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Is He For Real?

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Snapple to Attention: From left, a memorable 2003 Snapple ad featuring guineau pigs.  

When Stacy Josloff married Donny Deutsch at the Plaza Hotel in a wedding she was told rivaled the Plaza wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, she had no idea her husband wanted to be on TV. He was among New York’s most eligible bachelors, but Stacy didn’t care much about that. “I’m a girl from Jersey,” she says. “He’s a guy from Queens”—which seemed the greatest part of his appeal. When they first met, she was a 25-year-old party girl, and Donny, from what she could tell, was an obnoxious, though fortunately funny, 39-year-old party guy. She’d never heard of Deutsch’s business. They moved in different worlds—she was working as a fashion salesperson—and, in fact, in different generations. “She didn’t know who Paul Simon was,” says Donny. And their personalities were different. Donny loved the spotlight. “I don’t want the attention on me,” she says.

When they started dating, Donny hadn’t been thinking about settling down. “Changes in my personal life are nerve-racking for me,” he’d say. His first marriage had been a disaster. Plus, Donny liked being a bachelor. Once, in the back of his Mitsubishi Montero, he did a quick count. He figured he’d had 100 girlfriends.

After they’d dated for a couple years, Stacy told him, “If you want to be in my life, you have to make a commitment.” They broke up. Stacy dated other guys, one of whom even—and this seemed particularly galling—used Donny’s opening line (“How would you like to be the mother of my child?”). Donny got jealous. They got back together. Then, one evening, Donny surprised Stacy with a six-carat diamond. (Donny’s friends, still not convinced, had a betting pool till he marched down the aisle, when they gave him a standing ovation.)

Stacy is intelligent, and though she’s quiet, she’s funny and engaging when at ease. She’s also a beauty with luminous, jet-black hair and olive skin that shows off the earrings Donny gave her—two-carat diamonds. In her situation, she knows, a lot of women wouldn’t work. And yet over coffee one day at a Starbucks—she’s wearing black Juicy velour sweatpants—she says, “What else am I going to do? Sleep late? Go to the gym every day? TV? It would be fun for two weeks.” They live well, though below their means—there’s no boat or cook. They’ve got a driver—“He’s part of the family,” says Stacy, and useful if, like Donny, you like to drink at dinner—and they don’t always fly commercial. They have a place in the Hamptons, but for the time being, it’s a rental. They live in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, also a rental, and when it was featured in the paper, it mostly boasted a $20,000 gym, four big-screen TVs, and not much seating. Stacy’s made it something more than a bachelor pad, but she’s far from an East Side doyenne. “I have a hard time with the money,” she says. “I still have my own bank account, and most of the things I buy I pay for from my own account.” It’s not just the money. Invitations, charity events, foundations, “the whole social thing”—it all seems to leave her a bit unsure.

What Stacy really wants is a family. Recently, she told Donny she was starting one this year, and that Donny, who is fraught with anxieties about the prospect, was welcome to participate. Typically, Donny’s friends offered to help.

On the snowy march night that Bo Dietl invited Donny to his table at Rao’s, Dietl, the ex–New York City cop, explained, “This is the hottest fucking table in the world.” Rao’s is the Italian restaurant in East Harlem with a jukebox, five tables, six booths, and no reservations. People have weekly tables. Dietl, author of One Tough Cop and now head of his own security agency, has a Thursday table. “I put together a who’s-fucking-who table,” he says. He’s had Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, and Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, and Jack Welch, ex–GE CEO. Tonight, Steve Witkoff, owner of the Woolworth building and lots of other real estate, is there. So are top executives from Unilever North America and Donny, who met Dietl after the Unabomber blew up an ad exec. (Donny called Dietl for protection.) Since then, Dietl and Donny have become friendly, which Dietl explains this way: “Donny is a positive fucking guy. He’s not a negative motherfucker. I don’t suck his dick. He doesn’t suck my dick. But if Donny needs me, I’ll be on my fucking plane at 4 a.m.” Which, at Rao’s, naturally leads to a discussion of the best private planes.

“Boys from Queens,” says Dietl, punctuating that conversation. Like Donny, Dietl is from Queens. He sticks out his fist, looking for Donny’s.

As meatballs arrive, Dietl, who is built like a bulldog, slips off his suit jacket, made for him by Shelly the Tailor, to reveal a $450 Egyptian-cotton shirt, cuff links made by Mike the Russian, and a surprisingly attractive handgun fabricated by Glock. Donny, as usual, is dressed for a ballgame, the only person at Rao’s in jeans and T-shirt.

The table’s net worth this evening is probably in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars, but Dietl, the tough guy, is the featured attraction. He tells a story about Tokyo. “Seoul,” corrects Witkoff. “Whatever,” says Dietl, and then describes how he let two stiff Koreans in on the subtleties of “relationship-type” businessmen. “He zoomed her once and then he zoomed her again,” Dietl told the pair, which apparently broke the ice, beginning a days-long party, just as, at the table, it brings a roar of appreciative laughter.

“Bo’s a lounge act,” Donny explains with affection. When Dietl takes a break, the table loses focus. There’s some desultory business talk (“Stevie, how’s real estate?” asks Donny. “Dead,” says Witkoff), some desultory political talk (“You’re not going Republican on me?” Donny says to Dietl. “No,” says Dietl, whose photograph with George H. W. Bush hangs on the wall).

One subject, though, brings the table to attention: the talk show.

“I heard about it just today,” Witkoff confides appreciatively. The table wants to know everything. TV, clearly, is more exciting than advertising or real estate or consumer goods.

And no doubt that’s part of the answer to that CNBC producer’s question. If Donny is looking for a larger stage, one where Donny can be Donny, then TV is unavoidable. In fact, Donny never really struggled with why he should do a TV show. Donny posed the question differently: “Why the fuck shouldn’t I be on TV?”

At Dietl’s table, Donny’s brassiness resurfaces. “It’s going to be a great fucking show,” he says. He reaches across the table. He could see them both being on the program—“Stevie for real estate, Bo for security”—says Donny.

"Guys from Queens,” says Dietl, looking for Donny’s fist with his own.

Later, Dietl will say, "When he goes on TV, we got to get him dressed up a little.” He thinks for a moment, then suggests: "I could get him over to Shelly the Tailor, who could fix him up real fast.”

By the time Dietl figures this out, Donny has already left. His driver is outside. It’s only ten o’clock, but then Stacy’s waiting at home. Plus, Donny’s in a mood. He’s been drinking vodka. And now, as the SUV plows through the unlikely March snow, another thought occurs to him: "Why the fuck shouldn’t I be mayor?”

He’d be great at it, he’s sure. He loves the city. He looks at his reflection in the window. "I would take half my fortune,” he says. As his driver speeds through a snow-quiet city, he seems to let himself imagine that stage for an instant. Then Donny pulls back. It’s a thought. "Let’s see what happens with the TV show,” he says.


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