Authors: Mary L. Trump;
“Of course,” Fred said. “That's what you do for family.”
My grandfather believed that in the same way he believed it was appropriate to send your kids to college or join a country club: even if it was of no interest to him or wasn't particularly important to him, it was simply “what you do.”
After the Steeplechase deal collapsed, there was less for Freddy to do at Trump Management. He and Linda had been planning to buy a house since my brother had been born, and now, with extra time on his hands, they started to look for one. It didn't take long for them to find a perfect four-bedroom on a half-acre lot in Brookville, a beautiful, affluent town on Long Island. The move would add at least half an hour to Dad's commute, but a change of scenery and the freedom of being out of his father's building would do him some good. He assured the real estate agent that he could meet the asking price and getting a mortgage would be no problem.
When the bank called a few days later to tell him his mortgage application had been rejected, Freddy was stunned. With the exception of his one year with TWA, he'd been working for his father for almost six years. He was still an executive at Trump Management, which brought in tens of millions of dollars a year free and clear. In 1967, the company was worth approximately $100 million. Freddy made a decent living, he didn't have many expenses, and there was a trust fund and a (fast dwindling) stock portfolio. The most plausible explanation was that Fred, still burned by what he considered his son's betrayal
and reeling from the failure of Steeplechase, had intervened in some way to prevent the transaction. My grandfather had prominent contacts and enormous accounts at Chase, Manufacturer's Hanover Trust, and the other biggest banks in the city, so not only could he guarantee that Freddy would get a mortgage, he could just as easily make sure he didn't. Our family was effectively trapped in that run-down apartment in Jamaica.
When June rolled around, my father was more than ready to spend the summer in Montauk again. My parents rented the same cottage, and with funds he raised by selling some of his blue-chip stocks, Dad bought a Chrisovich 33, which, with its sixteen-foot tuna tower, was much more suited to handle the kind of deep-sea fishing he loved. He also bought another plane, this time a Cessna 206 Stationair, which had a more powerful engine and a larger seating capacity than the Piper Comanche.
But the new toys weren't just for recreation. Dad had a plan. After Steeplechase, he had been increasingly sidelined at Trump Management, so he came up with the idea of chartering both the boat and the plane to create another source of income. If it worked out, he might be able to free himself from Trump Management after all. He hired a full-time captain to run the boat charters, but on the weekends, when doing so would have been the most lucrative, he had the captain drive him and his friends around instead.
When Linda joined them on the boat, she noticed that Freddy always drank more than everybody else, just as he had in Marblehead, which spurred increasingly intense fights between them. The increasing frequency with which Freddy flew under the influence was alarming, and as the summer of 1967 proceeded, Linda became reluctant to get onto the plane with him. The unraveling continued. By September, Dad realized that his plan wasn't going to work. He sold the boat, and when Fred found out about the plane, he got rid of that, too.
At twenty-nine years old, my father was running out of things to lose.
woke up to the sound of Dad's laughter. I had no sense of the time. My room was very dark, and the hallway light glared bright and incongruous under my door. I slipped out of bed. I was two and a half, and my five-year-old brother was sleeping far away on the opposite end of the apartment. I went alone to see what was going on.
My parents' room was next to mine, and its door was standing wide open. All of the lights were on. I stopped at the threshold. Dad had his back to the chest of drawers, and Mom, sitting on the bed directly across from him, was leaning away, one hand held up, the other supporting her weight on the mattress. I didn't immediately know what I was looking at. Dad was aiming a rifle at her, the .22 he kept on his boat to shoot sharksâand he kept laughing.
Mom begged him to stop. He raised the gun until it was pointing at her face. She lifted her left arm higher and screamed again, more loudly. Dad seemed to find it funny. I turned and ran back to bed.
My mother corralled my brother and me into the car and took us to a friend's house for the night. Eventually my father tracked us down. He barely remembered what he'd done, but he promised my mother it would never happen again. He was waiting for us when we returned to the apartment the next day, and they agreed to try to work things out.
But they kept going through the motions of their day-to-day lives
without acknowledging the problems in their marriage. Nothing was going to get better. Things weren't even going to stay the same.
Less than two miles away, in another one of my grandfather's buildings, Maryanne was in trouble. Her husband, David, had lost his Jaguar dealership a couple of years earlier and still didn't have a job. Anybody who was paying attention would have realized that all was not well, but Maryanne's siblings and their friends thought David Desmond was a jokeârotund and harmless. Freddy had never understood the marriage or taken his brother-in-law seriously.
Maryanne had been twenty-two when she had met David. A graduate student at Columbia studying public policy, she had planned to get a PhD, but, wanting to avoid the shame of being called an old maid by her family (Freddy included), she had accepted David's proposal and dropped out of school after getting her master's degree.
The initial problem was that David, a Catholic, insisted that Maryanne convert. Not wanting to provoke her father's anger or hurt her mother's feelings, she was terrified to ask for their blessing.
When she finally did, Fred said, “Do whatever you want to do.”
She explained how very, very sorry she was to disappoint them.
“Maryanne, I couldn't care less. You're going to be his wife.”
Gam didn't say anything at all, and that was that.
David liked to tell Maryanne that his name would be known far beyond the reach of the Trumps. Although well educated, he didn't have any obvious skills to back up his ambition. Even so, he remained convinced that he'd find a way to succeed beyond his dreams and “show them.” Like Ralph Kramden without the charm, kindness, or steady job with benefits, his “next big thing,” just like the car dealership, always failed or never materialized at all. It wasn't long into the marriage before David started drinking.
The Desmonds lived rent free in a Trump apartment and enjoyed the same medical insurance everyone in the family received through
Trump Management, but free rent and medical insurance didn't put food on the table, and they had no income.
The biggest mystery, however, was why Maryanne was so financially dependent on her incompetent husband, just as it was a mystery that Elizabeth lived in a gloomy one-bedroom apartment next to the 59th Street Bridge and Freddy couldn't buy a house and his planes, boats, and luxury cars kept disappearing. My grandfather and great-grandmother had set up trust funds for all of Fred's children in the 1940s. Whether or not Maryanne was entitled to the principal yet, the trusts must have generated interest. But the three oldest children had been trained not to ask for anything ever, and if my grandfather was the trustee of those trusts, they were trapped in their financial circumstances. Asking for help meant you were weak or greedy or seeking advantage over someone who needed nothing from you in return, although an exception was made for Donald. It was so frowned upon that Maryanne, Freddy, and Elizabeth, in different ways, all suffered from totally avoidable deprivation.
After a few years of her husband's continued unemployment, Maryanne was at the end of her rope. She approached her mother, but in a way that didn't arouse suspicion. “Mom, I need some change for the laundry,” she would say casually whenever she went to the House. She thought nobody knew how bad it was. For Fred, once his daughter was married, she wasn't his concern, but my grandmother knew. She didn't ask questions, either because she didn't want to pry or because she wanted Maryanne to have her “pride,” and handed her daughter a Crisco can filled with dimes and quarters that came from the washers and dryers that she'd retrieved from my grandfather's buildings. Every few days, Gam made the rounds in Brooklyn and Queens, driving her pink Cadillac convertible and wearing her fox fur stole to collect the coins. As my aunt would later concede, in a family of already tremendous wealth, those Crisco cans saved her life; without them she wouldn't have been able to feed herself or her son, David, Jr.
At the very least, Maryanne should have been able to buy groceries without having to ask my grandmother, no matter how obliquely. But no matter how dire their situation, the three oldest Trump children couldn't get anybody in their family to help them in any substantive way. After a while there seemed to be no point in trying at all. Elizabeth simply accepted her lot. Dad eventually came to believe it was what he deserved. Maryanne convinced herself that not asking for or receiving help was a badge of honor. Their fear of my grandfather was so deeply ingrained that they no longer even recognized it for what it was.
The situation with David Desmond eventually became untenable. He couldn't get a job, and his drinking worsened. Desperate but being very careful not to seem as if she were asking for anything, Maryanne hinted to her father that David would love a place at Trump Management. My grandfather didn't ask if there was a problem. He gave his son-in-law a job as a parking lot attendant at one of his buildings in Jamaica Estates.
Donald graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1968 and went straight to work at Trump Management. From his first day on the job, my twenty-two-year-old uncle was given more respect and perks and paid more money than my father ever had been.
Almost immediately, my grandfather appointed Donald vice president of several companies that fell under the Trump Management umbrella, named him “manager” of a building he didn't actually have to manage, gave him “consulting” fees, and “hired” him as a banker.
The reasoning for that was twofold: First, it was an easy way to put Freddy in his place while signaling to the other employees that they were expected to defer to Donald. Second, it helped consolidate Donald's de facto position as heir apparent.
Donald secured his father's attention in a way nobody else did. None of Freddy's friends could understand why Donald was, in Fred's eyes, “the cat's meow.” But after the summers and weekends Donald
spent working for his father and visiting construction sites, Fred exposed his younger son to the ins and outs of the real estate business. Donald discovered he had a taste for the seamier side of dealing with contractors and navigating the political and financial power structures that undergirded the world of New York City real estate. Father and son could discuss the business and local politics and gossip endlessly even if the rest of us in the cheap seats had no idea what they were talking about. Not only did Fred and Donald share traits and dislikes, they had the ease of equals, something Freddy could never achieve with his father. Freddy had a wider view of the world than his brother or father did. Unlike Donald, he had belonged to organizations and groups in college that had exposed him to other people's points of view. In the National Guard and as a pilot at TWA, he had seen the best and brightest, career professionals who believed there was a greater good, that there were things more important than money, such as expertise, dedication, loyalty. They understood that life wasn't a zero-sum game. But that was part of my dad's problem. Donald was as narrow and provincial and egotistical as their father. But he also had a confidence and brazenness that Fred envied and his older brother lacked, qualities that Fred planned to turn to his advantage.
Donald's bid to replace my father at Trump Management was off to a strong start, but he was still at loose ends at home. Robert was at Boston University, which enabled him to avoid service in Vietnam, and Donald and Elizabeth didn't socialize with each other. Freddy did his best to include his little brother in whatever he and his friends got up to, but it rarely went well. They were a laid-back group who loved flying out east with Freddy to fish and water-ski. They found Donald's lack of humor and self-importance off-putting. Though they tried for Freddy's sake to welcome his little brother, they didn't like him.
Toward the end of Donald's first year at Trump Management, the tension between him and Freddy was becoming noticeable. Though Freddy tried to leave it at the office, Donald never let anything go.
Despite that, when Billy Drake's girlfriend, Annamaria, was having a dinner party, Freddy asked if he could invite his brother.
The evening didn't go much better than Donald's attempted flirtation in the driveway years earlier. Shortly after the brothers arrived, raised voices drew Annamaria from the kitchen, where she was preparing dinner. She found Donald standing inches away from his brother, flushed and pointing his finger in Freddy's face. Donald looked as though he were about to hit Freddy, so Annamaria pushed herself between the two very tall men.
Freddy took a step back and said through clenched teeth, “Donald, get out of here.”
Donald seemed stunned, then stormed away, saying, “Fine! You eat the girl's roast beef!” as he slammed the door on his way out.
“Idiot!” Annamaria called after him. She turned back to Freddy and asked, “What was that about?”
Shaken, Freddy simply said, “Work stuff.” And they left it at that.
Things weren't getting any better at the Highlander, either. Despite my mother's fear of snakes, Dad brought home a ball python one day and put the tank into the den, forcing my mother to pass by it any time she needed to do laundry, go into my brother's room, or leave the apartment. Their fights escalated after that gratuitous bit of cruelty, and by 1970 my mother had had all she could take. She asked Dad to leave. When he came back unannounced a couple of weeks later and let himself in, she called my grandfather and insisted that the locks be changed. For once, Fred didn't object; he didn't ask any questions, and he didn't blame her. He simply told her that he would take care of it, and he did.
Dad never lived with us again.
My mother called Matthew Tosti, one of my grandfather's attorneys, to tell him she wanted a divorce. Mr. Tosti and his partner, Irwin Durben, had been doing work for my grandfather since the 1950s. Even before
my parents separated, Mr. Tosti had been my mother's main contact for anything having to do with me, my brother, or money. He became her confidant; in the bleak landscape of the Trump family, he stood out as a warm and supportive ally, and she considered him a friend.
As genuinely kind as Mr. Tosti may have been, he also knew on which side his bread was buttered. Despite the fact that my mother had her own counsel, the divorce agreement might as well have been dictated by my grandfather. He knew that his daughter-in-law had no idea how much money my father's family had or what his future prospects, as the son of an exceedingly wealthy man, might be.
My mother received $100 a week in alimony plus $50 a week for child support. At the time, those weren't insignificant sums, especially considering that the big expenses, such as school, camp tuition, and medical insurance, were taken care of separately. My father was also responsible for paying the rent. Because my grandfather owned the building we lived in, it was only $90 a month. (I learned many years later that my brother and I each owned 10 percent of the Highlander, so in retrospect, charging us rent at all seems excessive.) Dad's rent obligation was capped at $250, which limited our ability to move if we ever wanted to relocate to a better apartment or neighborhood. My father, the scion of a family that
at the time
was worth well over a hundred million dollars, agreed to pay for private school and college. But Mr. Tosti had to approve our vacations. There were no marital assets to split, so my mother's total net worth was the $600 she got every month, an amount that wouldn't change over the next decade. After expenses, there was barely enough left over for Mom to contribute to her annual Christmas fund, let alone save up to buy a house.
My mother got full custody of me and my brother, as was customary at the time, but visitation rights weren't specified: “Mr. Trump shall be free to see [the children], on reasonable notice, at all reasonable times.” In the vast majority of cases, visitation meant having the kids every other weekend and one night a week for dinner. That's eventually
what my parents' arrangement evolved into, but at the beginning there were no formal rules.
The Steeplechase development was permanently blocked in 1969, but eventually the city purchased the land back from my grandfather. He walked away with $1.3 million in profit for having done nothing but ruin a beloved city landmark. My dad was left with nothing but the blame.