“If this were Mr. Cohen and Mrs. Cohen, who would care?” —Sarah Frantz, lifelong New Yorker
It’s been 12 days since news of the Great Divorce first rocked Gotham. Twelve long days since New York went bonkers over the breakup of mega-developer Donald Trump and his Czechoslovakian wife, Ivana. Since then, Trumpmania has become a way of life.
The city’s warring tabloids and talk shows have shifted into overdrive, chasing a daily story that reeks of sex, power, greed and revenge. Should Ivana get more than the $25 million promised her in a prenuptial agreement? Will Donald lose control of his $1.7-billion empire? Can we believe those rumors about the Other Woman, a blond knockout named Marla Maples?
This guy Trump is a real piece of work, and his wife’s no bargain either. I’m tired of ‘em both, you know? I’m tired of the whole damn thing.
Gossip columnists have taken sides in the first great marital tiff of the ‘90s, and on some mornings the steamy story has blown all other news off the front pages.
Looking for the latest from Eastern Europe? Get real. Nelson Mandela’s release? Please turn to page 15.
But take it from the hard-working stiffs of New York, the $20,000-a-year folks who trudge to work each day past the screaming headlines: The Trump story is beginning to get old.
On a cold, blustery afternoon, Yusef Achmed stands in front of the posh Plaza Hotel as he always does, selling hot dogs and dispensing wisdom. Trump, The Divorce, is roaring into its second week, but Achmed couldn’t care less.
“In my country, in Egypt, this could never be,” he says, slapping a pink dog into a steaming bun. “Here, the rich are crazy. A man leaves his wife. A woman cries her heart out. And they do this in public, all of it, in newspapers.”
Across the street, Jesse Stearns waits for passengers to hitch a ride past Trump’s luxurious hotel and through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. He, too, is weary of the story.
“This guy Trump is a real piece of work, and his wife’s no bargain either,” Stearns says, stamping his feet to ward off the cold. “I’m tired of ‘em both, you know? I’m tired of the whole damn thing.”
But even Stearns says he reads each new installment with fascination. Like many New Yorkers, he has taken Ivana’s side, saying she should get more from “The Donald,” as Ivana has dubbed him. He relishes the prospect that the brash 44-year-old developer might actually lose for a change.
Thanks to the press, Trump vs. Trump seems to be getting hotter as it rolls into Week 3.
Last weekend, the tabloids sent squads of reporters to Palm Beach to cover Donald and Ivana’s chilly vacation — in separate beds — at their 118-room estate. Trump denies that he has been unfaithful to Ivana, 41, but Maples’ friends have told reporters that the 26-year-old actress-model is “obsessed” with the developer.
On Tuesday, the papers breathlessly reported that Trump had hired a team of three bodyguards to hustle Maples in and out of hotel rooms, to make sure she never bumped into Ivana. Meanwhile, a society writer explained that Ivana would have to “cut corners” if she hoped to maintain her exclusive life style on only $25 million.
On Wednesday, Ivana’s lawyer announced he was no longer speaking to Donald’s lawyer.
The Trumps have deplored all of the publicity, blasting the media for lack of good taste and restraint. But behind the scenes, their high-priced lawyers and publicists--and a rapidly multiplying number of anonymous sources — have been whipping the press into a feeding frenzy.
“Best Sex I Ever Had,” screamed the New York Post last week, hyping a comment that Maples reportedly made about her boudoir romps with Trump. “A real peach,” leered the Daily News, probing her years as a cheerleader and high school basketball player in Dalton, Ga.
As they dish the dirt, gossip queens Liz Smith of the Daily News and Cindy Adams of the Post have hooked up with the rival camps — Liz with Ivana, Cindy with Donald--and are even firing shots at each other. Last week, the Daily News invited New Yorkers to write letters to the feuding couple and printed the best ones. Not to be outdone, New York Newsday ran a gaudy cartoon on its front page lampooning the whole affair.
Even Maples has gotten into the act, hiring a lawyer to squelch stories and racy modeling photos that have been popping up in the tabloids. She also has a press agent, reportedly on Trump’s payroll, who tells reporters that she is “The Marilyn Monroe of the ‘90s.”
The soap opera is getting dirtier by the day, and prominent celebrities have plunged into the suds. Leona Helmsley, the serpent-tongued hotel magnate who was convicted for tax fraud, lashed out at Trump in an interview published last weekend and said his wife deserves more money. Cardinal John J. O’Connor, urging calm, has publicly counseled both Trumps to pray.
“This whole thing is out of control,” boxing promoter Irving Rudd says as he muscles his way through a sandwich in a mid-town deli. “We had Trump at a press conference the other day to promote a boxing match with Thomas Hearns, and 25 television cameras showed up. Do you think they cared about the boxing match? I’m getting tired of this.”
So are the little people, as Helmsley once called those who pay taxes.
“I think there are so many more important things going on than this,” says Roberta Washington from Brooklyn, as she waits for a bus to take her home from the Trump Plaza Casino. “The homeless, crime in the street. And here are these two people with millions of dollars, fighting for even more.”
Washington gathers up her handbag and coat and announces that she has nothing more to say. Then, she adds in a whisper: “I hope she takes him to the cleaners.”
Back in New York, taxi driver Debra Augustus laughs at the big story as he cruises past the glitzy Trump Tower building on Fifth Avenue. For Augustus, a native of Ghana, Trump vs. Trump is something uniquely American — and therefore bizarre.
“I think she should get more,” he says with a smirk. “Maybe $100 million. No, maybe $200 million. Throw in the hotel, too? OK, throw in the hotel. Whatever you say.”
Swerving to avoid a pedestrian, Augustus looks up at the shimmering golden facade of Trump’s high-rise building and laughs again.
“People are rooting for her, I guess, but does it matter? It is a fairy tale. I am still looking for my fortune, and I work very hard. I have no time for fairy tales.”
This article was originally published in The Times on Feb. 22, 1990.