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BOOK REVIEW : Juicy Details Behind 'The Donald' Hype : LOST TYCOON: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III ; Norton $25, 447 pages

July 21, 1993|JONATHAN KIRSCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, let's dish about "The Donald."

Donald Trump sleeps in his underwear and practices "self-enforced insomnia." He once went 16 months without making love to his wife and then, according to Ivana Trump's deposition, he raped her.

When Ivana underwent plastic surgery to enlarge her breasts, Trump was aghast: "I can't stand to touch those plastic breasts!" And yet, according to Ivana, he submitted to liposuction and plastic surgery to trim down his stomach and chin and to cover up a bald spot.

All of these juicy details--and, God help us, so much more!--are packed into "Lost Tycoon," a gossipy biography of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III that is based, the publisher tells us, on "firsthand contact with all of the principals." As Hurt spins out his breathless tales of self-promotion and sexual betrayal and sheer self-aggrandizement, we come to realize that Trump was never quite what he advertised--he was not especially adept at deal-making or lovemaking, he was not glamorous or urbane, and he was not even all that rich.

"Trump was not a billionaire at all," insists Hurt, a contributing editor of Texas Monthly and former Newsweek correspondent. "He had his inner circle constantly scrambling to help him make new highly leveraged deals that he hoped would generate fresh income streams to buttress his debt-laden empire."

Trump was the scion of a wealthy but scandal-tainted real estate investor who used to chant over his young son: "You are a killer. . .you are a king." As Trump grew up--or, more accurately, grew older--he sought to make his own name as a master deal-maker, and he succeeded in putting "Trump" on office buildings, airlines, casinos, ships, racehorses, game shows and assorted merchandise.

"Trump's most valuable property," observes Hurt, "is his name."

And yet, "Lost Tycoon" portrays him as inept at business as he was at human relationships. His marriage to Ivana Trump and his love affair with Marla Maples--like his enterprises in the world of real estate--were highly leveraged affairs that eventually fell under their own weight. If Trump once symbolized the high-flying '80s, "Lost Tycoon" reminds us that he was ultimately not much more successful or enduring than the S&Ls, the junk-bond salesmen and the corporate raiders that were emblematic of the New Gilded Age.

To hear Hurt tell it, Trump was famous for being famous--and that's about all. He comes across as a kind of fourth-rate Howard Hughes, a pathetic figure who postured and preened for the media but ended up as a parody of himself.

"How can you say you love us?" his son screamed at him when Trump and Maples showed up at a rock concert. "You just love your money!"

According to Hurt, Trump cut a sorry figure as a jet-setter and a deal-maker. He sailed only once aboard his luxury yacht, the Trump Princess , because he was unnerved by the sounds of weighing anchor. He once tried to antagonize a business rival by spreading rumors that the man's wife was seeking to have an affair with Trump. And, on a trip to Japan to watch the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight, Trump was crushed to discover that the fans and reporters who met his airplane were only there because he had planted the (false) story that Michael Jackson was traveling with his entourage.

"Call the emperor," the spurned Trump told one of his aides. "Tell him I want to see him."

Controversy continues to dog the Donald and his foils even in decline. For example, Hurt's book includes a hasty "Notice to Reader" that has been pasted into the flyleaf of every copy--it's a statement by Ivana Trump to the effect that she did not really mean it when she testified that Trump had raped her. "I do not want the press or media to misconstrue any of the facts," writes Ivana, or--more likely--one of her lawyers.

But, thanks to Trump himself, facts were always in short supply when it came to media coverage of The Donald. Hurt, to his credit, manages to debunk much of the hype and misinformation that Trump planted in the press over the years, and he reveals Trump to be a pitiable fellow indeed. Donald, Ivana and Marla come across as so self-absorbed, so tasteless and so lacking in any real accomplishment that we come to the conclusion that they deserved each other.

"I've never met a successful man who wasn't neurotic," Trump once told a magazine interviewer, and "Lost Tycoon" shows us exactly what he meant.

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