FRANKFURT, GERMANY -- Ivana Trump came to the Book Fair, announced her intention to write another "Bonfire of the Vanities" and charmed the publishers.
Well, some of them.
"I think there's a great danger that if she has another face lift she might come out looking like Robert Ludlum, and then you'll have a whole different author," said Hearst Trade Book Group chief executive Howard Kaminsky.
"Aren't people only talking about it because it's a bit of a joke?" said Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, head of the British publishing house that bears his name.
But it's not a joke to Pocket Books, which is said to be paying more than $1.5 million each for two autobiographical novels from Ivana -- sums approaching that paid by Random House for the second installment of her husband Donald's autobiography, a slab of self-aggrandizement that got some of the worst reviews of any publication this year.
And there's nothing funny about the project to the William Morris Agency, one of whose representatives felt compelled during a very brief interview with the hotelier and prospective divorcee to answer most of the questions herself.
Query No. 1: When did you tell your husband you wanted to write a novel?
Before Ivana can respond, agent Pam Bernstein nearly launches herself bodily across the hotel bar coffee table. "That's not relevant. This is not 'The Ivana Trump Story,' " Bernstein insists, going on to emphasize the point at great length. Ivana, resplendently outfitted in fuchsia, says nothing.
It's strange, when you think about it. Ivana Trump looks sensational for a 41-year-old, speaks English at least as well as any of her fellow Czechoslovaks at this convention, and was judged by all who met her here to be a swell, friendly and appealing person. But none of that is what will bring her an eventual total of perhaps $5 million: Only the attention she has garnered in a thousand gossip columns over the past 10 months has done that. The fruits of divorce are rarely so sweet, or so sudden.
"It's the most cynical deal I've seen in a long time," said Jonathan Galassi, editor in chief of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. "If Donald Trump has nothing to do with it and she really wants to be judged as a novelist, why doesn't she write under her maiden name?"
Query No. 2: Does Ivana have any favorite novels, any particular books she hopes to match in her ghostwritten fiction?
"That's not a fair question," she answers. "If I say one book, everyone else will be mad at me."
She was less discreet earlier in the day, when she met in rapid succession with groups of potential foreign publishers. To one of them she offered the "Bonfire of the Vanities" comparison, throwing in the high-society sagas of Dominick Dunne as well.
She missed the most obvious comparison -- the later work of Truman Capote, friend to, chronicler of and betrayer (at least in their eyes) of the rich and fashionable. Yet if Capote went unmentioned, at least Ivana is aware of the trap he fell into.
Query No. 3: Are your friends going to get mad at you when you write about them?
"I'm too smart to get into trouble," she declares. "I'm not going to abuse my friends. No way!"
Nor, presumably, her husband.
"I asked her how she saw the relationship between her own life and the novels," said Tom Maschler, chairman of the British firm of Jonathan Cape. "She ducked the question." Still, he wasn't unenthusiastic. "Odds are we're not going to get a work of literature," he said, underlining the obvious. "An artifact is being created, and I imagine it will be enormously commercial."
Unless, that is, it strays too far from her recent life. "If book one covers the whole story, including her divorce, one can't help wondering what book two will be about. And if book one doesn't include her divorce, it would disappoint almost everyone," Maschler said.
Two Polish publishers were thrilled even to get the opportunity to meet Ivana.
"People in Poland generally are interested in all American books," said the one who spoke English, Krzysztof Tom. "They're most eager for books which deal with upper-class life in America. They want to know what the upper class looks like. Because we don't have any."
His impression of Ivana: "Very pleasant. Happy to have an opportunity to talk to people from a communist country. Post-communist country. I told her we wanted a Plaza Hotel in Poland."
For about two hours, the star and her agents held similar brief meetings in a corner of the booth belonging to Pocket Books' corporate parent, Simon and Schuster. Since there is no manuscript, no outline, not even a writer yet, the only basis a publisher had for buying rights in his country was Ivana's reputation and personality. The latter required checking out in person.
Watching the small-scale hubbub were two New York book consultants.
"Having completely become an unabashed trash fiction reader, I can't think of anything more fun," said Robert Riger. "The fact that it's a novel instead of an autobiography makes it much better. It's all fantasy anyway."
Agreed his partner, Constance Sayre, "She has invented herself once already. She made up all sorts of stories, like about how she was a high-fashion model. Now she's going to reinvent herself all over, in fiction. It's great." Sayre was also fond of Mrs. Trump's boots, which she helpfully identified as made from "unborn Bambi."
Query No. 4: There isn't one. Bernstein, the agent, does most of the talking anyway, even interrupting Ivana several times.
"The character will be a composite of many women you and I read about," Bernstein says. She notes that Ivana just got an award in New York for something or other, further proof of how she is beloved by the masses. And Bernstein mentions that romance author Jean Auel, in Frankfurt promoting the most recent of her caveman books, stopped by a few minutes ago to offer her encouragement and support.
Ivana's own comments tend to things like, "I just want to have a wonderful novel, which I want to have quality, because that's what counts." The Trump Credo.
It's striking that, for a woman getting all these millions to promote herself, she's not allowed to speak much. But she'll have at least two years to learn her lines. The first book is expected to appear in spring '92.
Kaminsky, the savvy Hearst publisher who is no stranger to commercial books, doesn't think it will work. "Ivana Trump is not writing this book, and I don't think she has the descriptive powers to open up her world so someone else can write about it easily," he said.
"As everyone knows, it's very difficult to promote a novel. So she's a great help. Is that worth a million dollars? And what writer are they going to get? It's not someone who has bestsellers in their own right, or they wouldn't be doing it."
Sinclair-Stevenson, one of the last survivors of the day when English publishing was a dignified profession, saw the Ivana deal in a slightly different context.
"Publishers are incurably frivolous, and they like incurably frivolous things," he said. "They like gossip, sex and sensationalism. They like to talk about money. Publishers are like people, only more so."
Tom Wolfe, look to your laurels.