By Naomi Serviss / New York City
I attended Donald Trump’s 50th birthday bash in Trump Tower 26 years ago.
Yes, Donald Trump, the disgraced, indicted, nasty former president.
No doubt that vile human being will twist this pathetically sad, tragic week to his own financial and egotistical benefit.
After all, money is what he values, and ironically, he’s a terrible businessman to boot! He lives for the megalomaniacal thrill of attention, good or bad.
Not to mention he’s a despicable, vile, racist anti-Semite.
And a crappy parent.
So why on earth was I willingly attending a narcissist’s birthday party? Because it was the ‘90s and he was merely a creep, not a Russian asset (yet).
I was on the media invite list because of Newsday credentials.
Why not go? It could be a rich vein of copy to mine. Who knew what would come of the outing or
whom I might meet?
Trump used to like the press.
He courted journalists and handwrote thank-you’s after being interviewed. He knew how to play and manipulate the odds.
How could I turn down his birthday request? Keep in mind, this was almost three decades ago, when Dapper Don was fodder for New York City’s tabloid gristmill.
Those were the days when an easy-to-read paper cost 25 cents and the New York Times
was still the Gray Lady. Trump often called reporters to drop gossipy tidbits, or schmooze.
The author chatting with the future President at his big birthday bash
He seemed harmless enough, just a braggart and buffoon with lousy taste. Faux gold all the way. A poor man’s vision of how a rich man lives.
We know better now, but in the ‘90s, Mr. Trump was a man made for mockery. Seemed harmless.
He was a punch line with no sense of shame. A self-proclaimed billionaire (discredited by Forbes magazine), he was a clown prince in his own three-ring circus.
He’s always loved the spotlight, as only a narcissist could.
In those days, he would go on the televised Howard Stern Show and brag about his sex life, then and past. He projected a creepy dad vibe discussing his attraction to his young daughter Ivanka.
A raging public feud with Leona Helmsley (of Helmsley Palace notoriety) provided some of the best front-page quotes of the day, screaming headlines like:
“I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue was notarized!”
–Leona Helmsley (New York Post, Sept. 22, 1990)
When Marla Maples came in (and out) of his life while he was still married to Ivana, the soap opera-like scandal ran the tabloids ragged.
“Best Sex I’ve Ever Had”
–attributed to Maples (New York Post, Feb. 16, 1990)
She denied it. Of course. That’s how the tabloid game is played.
Then and now.
Who knew what might be said at this party, my journalist brain wondered?
Hors d’oeuvres and drinks were served by neatly dressed waitstaff. Local and international celebrities mingled. Reporters abounded: the New York Post’s gossip columnist, Cindy Adams was flitting here and there, bedecked in a floral frock with matching hat. She’d been a longtime Trump friend and fan.
Then an announcement, and a hush quieted the cheerful chatter.
Lo and behold! Why, there’s Trump, Marla Maples and their toddler Tiffany riding the golden escalator (remember when he announced his 2016 bid for president? That escalator), flashing royal nods and brightened smiles.
At least Marla and Tiffany were smiling. I can’t recall Birthday Boy with a toothy grin.
In those days (as now) Trump was a media whore. He loved the tabloids, and the feeling was mutual. His face was often plastered on front pages of the New York Post and the Daily News. He didn’t care that New Yorkers considered him a lying cheat with a big mouth.
As the trio descended to the fans in thrall, they walked through the crowd and greeted guests.
When The Donald (another ‘90s nickname) stopped to say hello, he seemed like a regular Joe sporting an expensive suit and funny hair. I wished him a happy birthday and presented him with a joke gift: a boat-shaped, rubber Donald Duck.
Inside joke. Those were the Atlantic City days when he envisioned opening a ship casino. Didn’t come to pass.
Hollywood actress Morgan Fairchild chatted with me and posed for a photo. She was glam and her striking blue eyes dazzled.
Walking around I noticed another escalator and headed downstairs.
There were a handful of people there and I recognized a solitary man standing in front of an easel. It propped up an exquisite painting of Central Park.
He turned towards me and I sank into the familiar dark eyes of Tony Bennett, artist/musician/author.
Bennett got the invite as well. The painting, a gift for the evening’s honoree, was created from his apartment overlooking the park. Stunning.
We chatted and I tried not to fawn, even though I thought:
“I’m talking to a Living Legend! One whom I admire! It’s the same feeling as I felt when interviewing Steve Allen—a mixture of awe and pinch-me-I’m-dreaming incredulity.
I didn’t even fault Bennett for being pals with the gilded celebrant.
Bennett talked about the joy of painting and how grateful he felt to have the talent and ability to create and share his work. He generously expressed interest in my entertainment column. A class act.
No one else approached Bennett. They were seemingly in awe and too shy. I was grateful for the private moment.
A cake was sliced, and pieces were passed around.
“Happy Birthday” was sung, and participants trailed off and dispersed.
It was a stellar night, one that went down in the Serviss Family Lore files.
My one regret was not taking a photo of Bennett.
It was a celebratory occasion, but the interior of the Fifth Avenue building seemed cold and empty.
Much like I imagined Trump’s heart.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com