The Heart of the Deal: The Love Story of Marla Maples and Donald Trump

The security man at the U.S. Open was in a quandary. “Marla,” he asked with genuine wonder, “how do you want me to handle the photographers and the autograph kids?” Had Madonna herself sat down in the Trump Organization box, there could not have been more of a commotion. Right here in the thick of this heavy, seen-it-all, Barbarians at the Gate crowd, littered with tycoons and titans and Dustin Hoffman and Tom Brokaw, Georgia’s own Miss Marla Ann Maples, all blonde and leggy, was the main courtside attraction. “What a poser!” a woman sitting in Saul Steinberg’s box two rows down fairly shouted. Marla didn’t hear. She had her back to the court and was starting to sign a big batch of eight-by-ten glossies of herself in cutoffs and a hard hat.

The autographing scene was interrupted briefly by a woman from the USA cable-TV network, asking for a live interview between sets. “Marla, you really don’t have to do these things, you know. You don’t have to do this interview,” said Rhona Graff nervously. Graff is one of Donald Trump’s two executive secretaries. She had gotten used to Marla calling the office with her special code name, but now the constant waving to people in the rows above and the paparazzi changing film in the Paine Webber box just below were giving Graff an anxiety attack.

The TV interview had been suggested by a visitor to the Trump box, Larry Russo. He had hidden Marla for a week in his Southampton beach house when the news broke last winter that Trump’s much-chronicled marriage to Ivana was breaking up after twelve years and three children and that Trump had a twenty-six-year-old model-actress girlfriend whose name was Marla Maples. “Now he calls his beach house ‘Marla Lago,’ ” Maples whispered delightedly. It was such a cute joke, playing on Mar-a-Lago, the famous Palm Beach mansion where Donald and Ivana had entertained so lavishly and visibly.

But Trump employees had a right to be concerned. Trump’s empire is perilously close to ruin, and Ivana is suing to invalidate the revised prenuptial contract she signed with her husband on Christmas Eve of 1987, giving her only about $25 million in the event of divorce. One of her strategies for voiding the contract will be to prove that Marla was already in the picture by then in a significant way. Marla, on the other hand, was tired of being under wraps, going on secret dates in the back of the limo. She had kept herself hidden for a long time (although less and less so since the summer of ‘89, when Trump moved her onto his luxe yacht, the Trump Princess). But she acknowledged Graff’s dismay. “Oh, O.K., I just don’t like to disappoint anybody,” Marla said in her soft southern drawl. “I just never know what to do in these situations. It’s so hard for me.”

Things may become easier now that Marla’s true status is beginning to be defined—“something I’ve been praying for a long time.” She has been more than a little annoyed with the cynical view of their affair as just a bunch of screaming headlines designed to amuse the masses who stand in line at the supermarket. Who do people think she is, anyway? Donna Rice?

Au contraire. So after months of dodging the press, she and Donald have begun to venture out. They have even allowed pictures of themselves to be taken on Donald’s turf, with Mike Tyson in Atlantic City. Naturally, the response from the tabloids was lightning-quick: “Now the Donald Will Squeeze His Peach in Public,” shouted the New York Post. But, ah, freedom. Finally. Farewell and amen to millionaire blabbermouths seeking to impress her with their own special take on Donald’s true feelings. Like the real-estate tycoon who babbled reassuringly to her as she left the tennis stadium, “You know, Donald thinks the world of you, he really does. He thinks you’re just great.” Marla melted him with her big baby blue-greens cast shyly downward, but later she said, “I hate it when these guys start talking to me like that. Imagine. I have to stand there and hear from him that Donald thinks I’m great. You know what I feel like answering? ‘No shit, Sherlock!’ ”

Indeed. The lady has no doubts whatsoever about her man’s devotion. On the third finger of her left hand she wears a gold Cartier braided band, a present from Donald. “It’s what gives me my power,” she says. Just the sort of talisman to get her through things like the Going to Meet His Parents hurdle. “It was just like going over to my grandparents’—very solid, very relaxed.” Marla’s persevering publicist says that he “heard from Donald that Donald’s parents were very impressed with Marla.” No doubt they were, for Marla Maples projects intense southern sincerity. “I believe I have a purpose and that there is a reason we’re together,” she insists. “It’s a good love, it’s not a harmful love. It’s a really good, trusting love.” No wonder her mother, her agent, and her best friend in New York, not to mention Marla herself, all believe that she will become the next Mrs. Donald Trump.

“When you marry Donald, will you keep your own name or be known as Marla Trump?”

“That could become a bit of a point of argumentation,” Marla says. “But, you know, I always promised my daddy I’d keep my name. Because I’m an only child and he never had a son. I said, Daddy, don’t you worry, so I don’t know, maybe Marla Maples Trump.”

Can’t help it. The girl can’t help it. She’s got a lot of what they call the most. Getting to know Marla Maples is akin to pressing your thumb on an aerosol can and watching mountains of Reddi Whip flow out. Always there is the charming chatter, the winsome eagerness to please—the legacy of growing up Barbie-doll-perfect in the Magnolia Belt, the adored little princess of parents with unrealized dreams.

Marla Maples represents one of those curious intersections in the psyche of the Deep South where the Bible and beauty pageants run headlong into hormones. When Marla was just sixteen, for example, she and her mother were approached by Playboy to pose nude in a mother-daughter spread. Marla, who read the Good Book every night before she went to bed in tiny Dalton, Georgia, would have none of it. Besides, she wasn’t old enough. “The Playboy people were very depressed because I was too young.” But Daddy, Stan Maples, a small-time subdivider, a deacon in the Baptist Church with a golden tenor, and a regionally famous Elvis imitator to boot, felt otherwise, even though he and Marla’s mama were getting divorced at the time. “It was a tough period and my dad was saying just go for it, what the heck, but even then I knew that wasn’t the way I wanted to be represented. I wanted to be respected, number one.”

Instead, tomboy Marla, who earned trophies for everything from basketball to swimming to playing the clarinet, decided to enter the Miss Georgia Teen contest. Unfortunately, she was first runner-up to “a clogger with the most-voluntary-service award.” But recently she’s been getting a lot more . . . well, if not exactly respect, certainly attention. The National Enquirer went so far as to take out an ad in the local Dalton paper offering cash and confidentiality for any Marla info whatsoever, and reporters even approached her grandfather on his tractor in a soybean field in nowheresville, Cohutta, Georgia.

Marla’s daddy has responded to the hoopla the way any self-respecting unrecorded golden tenor in his situation would: he’s written a country song about what happened to Marla and the family, called “Look at Us Now.” Moreover, father and daughter have gone to Nashville to work on the tune. Marla says she prays a lot for guidance as she contemplates the dilemma of the Baptist who gets bimbo press. “A psychic told me I’m just a little girl inside this grown-up body. That’s what makes me feel uncomfortable—I forget I have this body. I’m just a little girl.”

So getting involved with Donald Trump, a man she calls “a genius, adorable, with a little-boy quality—I mean, he knows when he’s being too cute and he laughs at himself about it,” is sort of a case of puppy love.

‘To me, Marla’s visibility is an asset at this point, but it’s not something that guarantees her success,” explains Chuck Jones, Marla Maples’ personal publicist and confidant of several years, who bears a striking resemblance to Bill Murray if Murray were playing a press agent. Jones has been Marla’s general in the War of the Trumps and is also in charge of promoting the professional side of her life. “Right now I’d say we’re considering three or four major things for Marla in TV, broadcasting, and movies. If they break, I’ll call you right away.” A vision in full taupe, Jones sports a gold bracelet and matching ring “copied from a little-known Egyptian prince I’ve long admired whose name I forget at the moment,” and is the sort of observer of the scene for whom the obvious can never be too subtle. From his cramped office on Seventh Avenue, he also represents Lionel Hampton, claims to have been personally acquainted with George Bush for many years, and even knew Donald Trump before Marla did, “in political circles, because he’s a big Republican.” (He is also paid by Trump to rep the yet-to-be-built Trump City on Manhattan’s West Side.)

“The media has portrayed Marla as a disorganized shapely bimbo, and that is not what she is,” Jones says emphatically. On his wall are old photos of three other show-business acts with noted amounts of hair he has had contact with: Farrah Fawcett, Morgan Fairchild, and Lassie. Because no human being could possibly file all the Marla clips that have poured in from all over the world in the last few months, Chuck Jones keeps his stash in the office bathroom, where the bathtub is filled to the top with Marla stories, dozens upon dozens of National Enquirers and Stars and every major and not-so-major newspaper and magazine in the country and around the world featuring Marla and Donald and Ivana.

Chuck Jones divides his life from February 11— “the first Liz Smith column” which had the scoop of the Trumps’ breakup—to “the Diane Sawyer interview” on ABC on April 19, when Marla finally emerged from hiding in a red wig with a false name, the previous three and a half weeks having been spent with Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala, where she dared not reveal her true identity. (They subscribe to Newsweek and figured it out anyway.)

During those halcyon days Chuck Jones’s phone bill skyrocketed from eighty dollars a month to a thousand dollars a month. “I’d walk into my office at 9:30 A.M. and my answering machine would be all filled up. Photo desks had the Marla watch. Assignment desks had teams of photographers all over town. I was wired. I served in Vietnam—as a combat correspondent. This was like a war, too—like being in combat again.” A tabloid team tried to pose as a cleaning crew to gain admittance to his office at a time they thought he might be at lunch. Talk about pressure. “My voice was gone. I lost clients. I could have been on Geraldo, on Sally Jessy. But I wouldn’t let anything happen to her. Her friendship is the biggest present I have.”

Chuck Jones has been protecting Marla almost since she first arrived in New York in 1985 and walked into his office with her mother. “Let me put it to you this way. She needed someone she could talk to, because if Marla meets some guy on the street who claims he’s a producer, who’s she gonna call? Not the ghostbusters!”

‘In the annals of celebrity reporting there has never been a story like this,” says Liz Smith. She thinks that the Trump breakup and Marla Maples story “was the most extraordinary thing I ever witnessed next to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. . . . Events steamrolled out of everybody’s control.” Events were helped along by two of the three principals involved, long used to fighting, who “got into responding to every little thing and then thinking, This is it, I’ll say this and then it’ll be over, I’ll have the last word.” It never was and the story continued to run and run and run. “Remember, this was a couple who lived in print, who created themselves through publicity.”

Poor Marla. Out of nowhere more visible than a Delta Air Lines billboard she posed for years ago, a few seconds in a Stephen King movie where she was crushed by watermelons, and a brief appearance on Dallas, she was suddenly caught in the middle of the hottest gossip story of the year, right between the attacking husband and wife. “Donald overrode the P.R. people,” says Liz Smith, who has an antagonistic relationship with Trump. “He wouldn’t take any advice and he wouldn’t shut up.” Chuck Jones’s strategy was to have Marla run away from the media fire storm and hope it would all blow over. Was he ever wrong. Once she was discovered to be Trump’s girlfriend, Marla’s absence from the scene only titillated more. She landed on the cover of People plus every tabloid imaginable. “Trump Mistress Close to Suicide” and “Secret Hotel Romps of Donald & Marla”—that sort of thing.

Marla had never met Larry Russo, but Trump knew him and that his beach house was empty. So for her first week on the front pages Marla hid out in Southampton. Then one Sunday, recalls her friend Janie Elder, who was visiting her there, “she said, ‘You know, I feel funny about this place’—she would always trust her instincts. We left and the next day the Southampton police and a bunch of photographers showed up.” Then it was off to Trump friends Jack and Caroline Davis’s place near Atlantic City, where Trump provided bodyguards. (Davis has since become president of Trump’s Taj Majal casino.) During her two-month exile, Marla would usually wear a red wig, a straw hat, and assume the redheaded Janie’s name. “We had to drive her into the garage of our building and sneak her up the service elevator,” says Elder. “I watched her lose ten pounds from the stress. She never knew where the next hit was coming from. She was never bitter, though. All she’d say was ‘I guess they have their reasons.’ ”

Right and left, people were telling their stories and selling their pictures of Marla Maples. Her high-school and college sweetheart sold out to the National Enquirer for a reported $11,000. (Both of her parents are suing the tabloid for two different stories.) Camera crews and photographers descended on her family. “I was being followed and spied on,” says her mother. “We weren’t at all prepared.”

Marla flew to Guatemala City to stay with a friend who had served in the Peace Corps and was now working for CARE. “I loved it there, I loved the whole experience,” she says of her travels. For three and a half weeks she did not initiate any phone calls, though she and Trump “were always in touch.” Finally, “both Donald and my father said you’ve got to come back and help us.”

Liz Smith has met Marla’s father, whom she describes as “flashy and professionally sincere.” He is a onetime county commissioner who was in the business of subdividing farmland for housing, but he fared about as well in that as in his singing career. Nonetheless, Marla sees similarities between her father and her lover. “They’re alike in many ways. They’re both in business and real estate, and they’re both entertainers—just on different levels, major different levels.” And what about reports that her father made sure that Donald Trump’s intentions toward his daughter were honorable? “My father is very protective of me,” says Marla, who coyly acknowledges that Dad and Don have had that man-to-man talk. “We’re so close, and so he would be concerned—he would want to have those conversations with Donald. They get along just great.”

Marla thinks both her parents are pretty neat, too, and she describes her childhood as being “storybook-perfect.” By the time she left high school she had been elected homecoming queen, given the Hustle Award for her basketball playing, and graduated with academic honors. She entered the University of Georgia as a marketing major in 1981, but quit two and a half years later. She was burned out, she says, by the pressure to be perfect—to earn A’s, look beautiful, play intramural sports, and pursue a full-time social life and modeling career on the side. “I wanted to be on top at each level.”

Marla came to New York to become an actress in 1985. “There was nothing distinguishing about her except her genuineness,” says a blasé bachelor actor-photographer who briefly dated Marla Maples when she first came north. “She was a sweet girl from Georgia, all southern charm, the antithesis of high-society, megabucks-type people. She probably can’t act, but who cares? She’s pretty and sexy. She invited me to her church.”

For a while in New York, Marla lived with Tom Fitzsimmons, an ex-cop turned bit actor also represented by Chuck Jones. Whenever she could, she and her girlfriends would head to Aspen, where the social life for athletic young acting aspirants has long been strenuous. “I’ve always had an infatuation with Aspen,” says Marla. Like hundreds of other young wannabees, Marla took acting classes and dreamed of the day she might land in a soap. Chuck Jones, whose soap contacts are well lathered, even had her just hanging out at the daytime Emmys one year. Who knows? Some casting director might spot her. “She was very energetic and had drive—all she needed to do was get the right exposure,” says Jones. “The soaps are a big vehicle for stardom, and they cater to blondes. They love blondes on soaps.”

Donald Trump loves blondes, too. But exactly when Donald met Marla is a mystery that could be worth the difference between $25 million and the much larger sum Ivana is after. (Trump’s financial woes at the moment, however, may make the leftover zeros academic. As Marla says, “She wants a billion, but we just don’t have it.”) One thing is sure: Donald and Marla met cute. Right on Madison Avenue one afternoon when Donald eschewed the limo and swaggered into Marla, like wow, don’t I know you? Well, yes, we have met before. “I had seen him at different places throughout the years,” says Marla, “and just said hello, I was just somebody he shook hands with.” And then, before you can say soul mate—boom.

“I’m, like, of the soil, of the country, of a solid, firm belief in God,” says Marla. “I would be happier living out on a farm away from everyone and not being in this concrete world, and here he is representing everything that some people think is very materialistic. But sometimes you need something from someone who is completely the opposite. And you find a place where you can meet and learn. And it was sort of like all the conversations that we had were like he’s here and I’m there, but we’ve found common ground.” Often in Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, where Donald and Ivana were married and he and Marla rendezvoused. “Not that we went together, but we would both be there on occasion.”

Marla was baptized through total immersion when she was nine, and she faithfully attended Baptist church services every Sunday thereafter. Being such a spiritual being made her hard-to-get: “I never had respect for anyone who didn’t honor their marriage vows.” In fact, she says that recently Adnan Khashoggi made her cry when he kept insisting that if she asked her father if he were ever unfaithful to her mother her father would say yes. “That’s not true, and I don’t think those people ought to come over here and try to push their beliefs on us.”

So what happened with her and Donald? At first only friendship bloomed. “He was there—because he was married and I didn’t see it ever being anything more.” But, holy cow, life is not simple. “We can’t really judge till we’re there—I found that out,” Marla sighs.

About two years ago Marla began showing up with Trump in Atlantic City, a place whose laissez-faire denizens are accustomed to seeing or hearing about him and other women. According to sources who have seen the photos, Trump had pictures taken of himself with Catherine Oxenberg, who visited the Princess, as well as with Marla.

Ivana, of course, was also well known in Atlantic City because she ran Trump Castle there for a time. But eventually Donald moved her out. “Ivana was pretty much a holy terror at the Castle,” says Roger Gros, the managing editor of Casino Journal. “It was like a Chinese fire drill when she came down—everybody was on pins and needles.”

During the summer of ‘89, Marla could be seen sunbathing on the beach and bicycling on the boardwalk. “Donald was not really very discreet about it,” says Gros. “He had her stay on the Trump Princess all summer except when Ivana came.” Once, when Ivana was arriving unexpectedly, Trump sent a limo to get Marla off the boat. Although Marla denies the story, a witness reports that she was so incensed she kicked the limo door and ended up on crutches. “I saw Marla on Miss America weekend last year,” says Kitty Marciniak, an Atlantic City journalist. “It was the opening of the Improv at Resorts. There was this woman there on crutches following Donald around the whole time. He was out with other women then as well.”

Whether it was the Rolling Stones press conference, the Tyson fights, or high-roller dinners, Marla was always where Donald was, although they arrived separately and were careful “never to be in the same frame,” as one photographer described it. But by late last fall, things were getting more and more open. Donald took Marla to the launch of Steve Wynn’s new casino in Las Vegas, the Mirage. He even had a large poster of Marla he would unfurl for men he knew, saying, “The model personally gave this to me.” Trump was “really proud of her,” says a friend. “He loves leggy, busty blondes. He’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. He doesn’t like any variations on the theme—he likes the theme.”

A year ago Trump seemed to be especially restless. A classic mid-life crisis was brewing. What made him “sadder than I’ve ever felt in my life” was the helicopter crash in October that killed three of his top Atlantic City executives. That loss, particularly of Stephen Hyde, the Mormon father of eight who used to act as Trump’s father confessor, complete with Trump lying on a couch in his office while he talked about his marital woes and everything else, accelerated what in his latest book Trump refers to as his “Is That All There Is?” syndrome.

In Surviving at the Top, Trump writes about what went wrong with his marriage after “years of deadlock.” He describes putting down the phone after talking to Ivana about her plans for yet another New York society evening, and shouting, “My life is shit!” Ivana seemed driven to become an archduchess among the nattering nabobs of Nouvelle Society, and he hated their life together. Yet, “I have to confess, the way I handled the situation was a cop-out,” he writes. “I never sat down calmly with Ivana to ‘talk it out,’ as I probably should have.”

While all this was going on, Ivana apparently knew nothing of Marla. “It’s true, the wife is always the last to know,” said a Trump Plaza employee who reported that Trump had been keeping Marla there off and on for two years. Although Liz Smith says she had been asking Trump for nine months to comment on the other woman in his life, as well as on the state of his marriage, he would never respond. Events came to a head last Christmas. Trump decided to sell the Princess and asked Ivana to accompany one of the bereaved widows of the helicopter crash on a week’s sail to Tahiti, the first leg of an Asian journey to show off the boat to potential buyers. Ivana agreed, and on that trip reportedly got an earful about Donald and Marla for the first time. That pretty much sealed the fate of the marriage. (The final straw would be Trump’s Playboy interview, published at the end of January, in which he refused to say whether his marriage was monogamous or not, a quote Liz Smith reprinted for all of Ivana’s friends to see.)

On December 27 the Trump jet landed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There Trump picked up Marla to go to Aspen, where for the second year in a row he ensconced her in a three-level penthouse at the luxurious Brand Building, overlooking Aspen Mountain. It rents for $10,000 a week during Christmas, not including room service. Marla stayed for a month.

Ivana and the children were also spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Aspen, though in less expensive digs, and on the slopes, where Ivana the expert skier usually dominates, Donald and Marla seemed particularly brazen—Marla sometimes even stood right behind the Trumps while waiting for the ski lift. On December 31, at Bonnie’s, a popular restaurant halfway down the mountain, Ivana realized that Marla and a girlfriend were also lunching there. According to Marla and other eyewitnesses, the Trumps were arguing loudly enough for the whole restaurant to notice.

“Then it suddenly became focused in my direction,” says Marla. Ivana left her seat and first stormed up to Marla’s girlfriend in a case of mistaken identity and “started screaming.” When her girlfriend didn’t respond, Marla says, Ivana went back to continue fighting with Donald and then returned to her. “She couldn’t pronounce my name, but she was asking me if I was Moola or whatever . . . and she just asked if I was the one who had been loving her husband for years. . . . I didn’t want to scream.” But onlookers did hear Marla shout, “It’s out, it’s out! It’s finally out!” Then Ivana yelled, “I have a happy marriage. I’m very happy. Stay away from him! Stay away from us!” Marla countered with “As long as you’re happy, Ivana. Be happy.” But, Marla says, “it was obvious she wasn’t happy.”

By now Trump himself was in the middle of the commotion, mute, in front of a rapt audience of a couple of hundred people. “I looked at Donald,” says Marla, “and he looked at me and I said, ‘Do you think I should go?’ And he said, ‘I think you should go, honey.’ So I walked off and they continued a major discussion” that spilled out onto the slopes. A couple of minutes later, when an acquaintance wandered by, Donald, desperate to end the public confrontation, said, “Say, do you know Ivana?”

“I feel for her,” says Marla of Ivana. “I think she must have known in her heart it wasn’t about me. There would never have been any discussion of my and Donald’s friendship if things had been good. . . . I was his friend for so long and I constantly said to him, ‘Stay and make it work. Don’t give up the marriage—you’ve got your kids.’ ”

Despite the flamboyance of the Aspen episode, with its cast of hundreds, the tale didn’t reach the papers in New York until more than a month later. A lot of people knew about it—in some circles it was the talk of the town—but the principals wouldn’t confirm it. Chuck Jones says he flat out lied and told a 7 Days reporter that Marla wasn’t even in Aspen but home in Dalton at the time of the confrontation. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty picture, and that’s exactly the way it turned out—a mess.”

Marla’s first public outing was supposed to have been at the opening of the new Trump Taj Mahal on April 5. The Taj needs to take in $1.3 million a day to break even (it has been unable to do so), the casino business is currently in a slump, and Marla’s appearance would have guaranteed absolute pandemonium. But Donald’s family managed to persuade him that this was going too far. “I don’t think the family was ready for it,” says Marla, who already had an expensive gown to wear. By April 19, however, when Marla surfaced on national television with Diane Sawyer, she had become a full-blown media phenomenon.

In the interview, which got the best national ratings Sawyer’s PrimeTime program ever received, Marla declared her love for Donald but refused to confirm a New York Post headline that Donald Trump was the “best sex I ever had,” and was widely perceived to have held her own. Chuck Jones was delighted, and described Diane Sawyer as being a “pussycat.” Next, because it was “upscale,” Marla accepted an invitation from Time magazine to appear in Washington, at the White House correspondents’ dinner, in order to make her first live appearance before the press. Once again she stole the headlines. “In a dazzling display of blondeness, the centerpiece of l’affaire de Trump eclipsed everyone including the first couple,” reported The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Trump himself negotiated with Playboy for a spread on Marla. The price was up to $1 million, but she refused to pose nude; Playboy is still trying to get her.

Somehow it seems inevitable that No Excuses jeans would also want Marla. At first she didn’t think it was such a good idea. “Nothing against Donna Rice, but I wanted to be very careful about it.” Chuck Jones had Marla reconsider after No Excuses made an offer of $600,000; she took it with the proviso she could say on-camera that there was no excuse for not cleaning up the environment. In the commercial, she dumps the National Enquirer and the Star into a trash can.

Marla, who donated $25,000 of her No Excuses fee to an environmental group, could conveniently point to that substantial bit of money when the inevitable question came up as to whether she was being kept by Trump or not. Alas, the only thing marring the fun of No Excuses was Ivana’s meanie, P.R. conscious lawyers, who served Marla with a subpoena right there at the Four Seasons restaurant while she was celebrating the deal after its announcement to the press. No Excuses couldn’t have been happier with the brouhaha. They were happier still when all three networks turned the spot down because it “trashed” another product. By this time the free publicity was worth much more than $600,000. “If we had attacked Iraq that day it would still have gotten on the front page,” says No Excuses advertising guru George Lois.

Although she has a closet full of new clothes, Marla likes being associated with a down-home jeans-and-T-shirt kind of look, which contrasts sharply with that of the current Mrs. T. “The life-style she has grown accustomed to is outrageous,” says Marla of Ivana. “It’s outrageous spending I can’t even conceive of. It makes it difficult for normal existence when you are living at such a high level.”

But then what kind of normal existence is life in a $10,000 suite in Aspen? And travel via limos and helicopters? “I start to relax as soon as I get into that helicopter,” Marla says. She weekends on Martha’s Vineyard with Donald during the summer, and in Atlantic City is put up in a luxury suite for high rollers at Trump Plaza. Her own latest apartment in New York is a slick new East Side sublet decorated in chrome and mirrors. She has also leased a place in Century City in Los Angeles, where she rarely goes, even though before all this broke she was planning to move to L.A. because she really would love to be in another movie—someday.

“I can’t talk about my career—are you kidding? My manager and I call it the c-word,” says Marla. “There is too much going on in my life. I think that I’m first of all trying to gain respect back, make sure that my family is O.K., and I want to be strong for Donald, especially when the whole world is willing to bash him.”

In public together, Donald and Marla vacillate between totally open and very cautious behavior. Members of his camp say she elicits “very un-Trump-like behavior” from him, such as holding hands in front of others. Yet late last summer in Atlantic City, of all places, at a boxing match, they came in separately and sat on opposite sides of the ring even as New York Post boxing columnist Mike Marley saw Marla mouth the words “I love you” across the canvas to Trump. As usual, she was besieged for autographs, but her presence wasn’t announced from the ring. At Trump fights the announcers leave Marla alone, even though it is customary to acknowledge the most minor ersatz celebrity.

Whether or not this will change depends on Donald’s ever shifting mood of the moment and how his children adjust to the marital split. Obviously, it hasn’t been easy on them. As it is, Ivana’s prenuptial suit won’t be heard until next spring. (What’s the hurry when nobody is sure that there are assets to divide?) And even this summer Trump was said to be wandering around his office asking, “Do you think Ivana still loves me?” Meanwhile, Miss Marla Ann Maples waits, comforted by her diamond “tennis bracelet,” each stone representing a time that Donald disappointed her. “Once I’ve made up my mind, it’s tough. I know what I want,” says Marla. “Why can’t we move it to the next level? But patience is my lesson here.”

How does someone in this situation convert it to long-term benefit? The intrepid Chuck Jones is wrestling with that very question. “Now you really have to get a strategy, because something’s happened to her—she’s gotten a tremendous amount of publicity. She has to be positioned.”

More than one person who has seen them both up close wonders whether Marla and Donald will still find each other quite so exciting once the thrill of sneaking around and the media pursuit wears off. They also remark on the striking parallels between Marla and Ivana—ambitious small-town girls, only children who love the limelight, both athletic, striving to be stars, both starting from minor modeling careers, and both using their looks and Donald Trump to get ahead. In his book, Trump says that in retrospect it was a mistake to give Ivana jobs in his empire because she never knew where she stood or how she should be treated—“between the boss’s wife (and representative) and an employee.” He did so partly because she was looking for something to do.

So is Marla.

If Donald needed Marla in Atlantic City, yes, she would be willing to run something for him—she has always loved business. “If down the line there is any way I could help, I would love to. . . . Atlantic City could be developed as a great all-year-round vacation place for the whole family. There’s so much to do there—tennis and golf and swimming . . .”

At Trump Plaza there is a luxury restaurant decorated with cut glass and white orchids that is still called Ivana’s. One day it might be called Marla’s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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