, especially as regards the two previous wives, I am indebted to Michael D’Antonio’s biography, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success (St. Martin’s Press, 2015). For a reliable survey of the Donald’s career to date, one can’t do better.
The Naked Cowboy (and others) at the Tower: The Trump Tower, the subject of the previous post, is hosting more than Trumpies and potential cabinet members and staff. The Tower is still open to the public, albeit with heightened security, for the Donald has followed the example of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who decreed that the palace and spacious grounds of Versailles should be open to the public, so as to dazzle them with the wonders therein. So it is that the Tower’s lobby has recently witnessed performances by none other than the Naked Cowboy, wearing his spangled undershorts and a slung guitar and not much else, with TRUMP blazoned across his vibrant behind.
A fixture in Times Square for decades, the Cowboy has migrated there to pose with potential cabinet members, boost the numbers of his social media following, promote his Naked Cowboy Oysters, and voice his admiration of the president elect, whose victory has given him faith in American and human potential; the Cowboy wants to be a New York icon, too, and live in a top-floor apartment like the Donald. In a corner of that same lobby a man reads aloud from Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States by way of protesting Trump’s election, while on the sidewalk outside another malcontent sells pins bearing the message DUMP TRUMP. So it goes now on traffic-jammed, security-ridden, prestigious Fifth Avenue in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
Coming soon: No idea, but it won’t involve the Donald.
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My poems: For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down. To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here. For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.
My books: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016. For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here. As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
© 2016 Clifford Browder