Story first appeared on nytimes.com.
Marla Maples,, the former Mrs. Donald Trump, had made a reservation at Prime Grill in Manhattan and texted, “Let’s wear hats!” Only when I got there did I realize the steakhouse was kosher. (She was indeed wearing a hat, but it was more fedora than skullcap.)
She doesn't eat dairy, so this is a great place to be if she wants to eat meat, because they don’t mix milk and meat. As it happens, “delighted” is her default expression. It’s not just that, at 49, she is shockingly gorgeous. Maybe it’s the early beauty pageant training, or all that practice smiling in front of the carnivorous paparazzi, or maybe it’s her recent decision to move back to New York City after years of a kind of self-imposed exile in Los Angeles.
Whatever the case, the woman radiates a certain fizzy joy. I remember how unflappable she was, even at 24, in the eye of one of the biggest sex scandals of the 1990s, a moment that has some resonance amid this week’s fevered coverage of the David H. Petraeus-Paula Broadwell affair. Back then, a typical day for Ms. Maples would be paparazzi barking questions.
If you weren’t in a coma during the ’90s, you know Ms. Maples. The aspiring actress’s affair with the mogul 17 years her senior that precipitated the “divorce of the century”; the confrontation on the slopes of Aspen (Marla to Ivana: “Are you in love with your husband? Because I am.”); the breakups; the engagements; the “Dynasty” hair; the breakups again; the pregnancy; and the 1993 wedding at the Plaza, the details of which are known to every self-respecting “bridezilla.” The 20-carat diamond tiara, the white double-laced Carolina Herrera gown, the contemptuous comments. “I give it four months,” Howard Stern said.
He was off by a few years (they divorced in 1999), but his point was well taken: This marriage didn’t really have “Till death do us part” written all over it. Still, for a few not-so-halcyon years, the “Georgia Peach” was the biggest news-media draw in America.
Ms. Maples has always been a romantic figure to me. I believe that for all Mr. Trump’s wealth, she married for love, and it always seemed that she was in love. She never cashed in all that much: there have been no Playboy centerfolds (she was offered $1 million), no tell-all, no reality shows. .
If she was a gold digger, she wasn’t a very good one: according to press reports, she ended up with about $2 million, the Trump equivalent of throwing her the change found under the sofa cushions. And she still resists exploiting her relatively brief fling as the other woman.
She is reluctant to comment on today’s scandals. Of the general and his biographer, she said only that there is so much in the world that is negative and judgmental right now. She fells uncomfortable being brought into the private recesses of someone’s personal life when uninvited.
Mr. Trump did leave her with the one asset she can’t live without: their daughter, Tiffany Ariana, a lovely girl with a blond mane and bee-stung lips who looks as if Mr. Trump and Ms. Maples were Photoshopped into one. In 1998 Ms. Maples took her daughter, who was then 5, and headed for Los Angeles. Not only because she said she needed a new start, but also because she wanted her daughter to grow up in a place where her name wouldn’t make her such a standout, and where we wouldn’t be followed around.
But this fall Ms. Maples decided it was time to return to New York. Her daughter was going to college, and she really was raised by Ms. Maples with her father and her friends. She hasn’t seen her father much throughout the years. But now, she wants to get to know him better. It’s a tough balancing act. Ms. Maples and Mr. Trump are politically on opposite ends of the spectrum, and when he began his election Twitter dispatches, Ms. Maples decided the less she knew the better. Tiffany knew about his "October surprise" and she didn’t want to even discuss it with her. She loves her father and wants to support him.Ms. Maples is only now taking on meetings, agents, managers, endorsement deals for wellness products. (For the love of God, someone should hire this woman for a skin care line. She has no pores.) Hollywood brought bit parts; more than anything the former “Will Rogers Follies” girl would like to be back on Broadway. She is writing New Age chill-out music; a track from her new album, “The Endless,” features Deepak Chopra and LogiQ Pryce and is the first Indian-rapper mash-up I have heard in, well, forever. Next summer she is working with Globunity, a peace symposium scheduled to take place in Florence, Italy. Her title is “director of inspirational leaders.”
It has been a tough year for Ms. Maples. Her father had a small stroke. Her mother was told she had breast cancer. In June, Chuck Jones, the publicist from the Trump years who went to prison for stealing and having “a sexual relationship” with her shoes, was again arrested, on charges of sending her threatening e-mails.
In a sign that she may not have the best judgment when it comes to managing her career, a personal assistant admitted to running up thousands of dollars on Ms. Maples’s unused credit cards to buy designer clothing, Botox and breast augmentation. She and her daughter loved the assistant, she said, and she is distraught, but is trying to make light of it.
She is single. She said she is not looking, but is allowing. And she is convinced that her next partner will not have much familiarity with a boardroom.