Ireland gets the Trump card with Donald's hole in one
US property mogul Donald Trump has chosen West Clare as the venue for his newest golf resort. Donal Lynch looks at the man behind the hairdo and how a stab at the 2016 US presidential race may be on the cards
Published 19/05/2014 | 02:30
THE housing market is back working itself into a sweaty lather. Ridiculously coiffed developers are rising like phoenixes from the ashes.
And property greed is once again good. So what better moment for the most famous, most ridiculously coiffed and most doggedly resilient developer of them all to come to town to show our lot how it’s really done? Wild and windy West Clare might not be the most hospitable environment for the planet’s most vertiginous comb-over and its owner might once have said that we didn’t deserve to get any bailout money from America, but it is here, this year, that Donald Trump hopes to open his newest golf resort. He arrived last week in over-the-top scenes reminiscent of Nixon in China — a red carpet, a full diplomatic welcome and inevitable questions about running for president.
The resort will be his 16th golf venture globally, and Trump will hope it goes more smoothly than his last project in this part of the world — a planned super resort in the home of his forefathers, Scotland. There the press coverage was rather more snarky.
First Minister Alex Salmond was quoted as saying he didn’t want the American billionaire “dictating” Scottish energy policy, and a film was shown on the BBC which portrayed Trump in a deeply unflattering light. Little wonder that Trump began to suspect he’d stuck the pin into the wrong point on the map.
In Ireland, we’ve always had a bit more of a taste for brash developers. We’re suckers for someone with silly hair in a helicopter. To put it in Trump marriage terms, the Scots were Ivana — expensive, wilful and with a difficult-to-understand accent. We are Marla Maples — greener (behind the ears), more eager and (as anyone who’s been to Doonbeg will attest), much better looking.
If the coverage of Trump’s advent in Clare ranged from bemused to positive, in the States it was overshadowed by his comments about the controversy involving one of his namesakes and a fellow billionaire. Two weeks ago, TMZ released a tape of Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the LA Clippers, speaking to a female “friend” in a conversation in which he asked her not to associate with black people and requested she not bring black people to Clippers’ games. The comments, made in private, prompted the National Basketball League (NBA) to ban Sterling and fine him $2.5m (€1.8m). While Trump agreed that Sterling’s comments were “despicable”, he also referred to the woman on the tape, Vanessa Stiviano, as “the girlfriend from hell” and said that Sterling had been “set up.”
His reaction went down like a lead balloon — many construed that he was “blaming” Stiviano. The Washington Post went on to speculate that Trump’s “history of gleeful misogyny”, not his chequered financial history or arch conservative politics, may be his “electoral Achilles heel” in the 2016 presidential race.
Sexism is part of the Trump brand, and his spats with some of America’s most famous women — ranging from Barbara Walters to Rosie O’Donnell — have made headlines for years. In some ways, however, you could say Trump has made the women in his life, his ‘First Ladies’, an integral part of his overall act. From the blonde spouse of the moment — Melania is the current model — to the Miss America who drapes herself on his arm every summer, Trump’s women are expensive-looking creatures who underline his boasts about his wealth. All of them know they have big boots to fill — for Trump’s ex wives club is also formidable. “I love beautiful women and beautiful women love me,” he once said. But only, it would seem, on his own terms.
Money and power easily overcame any physical inadequacies in ageing, balding Donald Trump. His father was a successful property developer in the New York borough of Queens and, to an extent, Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. However, he was more ambitious than his father and, upon taking over the family business in the early 1970s, Trump set his eyes on “the romantic skyline of Manhattan”, where he quickly installed himself as a society playboy.
At that point, New York City bore little resemblance to the millionaires’ playground it is today — many of the buildings were crumbling and it was much more dangerous (and bohemian) than it is today. Convinced of the potential in the city, Trump became involved in large, sometimes garish, building projects, which won him scorn and admiration in equal measure.
A part of this undoubtedly came from his knack for brash self-promotion. Right from the beginning of his career, he carefully managed his image in a way that was unheard of back then, 40 years ago, in an era when property and fame did not go together. When developers courted the press it was for their projects, not themselves. They generally conducted their business under anonymous corporate pseudonyms. But Trump put himself front and centre, incorporating his own name into the title of every building, and appearing in magazines such as The New Yorker and Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Bluster and self-aggrandisement were inextricably linked to his business strategy. He once called himself “the Rockefeller of my generation.”
His high profile also made him one of America’s most eligible bachelors. That lasted until the late 1970s, when he married Ivana Zelnickova Winklmayr, an athletically blonde model who claimed to have been an alternate on the Czech Olympic Ski Team (this was later disputed by Czech Olympic officials) and whose hair was almost as preposterous as Donald’s — one magazine called it “an elegant swirl of patisserie buttercream”.
After the birth of the first of the couple's three children a year later, (Donald John Trump, Jr), Ivana was named vice president in charge of design in the Trump organisation and played a major role in supervising the renovation of the Commodore Hotel. She also gave him his most famous nickname — The Donald — and together they became the best-known power couple of the 1980s. Ivana oversaw the opening of Trump Tower in 1982. The 58-storey building featured a six-storey “temple of tackiness” (as it was dubbed by the press) lined with pink marble and gold, and including an 80-foot waterfall. Soon other landmark New York hotels, including the Plaza, fell under Trump’s control. By 1989 he also owned over $1bn (€730m) in property in Los Angeles.
If Trump owned the 1980s, his fortunes went into rapid decline with the end of that decade. In 1990, the American property market plummeted, dramatically reducing the value of, and income, from Trump's empire; his own net worth plummeted from an estimated $1.7bn (€1.2bn) to $500m (€365m).
By the early 1990s the wheels were also beginning to fall off Trump’s marriage to Ivana, as rumours abounded that he was having an affair with Georgian beauty queen Marla Maples. Over Christmas of 1990 news of the affair was splashed all over the front pages of the newspapers in New York after Marla and Ivana were pictured exchanging words on a ski slope in Aspen(Marla to Ivana: “Are you in love with your husband? Because I am.”).
By the following year the couple had entered divorce proceedings. Perhaps Ivana’s most famous quote is “don’t get mad,
get everything” and true to her word she argued in court for a greater share of Trump’s wealth than was specified in her pre-nuptial agreement.
Trump, in turn, argued that the extent to which she had managed aspects of his empire was being overstated, and the gossip columns had a field day as allegation and counter-allegation played out in public.
In October of that year, just as things were getting particularly nasty in court, Ivana’s father dropped dead of a heart attack and in a touching moment of solidarity she and Donald stood side by side at the funeral. They finally settled their divorce in 1992, with her getting a $14m (€10m) cash settlement together with a 45-room mansion in Connecticut and $300,000 (€219k) annually in child support.
The Donald was already moving on however. The following year, two months after she gave birth to his child — a daughter named Tiffany, Marla Maples and Trump wed, and he promptly gave her a gig hosting the Miss Universe pageant, which he still runs in Atlantic City.
Marla, with her Dynasty hair, settled into Ivana’s empty throne. But the marriage did not last.
For The Donald, the third time would seem to be the charm. In 2005, he married Slovenian model Melania Knauss — who wore a $200,000 (€146k) white Christian Dior dress for the ceremony. Many observers commented that she was the spit of a younger Marla Maples. Melania and Donald would go on to have one child — her first and Trump’s fifth. She has generally kept a lower profile than either Marla or Ivana.
Through it all though, Trump has sometimes seemed to strain the definition of the loveable lothario. Carrie Prejean, the former Miss America runner-up, accused him of selecting contestants based on their sexual attractiveness and, while Trump denied this, other comments he made were distinctly off-colour. He once said of his eldest daughter — jewellery designer and model Ivanka — “She does have a very nice figure... if (she) weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her.”
He also once said that the early victories by women on his reality show, The Apprentice, were “largely down to their sex appeal.” He has been accused of seeing women as objects, but it never seemed to bother him. It doesn’t matter what the media say about his girlfriends and wives, he once said, “as long as they’re a beautiful piece of ass.”
Despite all of this, Trump’s ex-wives club doesn’t seem noticeably bitter. Ivana still splits her time between her many homes
and recently put her Florida mansion on sale for $18.9m (€14m). Two decades and two husbands later she is now a “glam ma” and
a home shopping entrepreneur. In 2009,
she announced that after four months of marriage, she'd filed for separation from her fourth husband, Rossano Rubicondi — model/actor/arm candy, 23 years her junior. She took part in Celebrity Big Brother and has also appeared on Italian reality shows — she speaks the language fluently.
According to Chuck Jones, Maples’ former publicist, The Donald regretted leaving Ivana for Marla, and was more “in lust” than in love with his second wife. Although she received $1.9m (€1.4m) in a divorce settlement, the post-Donald years have not been kind to Marla. She would go on to get engaged to Michael Mailer (the son of novelist Norman Mailer) although they never married, and she languished in a few low-profile acting roles on TV and Broadway.
In 2013 Marla told Oprah that she is still in love with Donald and spoke of “financial chaos” and being “pursued” by credit card companies. She recently auctioned off 170 items from her marriage to Donald, including a $5,000 (€3,600) bottle of 1945 Chateau Lafite Rothschild which was bought to mark their wedding day 21 years ago. Still single, she told the New York Times: “I’m not looking, but allowing.”
It was enough to bring tears to a glass eye, especially when juxtaposed with images of Donald arriving in Clare on the private jet and having the harp played to him by two lovely Irish girls. Whatever Irish women made of Trump’s “architectural marvel” of a hairdo, the country has welcomed him. There has even been talk — mainly by him — of him running for the White House.
Little wonder, then, that when The Donald went down on one knee, Doonbeg’s development community swooned and offered its own hand in marriage. If the golf course is a success Trump may expand his business interests here further — with typical immodesty he’s said that his involvement is a sign that the Irish economy has turned the corner. Our own chastened tycoons may have to simply get used to the idea: there is a new game in town.