30th Anniversary Issue / Marla Maples: Tabloid Life

I started working in Georgia and North Carolina, doing commercials and low-budget films. When I was 18, I joined the Screen Actors Guild, and after college I came to New York. I had a studio apartment in Chelsea, $400 a month, and I started studying at HB Studios.

I met Donald Trump in ’85. I ran into him several times throughout the years. We knew we had this connection, but it wasn’t appropriate timing. So we’d spend a lot of time on the telephone with each other without ever being out together in public. By ’88, I knew I truly loved this guy.

In New York, I had not had my name in the papers. At home, sure. I was homecoming queen. I was star of my basketball team. But nothing really prepares you for a city like New York, especially when you become known.

I was made to believe there was a plan in place for ending Donald’s previous marriage. I pulled away because I wanted to allow him the time to deal with his wife. I wanted to stay as far away as I could from that. That was the intention. But then “Page Six” ran my photograph and my name.

When we saw each other in Colorado, Ivana and I, it was just a moment of both of us wanting to know the truth. It was good that the truth became known, but that was also when the real pain began. I realized that we had both been deceived. You’re left in a very uncomfortable position – and the world knows about it. About a month later, Ivana went public when Donald was in Japan for a Mike Tyson fight. Very, very smart. I was in New York watching the fight. My mom is there and my friends, and we see Donald sitting in the crowd, and then a flash comes across about Donald and Ivana divorcing. I have no way to reach him. Everything starts spinning. I didn’t want to be associated with this, even though of course I was. I said, “I’m running away as far as possible.”

Nobody found me. And what was so amazing and sad about the media is that they would just make up places where I was. It was so far from the truth. A friend of mine was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. I ended up traveling there with a friend’s passport. I knew if I used my own they would find me, and the idea of being in a foreign country alone with the press after me was terrifying. I stayed for a month, away from all that chaos.

I would check in with my parents, check in with Donald – I wouldn’t tell anyone where I was. We talked in code. I was afraid the phones were bugged. I’d had no idea of how the media could work. At that point, every story was being made up. My true friends weren’t the ones speaking. It was people who never knew me, making up stories. Even my local paper put a $1,000 bounty out for information about my whereabouts. Finally, I remember my dad and Donald saying, “You’ve got to come back and deal with it.” The problem with losing your anonymity is that you can never go back. My personal life was now fair game. And that’s what hurt me.

Donald and I still really wanted to be together, but I was fighting to keep what we had privately, and once the world gets involved in your life, little by little it breaks it down until you forget what it was in the first place. What was a really private and nice relationship was judged and made to be something ugly.

I loved this man. Yes, I was young, but it was my choice. I was romanced, I had Mister Charm all over me, and it was very hard to say no. When that man wants something, he’ll stop at nothing to get it. And I also believed in the good of him.

Once we started going out in public, an image was expected. The hair and the makeup and the designer dresses, and you become a caricature of yourself. And I think what he loved about me the most was that I wasn’t part of that world. But once we were together publicly, he wanted to change me into that social animal. I look back at old photographs and videotapes, and I go, “Who was I trying to be? Who was I doing this for?”

I was fighting, at every moment, for a bubble of privacy. And I was constantly being befriended by people who would then betray my trust. I began to wonder, “Is anybody real in this world?” I finally said, “I can’t live being carried by this wake. I’ve got to remember why I came to New York in the first place.” I’d met Pierre Cossette and he said, “There’s a role for you in this play, the Will Rogers Follies, honey. When you’re ready, call me up and I’ll set up an audition.” I remember the day when I finally had the courage to make that phone call.

I went to work. That was a turning point. When you have to do eight shows a week, and your name is up there on the marquee, no matter what is going on at home or what’s on the cover of the newspapers, you’ve got to do your job. I performed for nine months on Broadway, and then I went on the road with the show.

The bad thing was watching the relationship fall apart. If we could have somehow stayed away from the public and the press, it might have been different, but every private issue seemed to be played out on the front page. When I first separated from Donald, they had me back with the guy I dated years ago, Michael Bolton. They had me doing rendezvous with Kevin Costner, and living with Kathy Lee Gifford. None of which was true. It is so outrageous, but it didn’t slap me in the face like it did the first time, because I knew it was coming.

When we separated, everyone was saying, “This is your chance – say what you’re feeling.” But I couldn’t. I did not want to get in a slugfest. I had to take the high ground. All I know is that today I have a little baby. She knows who I am. My friends know. My family knows.

I guess I was holding a reserve inside all along. I knew that when you’re with someone as powerful as Donald, you have no choice. You can get lost within that power if you’re not careful. I started relying on that strength. I’d been preparing throughout the years. A couple of years ago, I created a production company. Right now I am so happy in my work.

The press coverage was a destructive force in my life. It was destructive to our relationship. It was like a fire. It was like, “We’re not going to stop until we’ve shown that we can destroy this thing.” So now the relationship is gone. Now I start fresh. Now I begin where I was at 21 years old, embracing the unknown. I’ve made peace with the past. I have learned a lot. I know who I am. I know where my strengths lie now. I don’t want to jump in too quickly, have to swim too hard against the current. I’ve been swimming upstream for the longest time. I want to go with the current, at least for now!

Interviewed by Michael Gross

30th Anniversary Issue / Marla Maples: Tabloid Life