Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (7 page)

BOOK: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man
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Now a full-time employee, Freddy started accompanying his father on rounds to the buildings, checking in with the superintendents, and overseeing repairs. Being in the field was better than being in the former dentist office where my grandfather's business was located on Avenue Z in South Brooklyn, with its cramped quarters and dim lighting. Though Fred's business was raking in millions of dollars a year, he still dealt directly with tenants when he believed the circumstances warranted doing so. If, for example, a tenant complained a little too loudly or frequently, Fred paid him or her a visit, knowing his reputation preceded him. On occasion he took Freddy along to demonstrate how to handle such situations.

When one tenant repeatedly called the office to report a lack of heat, Fred paid him a visit. After knocking on the door, he removed his suit jacket, something he usually did only right before getting into bed. Once inside the apartment, which was indeed cold, he rolled up his shirtsleeves (again, something he rarely did) and told his tenant that he didn't know what they were complaining about. “It's like the tropics in here,” he told them.

Freddy began checking in for his National Guard duty. One weekend a month he had to report to the Armory in Manhattan. Fred didn't comment on those weekend absences, but he was annoyed by the two weeks a year Freddy had to take off in order to report to Fort Drum in
upstate New York. For Fred, who had no use for military service, it was a waste of his employee's time.

One evening after a long day in Brooklyn, Freddy got a phone call from Linda. They hadn't spoken for more than a year. She told him that she'd become a stewardess for National Airlines and was flying out of Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport). She remembered that Freddy had mentioned that his dad owned a couple of apartment buildings in Queens, and she wondered if he could help her find a place not too far from the airport. Fred had several buildings in Jamaica only a fifteen-minute bus ride from Idlewild. They found a studio at the Saxony on Highland Avenue right next to a nine-acre wooded park with a large pond in the middle of it. She moved in right away. Soon she and Freddy were dating.

A year later, in August 1961, Freddy took Linda for dinner at their favorite restaurant in Manhattan. During cocktails, he sneaked an engagement ring into Linda's glass and proposed. After dinner, they drove to Jamaica Estates to tell his parents. Fred and Mary took the news… calmly.

Based on Linda's modest upbringing (her father was a truck driver, and later her parents ran a clam shack near the beach in Florida) and her perceived lack of sophistication and education, they assumed that she must be a gold digger. But it was a fundamental and deliberate misunderstanding that failed to acknowledge reality; Linda probably had no idea just how wealthy her future father-in-law was. And if Linda was a gold digger, she was an exceptionally bad one.

Given her own very modest upbringing in Scotland, my grandmother could have been my mother's ally, but when Mary MacLeod had reached the top of the ladder, she had pulled it up after her. As for Fred, he simply did not like her. In any case, she was Freddy's choice, so she was suspect.

Meanwhile, the rules for stewardesses at the time were very strict:
you could be suspended for letting your hair get too long or putting on weight, and you could not continue to work if you married. After her last flight in January 1962, a couple of weeks before the wedding, Linda would have no independent income.

Because Linda's mother was confined to a wheelchair due to her advanced rheumatoid arthritis, they decided to have the wedding in Florida. A simple cocktail reception would take place at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina on the Inland Waterway in Fort Lauderdale after the church ceremony. Fred and Mary weren't pleased, but since they didn't offer to help financially, they had little say. Neither Elizabeth, who was at college in Virginia, nor Donald, who was still at NYMA, attended. The Trumps settled for hosting a reception in New York after the couple returned from their honeymoon.

Trump Village in Coney Island—the largest Trump Management project to date—was slated to break ground in 1963, and Freddy would be assisting in the preparations. Fred expected him to take an apartment in one of his Brooklyn buildings so he could be close at hand to manage any problems that cropped up, but Freddy and Linda moved instead into a one-bedroom in the city on East 56th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. They bought a poodle, the first pet Freddy had ever had, and a few months later Linda was pregnant.

That November, Frederick Crist Trump, III, was born. A month later, Freddy bought his first plane—a Piper Comanche 180. He and Linda flew it down to Fort Lauderdale right after Christmas to show it—and their new son—off to Linda's parents. Her father, Mike, who often parked near the runway of the Fort Lauderdale Airport to watch planes take off and land, couldn't have been more impressed.

During one of the weekly dinners Freddy and Linda had with Maryanne and her husband, David Desmond, whom she had married in 1960, Freddy told them about the plane, adding “Don't tell Dad. He wouldn't get it.”

In September 1963, they moved into the Highlander, one of Fred's Jamaica buildings, down the block from where Linda had lived when she had first moved to town three years earlier—a stepping-stone to a house on Long Island. The Highlander was typical of Fred's buildings, having a grand entrance to distract from the substandard rental units. The lobby had a large sunken space with a formal sitting area blocked off by velvet ropes and stanchions on one side and on the other a huge display of oversized tropical plants. Between them, large floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows looked out onto a wide expanse of flagstones and brick steps on either side curving up to the sidewalk. On either side of the steps was more extravagant foliage, towering oak trees and exotic plants with enormous dark green leaves—another Fred Trump touch. The building stood at the top of a hill on Highland Avenue, essentially the dividing line that ran through Jamaica: the north side had a more suburban feel and was predominantly white; the south side was urban and predominantly black. The front and back doors of the building gave onto two different worlds. Freddy and Linda took a two-bedroom apartment on the southeast corner of the ninth and top floor overlooking the park and Jamaica High School in the distance on one side and south Jamaica on the other.

Freddy worried at first that being the landlord's on-site son, as well as an employee of the company that owned the building, would give people an open invitation to bother him at all hours. But the building was less than fifteen years old, and the superintendent made sure the other tenants left him alone.

Not long after the move, Freddy told Linda he wanted to become a professional pilot. After three years at Trump Management he found the work a grind. Almost from the beginning, his father had frozen him out of the day-to-day operations of the Trump Village development; instead he'd been relegated to handling tenants' complaints and overseeing maintenance projects.

Being a pilot would give him a chance to do something he loved while making a good living. Before the dawn of the jet age in the early
1960s, there had been a seven-year hiring freeze on commercial pilots. With the introduction of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 into airline fleets, however, air travel exploded. Pan Am launched overseas flights in 1958 and loaned its jets to National for domestic routes. The following year, TWA, American, Delta, and United were all using jets, which, larger, more powerful, and safer to fly than their turboprop predecessors, could carry more passengers greater distances.

With the expansion in air service came a demand for qualified pilots who already had the skills necessary to train quickly on the new jets. TWA was the last airline to embrace the 707, and it was under a lot of pressure to catch up. At Idlewild and at MacArthur Airport, where Freddy kept his Comanche, the walls were plastered with notices about the need for fresh blood in commercial cockpits.

Linda said no. Having been a stewardess, she knew what pilots got up to during their layovers. For the time being, Freddy agreed to shelve the idea and make the best of life at Trump Management.

But the situation with his father deteriorated. When Freddy approached him with ideas for innovations, Fred shot him down. When he asked for more responsibility, Fred brushed him off.

Trying to prove he could make executive decisions, Freddy placed a window order for one of the older buildings. When Fred found out, he was furious. “You should have slapped a goddamn coat of paint on them instead of wasting my money!” he shouted while the employees looked on. “Donald is worth ten of you. He never would have done anything so stupid.” Donald was still in high school at the time.

It was one thing for his father to humiliate him in front of his siblings, but the people in that office weren't Freddy's peers. Someday, presumably, he would be their boss. For his nascent authority to be undermined so publicly felt like a body blow.

When he got home that night, he told Linda how trapped he felt and confessed that he'd never been happy working for his father. It wasn't at all what he had expected, and for the first time it occurred to him that Trump Management might be a dead end for him. “I'm
applying to TWA, Linda. I have to.” He wasn't asking anymore. Fred might cut him off, but Freddy was willing to risk losing his inheritance. Pilots, especially pilots working for TWA, had good benefits and job security. He would be able to support his young family on his own, and he would be his own man.

When Freddy told his father that he was leaving Trump Management to become a commercial pilot, Fred was stunned. It was a betrayal, and he had no intention of letting his oldest son forget it.

C
HAPTER
F
OUR
Expecting to Fly

O
nly the best pilots were assigned to fly the coveted Boston–Los Angeles route. And in May 1964, Freddy was on his first official flight as a professional pilot from Boston's Logan Airport to LAX—less than six months after he'd applied for a spot in that year's first training class.

What Freddy achieved in the cockpit made him unique in the Trump family. None of Fred's other children would accomplish so much entirely on their own. Maryanne came closest, putting herself through law school in the early 1970s and, over the course of nine years, compiling a solid record as a prosecutor. Her eventual appointment to the federal appeals court, however, was possible because Donald used his connections to do her a favor. For decades Elizabeth worked in the same job at Chase Manhattan Bank that Fred had arranged for her. Donald was enabled from the beginning, every one of his projects funded and supported by Fred and then by myriad other enablers right up to the present. Other than a brief stint at a New York securities firm after graduating from college, Robert worked for Donald and then his father. Even Fred was not entirely self-made, since his mother had started the business that would become Trump Management.

Freddy had put himself through flight school in college, defied his father (which he would spend the rest of his life paying for), and had no support from, as well as the active contempt of, his family.
Obstacles aside, he had been determined to apply to TWA as many times as necessary. He made it on the first try.

In the 1950s and '60s, the vast majority of incoming pilots had received their training in the military; a typical training class had twenty students: four from the air force, four from the navy, four from the army, four from the marines, and four civilians. At twenty-five years old, Freddy was one of twelve men accepted into the airline's first 1964 pilots' class. Ten of them had received their training in the military. When you consider that there were no flight simulators and all the training was done in the air, the achievement was all the more staggering. Freddy was finally reaping the rewards of all of those hours he'd logged at the airfield while his fraternity brothers were partying.

In those days, air travel was at the height of its glamour, and at the forefront of that trend was Howard Hughes's Trans World Airlines, the favorite of the Hollywood glitterati. TWA provided limousines to the gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to ferry them to and from the airport; the resulting publicity made everyone want to fly TWA. One of the largest carriers in the world, TWA flew both domestically and internationally. The captain was God and treated accordingly, and thanks to Hughes's penchant for beautiful women, the stewardesses all looked like movie stars.

The reactions pilots got from passengers as they walked through the terminal, the admiring stares, the requests for autographs, were all new to Freddy and a welcome change from Trump Management, where he had struggled and failed to gain respect. The gleaming airports stood in stark contrast to the dark, unwelcoming office and dirty construction sites he'd left behind in New York. In place of bulldozers and backhoes, rows of 707s and DC-8s glimmered on the tarmac. Instead of having all of his decisions second-guessed and criticized by his father, on the flight deck Freddy had the controls.

Freddy moved his young family to Marblehead, a small harbor town forty minutes northeast of Boston's Logan Airport on the Massachusetts coast. They rented a ramshackle cottage set among an eclectic
mix of houses that circled the village green not far from the sprawling harbor, where Freddy kept his “yacht,” a beat-up Boston Whaler.

May in Marblehead was idyllic. Freddy loved the flying. There was a lot of socializing, with barbecues and deep-sea fishing excursions. Almost every weekend, friends came up from New York to visit them. After a month, though, Freddy started to struggle with the schedule. He was often at loose ends when he wasn't in the cockpit. Linda noticed that he started drinking more than everyone else—something that had never been a problem before.

Her husband didn't confide in Linda anymore, wanting perhaps to shield her, so she wasn't privy to the details of the conversation he'd had with Fred back in December. Linda didn't know about the constant barrage of abuse Freddy was receiving from his father in New York through letters and phone calls. But his friends knew. Freddy told them, with a note of disbelief in his voice, that the old man was embarrassed to have a “bus driver in the sky” for a son. It didn't take much for his father to convince him that choosing to leave Trump Management meant choosing failure. The most crucial thing that Linda didn't fully grasp—and to be fair, Freddy probably didn't grasp it, either—was how much Fred Trump's opinion mattered to his son.

One night, after returning from his most recent rotation, Freddy seemed particularly on edge. Over dinner, he said, “We need to get a divorce.”

Linda was shocked. Her husband was under more stress than usual, but she thought it might be the result of his being responsible for the lives of more than two hundred people every time he flew.

“Freddy, what are you talking about?”

“It's not working out, Linda. I don't see how we can keep going.”

“You're not even here half the time,” she said, mystified by his outburst. “We have a baby. How can you say that?”

Freddy stood up and poured himself a drink. “Forget it,” he said, and left the room.

They never renewed that conversation, and after a few days, they continued on as though nothing unusual had happened.

In June Donald, then eighteen and freshly graduated from the military academy, and Robert, sixteen, still a student at Freddy's alma mater, St. Paul's, drove up to Marblehead for a visit, arriving in Donald's new sports car, a high school graduation present from his parents—a step up from the luggage Freddy had received when he had graduated from college.

Freddy was anxious about seeing them. None of his siblings had ever been up in a plane with him or expressed any interest in his new career. He hoped that maybe, if he could let his brothers into his world, he'd find an ally; having even one person in his family who believed in him might bolster his waning strength to withstand his father's disapproval.

At the time of the visit, Donald was at a crossroads. When Freddy had announced he was stepping away from Trump Management in December 1963, Donald had been caught flat-footed. His brother's decision had come at the end of the first semester of Donald's senior year, and since his name wasn't Fred, he had no idea what his future role in the company might be, although he did plan to work there in some capacity. Because of that uncertainty, he hadn't adequately prepared for his future beyond high school. When he graduated from New York Military Academy that spring, he had not yet been accepted into college. He asked Maryanne to help him find a spot at a local school when he got back home.

Freddy and Linda had a barbecue for lunch, during which Donald told them he was going to Chicago with their dad to “help” him with a development he was considering. Freddy's relief was palpable. Maybe Fred was beginning to accept the new reality and had decided to take Donald on as his heir apparent.

Later in the afternoon, Freddy took the boys out on his “yacht” to do some fishing.

Despite Freddy's best attempts to teach his brother the basics of the sport, Donald had never gotten the hang of it. Donald had still been at NYMA the last time they'd been on a boat together, along with Billy and a couple of Freddy's fraternity brothers. When one of them had tried to show Donald how to hold the pole properly, Donald had pulled away and said, “I know what I'm doing.”

“Yeah, buddy. And you're doing it really badly.” The rest of the guys had laughed. Donald had thrown his pole onto the deck and stalked off toward the bow. He had been so angry, he wasn't paying attention to where he was walking, and Freddy had worried that he might walk right off the boat. Donald's fishing skills hadn't improved in the interim.

When the three brothers returned from the harbor, Linda was preparing dinner. As soon as they came into the house, she could sense the tension. Something had shifted. Freddy's good mood had been replaced by a quiet, barely contained anger. Freddy didn't often lose his temper, not then, and she took it as a bad sign. He poured himself a drink. Another bad sign.

Even before they sat down for dinner, Donald started in on his older brother. “You know, Dad's really sick of you wasting your life,” he declared, as though he'd suddenly remembered why he was there.

“I don't need you to tell me what Dad thinks,” said Freddy, who already knew his father's opinions all too well.

“He says he's embarrassed by you.”

“I don't get why you care,” Freddy replied. “You want to work with Dad, go ahead. I'm not interested.”

“Freddy,” he said, “Dad's right about you: you're nothing but a glorified bus driver.” Donald may not have understood the origin of their father's contempt for Freddy and his decision to become a professional pilot, but he had the bully's unerring instinct for finding the most effective way to undermine an adversary.

Freddy understood that his brothers had been sent to deliver their father's message in person—or at least Donald had. But hearing Fred's belittling words come out of his little brother's mouth broke his spirit.

Linda overheard the exchange and came into the living room from the kitchen in time to see Freddy's face drained of all color. She slammed the plate she was holding onto the table and screamed at her brother-in-law, “You should just keep your mouth shut, Donald! Do you know how hard he's had to work? You have no idea what you're talking about!”

Freddy didn't speak to either of his brothers for the remainder of that night, and they left for New York the next morning, a day earlier than planned.

Freddy's drinking worsened.

In July, TWA offered him a promotion. The airline wanted to send him to their facility in Kansas City to train him on the new 727s it was introducing to the fleet. He declined, even though Linda reminded him that he never would have disregarded an order from one of his superiors in the National Guard. He told management that having signed a yearlong lease for a furnished house in Marblehead only two months earlier, he couldn't justify uprooting his young family again. In truth, Freddy had begun to suspect that his dream was coming to an end. He was losing hope that his father would accept him as a professional pilot, and without that acceptance he probably couldn't continue. He had spent his entire life up until he had left Trump Management trying his best to become the person his father wanted him to be. When those attempts had repeatedly ended in failure, he had hoped that in the course of fulfilling his own dream that his father would come to accept him for who he really was. He had spent his childhood navigating the minefield of his father's conditional acceptance, and he knew all too well that there was only one way to receive it—by being someone he wasn't—and he would never be able to pull that off. His father's approval still mattered more than anything else. Fred was, and always had been, the ultimate arbiter of his children's worth (which is why, even late into her seventies, my aunt Maryanne continued to yearn for her long-dead father's praise).

When TWA later offered Freddy the opportunity to fly out of Idlewild, he jumped at the chance, thinking it might be a way to salvage the situation. The move made no sense from a practical perspective, since he'd have to commute from Marblehead to New York every three or four days. Worse, it put him into closer proximity to Fred. But maybe for Freddy that was the point. Even if he couldn't get Fred's approval, it might be easier to convince his father that flying was what he should be doing if he could see it up close. In between flights, Freddy took fellow pilots back to the House to meet his family, hoping Fred might be impressed. It was a desperate move, but Freddy
was
desperate.

In the end, it made no difference. Fred could never get past the betrayal. Although Freddy had joined ROTC and a fraternity and the flying club, things his father would have disdained but probably didn't know about, those activities hadn't altered his plan to work for his father to ensure that the empire would survive in perpetuity. From Fred's perspective, Freddy's leaving Trump Management must have felt like an act of blatant disrespect. Ironically, it was the kind of boldness Fred had wanted to instill in his son, but it had been squandered on the wrong ambition. Instead, Fred felt that Freddy's unprecedented move undermined his authority and diminished Fred's sense that he was in control of everything, including the course of his son's life.

A few weeks after the boys' visit, a summer storm thundered over Marblehead Harbor. Linda was standing in the living room ironing Freddy's white uniform shirts when the phone rang. As soon as she heard her husband's voice, she knew something was wrong. He had quit his job at TWA, he told her. The three of them needed to move back to New York as soon as possible. Linda was stunned. That Freddy would give up everything he'd worked for after only four months made no sense at all.

In fact, TWA had given him an ultimatum: if he resigned, he could keep his license; otherwise, it would be forced to fire him as a result of
his serious alcohol problem. If Freddy got fired, he'd likely never be able to fly again. He chose the first option, and with that their life in Marblehead was over. Just after Labor Day, the three of them moved back to the corner apartment on the ninth floor of the Highlander in Jamaica.

But Freddy hadn't entirely given up on a flying career. Maybe, he thought, if he started with smaller airlines with smaller planes and shorter, less stressful routes, he could work his way back up. While Linda and Fritz settled in, Freddy went to Utica, a small city in upstate New York, to work for Piedmont Airlines, which flew commuter routes in the northeast. That job lasted less than a month.

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