NEW YORK, APRIL 19 -- After two months of silence amid the deafening roar of Trump-o-mania, Marla Maples took to the airwaves tonight to declare that she still loves Donald Trump but that "I'm not the reason for that marriage having problems."
In a blonde-on-blonde interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "PrimeTime Live," Maples, 26, speaking in a soft, breathy voice punctuated by nervous laughter, skirted most questions about her internationally rumored affair with The Donald, citing "pending litigation" from his wife, Ivana.
But the actress from Dalton, Ga., left little doubt about the once-intimate nature of their relationship, which Trump is said to have ended a few weeks ago, although Maples said she was in Guatemala at the time. When Sawyer popped the $5 billion question -- You still love him? -- Maples said, "You know, I, I can't lie about it. Oh, I do." She answered the same way when Sawyer asked if it had been a romance, saying, "I do love him."
There were no torrid, BEST-SEX-I-EVER-HAD revelations -- in fact, Maples refused to answer Sawyer's BEST-SEX question, but called the quote attributed to her by a friend "an absolute, total lie." She also ducked when asked if she wanted to marry the Queens-born billionaire, saying, "I'm taking my life day by day. ... I mean, who knows what life is going to bring in the future?"
Did they ever discuss marriage? "No. He's, he's a friend. You know? He's -- he has a family, and that's number one to him, I know."
Dressed in a peach suit and silver choker, her big, platinum-tinted hair falling past her shoulders, Maples looked a tad more conservative than in some of her bikini billboard ads. The interview was taped Wednesday just down the beach from the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Maples spoke of passing up million-dollar offers for her story: "I felt like ... taking money for the story, which really has to do with other people's problems, is not what I wanted to do. I have to keep a bit of dignity, and if I were to make money off of this issue, I don't think I would be able to face myself. ... This isn't the publicity I want. This isn't the way I envisioned my life to be."
Maples said she still talks to her Donald "every once in a while" and that he approved of her doing the interview because "he hated the fact that I felt like I had to be in hiding. ... I mean, he has a lot of sympathy for how we've been besieged by this. And I think he wants to see me come out looking okay. He's very sorry. ... He's helped me to keep my head up high, you know. Not to lose confidence even when they're saying horrible things about me that he and I absolutely know aren't true, that I'm sure Ivana would know is not true."
Maples would not talk about a widely reported run-in with Ivana Trump at Aspen last Christmas. She called Ivana "an absolutely beautiful woman" and said, sighing, "I feel like she's gone through a lot of pain."
But she steadfastly refused to be cast in the role of home wrecker. "I feel like they've had a long marriage and, as Donald has said himself, 'People just grow apart.' "
The actress said she went into hiding after finding herself an unexpected star in Trump: The Divorce because "I didn't want to bring any more havoc into my friends' lives. ... I knew I had to get away. I knew I needed to turn off the television, not read newspapers, just not be affected by words. I needed to get back to what's real."
"Were you being loyal?" Sawyer asked.
"Absolutely," Maples replied. "I feel loyal to myself, loyal to a situation that I think has nothing to do with me."
The Trump split?
"I believe that that's a very sad and very serious thing between two people, and I would've only hoped that it could have stayed more private. ... Everything happened so fast that I wanted to be very careful about the decisions I made." She said some of the supermarket tabloid coverage made her feel "as if I was a criminal. ... My family has been so besieged by the press, and I feel like it's time that I step out and I take the heat for a bit for what they've had to go through."
Sawyer said earlier she had arranged the session through Maples' father and found her subject sometimes "quite nervous," other times "amazingly poised for a 26-year-old girl."
Sawyer's coup caused such a tizzy in the nation's gossip capital that the Daily News dispatched a team Wednesday to Atlantic City that tracked the duo to the Trump Taj Mahal but was promptly stiff-armed by network personnel. There was even unkind speculation in the tabloids that perhaps Maples had chosen Sawyer for her coming-out party in hopes that Sawyer's husband, filmmaker Mike Nichols, might boost her acting career, which until now has consisted mainly of an exercise video and a brief movie scene in which her car is crushed under a truckload of watermelons.
Maples conceded that her reluctance to answer certain questions was related to the fact that Ivana Trump may ask her to testify in a lawsuit seeking half her husband's $5 billion fortune. Although the Trumps have not filed for divorce and appeared holding hands for an Easter picture-taking ceremony at the Plaza hotel, Ivana has demanded an equitable distribution of her husband's property while they stay married. Donald says his wife is bound by a prenuptial agreement.
The developer has been growing rather testy with the media of late. During one interview, Cable News Network reporter Charles Feldman had the bad taste to ask Trump about casino analyst Marvin Roffman, who was fired after Trump complained about his negative assessment of the Taj Mahal. Trump removed his microphone, stalked away and later called CNN chief Ted Turner to complain.
"The press is very dishonest," the Trumpster said this week on CNN's "Larry King Live." "I've been quoted in various articles where I never spoke to people, where they just make up a quote, Donald Trump said this, and he said that. ... They go with lies to an extent that I've never seen before. They make up stories. ... I'd love to grab some of those guys, I really would."
Recalling that news of his marital woes broke on the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Trump opined that Mandela is "probably calling up, 'Who is this guy? He blew me off the front page.' "
As for prenuptial agreements, Trump said: "They're traumatic to sign. I mean, you go up to your future wife and say, 'By the way, darling, I love you, I love you, I love you, but just in case we happen to get divorced, I want you to sign this agreement.' " Nevertheless, he said, "I'd like to recommend this."