Donald J. Trump is uneasy. He does not have a reservation for breakfast in the Plaza's tony Edwardian room. But he'll get his table, because, as Donald Trump will unabashedly tell you, he is one of the people who "have it."
He is the brassy 38-year-old developer who, with his wife Ivana, has built the hottest properties in New York, offering the most expensive apartments to the world's "wealthiest." He is the master of grand plans, now hoping to build the "greatest hotel in the world" along with the world's "tallest" building in New York City, and perhaps one day fulfil his fantasy of becoming the U.S. negotiator on nuclear arms limitation talks with the Soviets.
And as owner of the United States Football League's New Jersey Generals, Trump rattled the old-boy sports network last month by helping to engineer a $1.3 billion antitrust suit by the USFL against the National Football League, which alleges that the NFL has used monopolistic practices and conspired to control the "business of major league football."
To his detractors, Trump is classic nouveau riche, a media cultivator with an oversized ego.
But to his admirers, he is a paragon of energetic brilliance and the catalyst who brought back city living.
And so, Donald Trump knows he can always get his table with the following simple statement:
"I'm Donald Trump."
Estimated net worth: $400 million.
"Do you have a table available?"
Done. The one in the corner with a view of the park and Fifth Avenue. Three waiters to a table. Words tumbling out as fast as quarters out of a slot machine.
"I know one man in particular," says Trump, in swift Queens cadences, the kind that are usually lost after four years at Cornwall-on-the-Hudson and Wharton School of Business. "He's one of the most successful men in New York, and he couldn't get a table at a restaurant. He's worth maybe four or five hundred million dollars, and he's standing at Le Cirque or one of them and he couldn't get a table.
"So I see him standing there and he's a little embarrassed and he says, 'Don, could you help me get a table?' So I got him a table. So he calls the next day and I said, 'No one knows you, you're very successful,' And he says, 'No, no no, I like to keep a low profile.'
"That's great. But in the meantime he can't get a table in a restaurant.
"The man calls me back a week later. He wants to know the name of my public relations firm," says Trump, who has no public relations firm. "And I said to him, 'Either you have it or you don't.' "
If you can think of any amenity, any extravagance or nicety of life, any service we haven't mentioned, then it hasn't been invented yet.
Brochure from Trump Tower
You could call his a story of riches to riches, the tale of the development of a personality that refuses to accept any of life's gifts to the privileged with equanimity.
"If it is not the impossible, Donald is simply not interested," one of his vice presidents has said.
Trump started with the security of $40 million in family real estate assets that his father earned through building moderate-income housing in Brooklyn and Queens, an estate that now is estimated anywhere from $400 million to $1 billion.
His buildings are not just opulent but overwhelming. Trump Tower, the brassy, glassy condo/commercial Fifth Avenue building next to Tiffany's with its 200-foot waterfall flowing over Italian salmon marble. Retail shops that rent for a million a year. Charles Jourdan pays it, and two dozen other of the world's finest merchants pay close to it: Asprey, Harry Winston, Cartier and Bucellati.
And the condos, "for people with a certain style," he says. Johnny Carson is in for a $3.5 million unit. And Steven Spiel- berg, too. He counts Arab sheiks and the "greatest industrialists of Europe" among his residents. He is not just the owner of the New Jersey Generals, but also the force behind pushing the fledgling football league to a controversial fall schedule. Some of the other USFL owners think of him as more of a bully and a grandstander than a constructive force.
Not a week goes by that he is not mentioned on the real estate, sports or gossip pages.
"Young Donald," a New York Times columnist has called him.
"Boy Builder," says the New York Daily News.
"I hate to do these things, you know," he says as he settles in for an interview. "I think my secretary told you that."
He recently brought a $500 million libel suit against the Chicago Tribune and the paper's architecture critic, Paul Gapp, charging that the critic "virtually torpedoed" Trump's latest real estate idea, a plan for the world's "tallest" building.
"You can have the greatest public relations firm in the world, if you're not a certain type the papers aren't going to buy it," he says. "What I have done is build the most beautiful buildings in the best locations, and I'm 38, and I like to live in certain way. That whole combination leads up to something."
The key to his psyche, says a friend, is not just a search for money, but an "insatiable" craving for recognition. Ergo, his name in bold letters on the buildings. "No, it's not that," he says.
In the low-key world of New York real estate, where getting publicity can be almost as damaging as being stuck with an empty building, Trump cultivates it. He is often described as a "hustler," a fast-talking, fast-walking operator who always has an idea and a way to get it into the newspapers.
This morning, Trump has a new idea. He wants to talk about the threat of nuclear war. He wants to talk about how the United States should negotiate with the Soviets.
He wants to be the negotiator.
He says he has never acted on his nuclear concern. But he says that his good friend Roy Cohn, the flamboyant Republican lawyer, has told him this interview is a perfect time to start.
"Some people have an ability to negotiate," he says. "It's an art you're basically born with. You either have it or you don't."
He would know what to ask the Russians for, he says. But he would rather not tip his hand publicly. "In the event anything happens with respect to me, I wouldn't want to make my opinions public," he says. "I'd rather keep those thoughts to myself or save them for whoever else is chosen . . .
"It's something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past."
He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says.
"It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles . . . I think I know most of it anyway. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation . . . You know who really wants me to do this? Roy . . . I'd do it in a second."
Despite his father's successes and extensive real estate holdings in Brooklyn and Queens, Trump's childhood was modest with little sign of the kind of life $40 million can buy.
The third of four children, Trump attended grade school in Queens and was then sent to Cornwall for high school. He finished his formal education at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
"My father was successful, but it was a different kind of success," he says. "I didn't grow up like this. When I played golf I played at the public course. I'd go to the state park and wait four hours to tee off when I was 14."
After college, he systematically plotted his way into the real estate market with an instinctive feel for buying and selling, and the security of his father's money. An apartment building here, a brownstone there. "I bought brownstones for $125,000 that I'm getting offered $7 and $8 million for," he says. "It's crazy."
His big break came in 1975, when Trump essentially banked against the bankruptcy of New York. While builders and developers were filing out of the city in droves, Trump was just warming up. The area around the old Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street, near Grand Central Station, was at a low point. Both the hotel and the area, once vibrant attractions to the tourists, were deteriorating. The streets were cluttered with New York's lowlife, and merchants were leaving en masse.
Trump bought the hotel and rebuilt a Hyatt hotel on the site. He took a chance on the city revitalizing itself and his bet paid off. Trump's hotel is now overflowing.
By now the story behind the finessing of the Trump Tower deal is New York folklore. Again, Trump coupled just the right mix of moxie and serendipity to buy the precious plot of land next to Tiffany's. The land was owned by Equitable Life Assurance Co., and leased by Genesco Inc., owners of Bonwit Teller. He negotiated to buy the 29-year lease from Genesco at a time when the company was cash poor, and he obtained the air rights from Tiffany's, which allowed him to build his 68 floors.
And not least in his portfolio of transactions was the quiet gold deal. When gold went on the public market again in 1971, Trump "hocked everything" to buy huge quantities. When he sold it in 1982, a source close to the deal says he earned $73 million.
"It was a good investment," allows Trump, on the three-block walk from the Plaza to Trump Tower. "A lot easier than building buildings, I'll tell you that."
His office, on Trump Tower's 26th floor, is remarkably low-key for a billion-dollar empire, with only a few secretaries and sales representatives in sight.
The Trumps also live in a $12 million penthouse triplex there. It has three walls of windows and a staggering view of the city. There are no signs of their three children around the downstairs living area, no toys, no clutter. The floors are warm beige onyx. A gold-leaf couch and black silk walls. And a pink onyx bathroom with more floor-to-ceiling windows and large circular tub.
"Have you ever seen a stone glow like like that?" he asks.
"Ivana!" Donald Trump calls from the doorway of her office, "Don't you look terrific today?"
Ivana Trump, 34, fits neatly into Donald's theory on life: either you have it or you don't. She is one of those who have "it."
Tall, thin, blond and glacial. She was on the 1972 Czechoslovakian Olympic ski team, works 10-hour days for her husband and raises their children. Designers and promoters have often asked her to endorse their products publicly. She has no interest.
She is the vice president of the Trump Organization, the decorator of his buildings and the lobbies and designer of the cheerleaders' uniforms for his football team. Striking. A porcelain face and flaxen hair that always looks just sprayed and coiffed.
Winter skiing in Gstaad and weekends in Greenwich. She found the Connecticut retreat herself by chartering a helicopter and cruising up and down the Atlantic coast. Price tag: $4 million.
Her office is a few feet from his, and from there she decorates their projects. Like the 600 rooms at the Atlantic City casino, Harrah's Trump Plaza, where she had the steely patience to make every one a different color. "I didn't think there were that many color schemes," she says. "I even had to go into the grays. And I hate gray."
She is formal and uneasy during the interview, asking the reporter to turn off the tape recorder because she does not wish her accent recorded. "It embarrasses me," she says.
A former model living in Montreal, she met Trump at a party in New York, while she was in town promoting the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Was it love at first sight? she is asked.
"I don't want to answer that. I am a very private person," she says.
She relents. "I don't know about this love at first sight. We were married three-quarters of a year after we met, which is good. Some people go on and on and on. They're never sure. Well, no one is ever really sure."
"He was smart," she says. "I like smart men. Women -- they have to be nice-looking. But men, they must be smart."
She is also uncomfortable talking about the children and becomes abrupt when she is asked if they, too, ski. "Yes," she says flatly. There are two boys and a girl, all under 7.
She has an easy smile, red lips parting over Pepsodent teeth. The navy and oyster blouse is loose and silky, the bow large and floppy, soft against her shoulder. She looks as if she has lived in Trump Tower her whole life.
"Let's face it," she says about the conspicuous opulence of their buildings, "people want excitement. They don't want that little black dress anymore."
"Donald Trump has genius real estate instincts," says Irving Fischer, chairman of HRH Construction, and Trump's main builder. "And he's a beyond-belief negotiator. When he gets through you really think he's doing you a favor by letting you do the job. When it comes to the fee, I always know I'm going to lose the negotiations . . .' "
"He understands what he has to do to get where he wants to go," says Benjamin Holloway, chairman of The Equitable Real Estate Group Inc., which has financed some of Trump's projects, including Trump Tower.
"He is an incredible self-promoter," says Philip Hess, counsel to the Chairman of City Planning, New York. "He talks, talks, talks. He makes you feel like he's making you part of the greatest deal mankind has ever had the privilege to develop and if you don't jump in with him, there's a line waiting to. We have a healthy sense of reserve when we approach Donald."
When people criticize Donald Trump, four issues are generally raised: his ordering of the destruction of two Art Deco bas-reliefs on the fac,ade of Bonwit Teller, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted; his actions concerning tenants at one of his recently purchased buildings on Central Park South; his handling of his cochairmanship of the New York Vietnam Memorial Commission; and how his presence has affected the USFL.
* "I'm getting bored reading about those bas-reliefs," he says when asked about it. "The fact is that no one wanted to do anything to get them down and it was very dangerous business. My insurance company said I would have to close Fifth Avenue . . . All of a sudden, the day they came down, they became martyrs."
The Metropolitan Museum of Art would not comment on the flap.
* Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Sidney Schanberg wrote that Trump was trying to force rent-controlled tenants out of the Central Park South building by offering the city the empty apartments to house vagrants. He denies that he was trying to force people out. "People find that very interesting somehow," says Trump. "I have a bunch of empty apartments and there are people right outside sleeping in the street. It was a sincere offer to the city."
Trump says he has petitioned to demolish the building and replace it with a deluxe hotel. Trump's lawyer on this matter, Lawrence Bernfeld, says Trump is working through legal and proper channels to demolish the building and that the tenants are using delaying tactics.
"I have a building with mostly well-connected millionaires paying $400 a month," says Trump. "It's a disgrace."
John Moore, chairman of the building's tenant association, maintains that not more than five millionaires live in the building, out of about 60 rented units. He says that many of the tenants are people with "average or limited income" including 15 women over 60 living alone, as well as one 99-year-old woman, who lives with a nurse. The rest are "upper-middle class," Moore says. Moore says the remaining tenants do not want to move out.
"It is our unequivocal judgment that Donald Trump does not have a chance to get that building demolished," says Herman Badillo, the attorney who represents the tenant association. "We will be opposing it strongly in the next few years."
The situation is currently in a web of legal suits and countersuits between Trump and the tenants.
* One official of the Vietnam commission, who has attended all the meetings, maintains Trump has been to only two or three out of 20 meetings. This was confirmed by another member of the commission. The first time he attended a meeting was to launch the commission, one source says, and the second was when he arrived with a reporter who was profiling him.
To this charge, Trump responds: "That's interesting. I'll resign then. They're very small thinkers. They're stockbrokers that were in Vietnam and they don't have it."
He also said that he was never asked to be a working member of the commission, but simply to lend his name.
Scott Higgins, cochairman of the commission, said he had no comment on Trump's remarks at first, and then called back with the following statement:
"He's been a real friend of New York Vietnam Veterans. He donated his time, his money and even the Trump Tower for our major fund-raising event, and we're counting on him to do even more in the future."
* Trump has annoyed some of the owners in the USFL by buying into the league a season after its birth and immediately raising the stakes by paying high dollars for such players as Brian Sipe, formerly the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. He also signed up the Giants' linebacker Lawrence Taylor, but when the Giants subsequently offered Taylor a large raise, Trump sold back his contract with Taylor for $750,000.
Trump also pushed for the USFL team-owners' vote last August that allows the USFL to go head-to-head with the NFL in a fall season in 1986. This creates stadium problems for many of the teams, and one of the voters fears it could very well cause some of them to go out of business. That voter, who asked for anonymity, said that some fear that as a result of the USFL action the NFL may in the long run absorb as many as six of the USFL's strongest franchises.
"We had an understanding that said, 'Let's keep this league reasonably competitive,' " said this owner. "That was a joke. To him, you win, you crunch anyone that comes along."
Trump says he is only trying to strengthen the USFL. "I can't help Donald Trump unless I help the league."
Earlier this year, Myles Tanenbaum, owner of the USFL champions, the Philadelphia Stars, said of Trump, "Last year, we had in our ownership a bunch of gentlemen . . . This year, you have people who weren't there and who didn't care about following a basic format on how the league was formed."
"Tanenbaum is a guy who . . . has very little vision or imagination," says Trump.
Says Tanenbaum in response: "Look to the source."
After a tour of Trump Tower, Trump goes in his limousine to Deerdale Country Club in Great Neck where he will play golf.
Trump seems relaxed for the first time all morning, taking calls on his car phone and talking nonstop about the threat of nuclear war again, growing up and his self-perceptions.
He is surprisingly thin-skinned about the press. He gets angry, he says, when the media try to paint him as nouveau riche because of his grand building notions and conspicuous life style and mentions in particular a piece published by Gentleman's Quarterly (which his office sends along as background material on Trump, in any case).
He says he has never thought of himself as nouveau riche.
"I don't think so," he says. "I like it, but I don't need it. I like it and I feel I should have it and I think it would be inappropriate for me not to have it. When people see Trump Tower, I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me to hop in a 1953 Chevy and drive away. If you walked up and saw a horrible apartment with a seven-foot ceiling and shag carpeting or something you'd say, 'This is unbelievable.' So I don't know, I don't know. I don't do it because I need it. I do it for other reasons."
"Because it's there. I do it maybe because it's somewhat expected."
And then: "Listen, life is so long and you have a little time to play the game. And, by the way, not everybody can have this attitude."