the first Mrs. Trump

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Donald Trump has been in the spotlight for years. He likes it there. He likes the attention and the controversy. He likes being found charming and important. He pushes for it, and when he pushes too hard, well, then, he shrugs and changes the subject. And when people get critical of him, disapprove of him, or question him, well, he gets revenge. He’s gotten very good at that over the years.

I’ve found myself curious about the origins of Trump lately, about this man who I found obnoxious and entertaining as the host of the Apprentice, and who I find megalomaniacal and insane as a presidential candidate; where did he come from? Though I’m an avid devourer of biographies, his name hasn’t come up in a single book I’ve ever read, and I read a lot. I spent some time last night watching old footage from the 80s and 90s about Trump and his career and life before he became a reality television star.

Trump was the middle child of five in a very wealthy real estate family, and with a father who was frequently in court for various reasons. The footage I saw showed Donald as a poorly behaved child who frequently taunted teachers and his siblings, a kid who made frequent demands until his parents sent him to military school at 13, where Donald learned discipline in academics, how to be popular with the guys (apparently he loved baseball), and how to enjoy beautiful women. According to him, he was quite the ladies’ man back then. Trump stated that he learned business and real estate from his father, by just listening while growing up, and he quickly took big risks in investing in properties and turning them around for profit.

Then on a trip to Canada for the Olympics, he met an athlete and a super model, Ivana Zelnickova, who was born in Czechoslovakia. She grew up an Olympic-level skier and worked as a model for fur companies in Canada, where she moved after a failed marriage, and then she met and married a young Donald Trump. Ivana was a partner in many of his first, and most famous, business dealings, including the Taj Mahal Casino and the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Between the years 1977 and 1984, she and Donald had three children: Donald Jr, Ivanka, and Eric, and many argue that she raised the children pretty much solely on her own; she is now an involved grandmother of 8. Ivana continued running parts of the business and managing properties.

Rumors of Donald having affairs must have plagued her for years, but one stood out more than the others: a long-term affair with beauty queen Marla Maples. Ivana confronted Marla and got the proof she needed. Ivana filed for divorce and it got very ugly for a time as the two battled it out in the courts and the tabloids. There were rumors of more affairs, a disputed prenuptial agreement, rumors of domestic violence, accusations of assault and rape against Donald, and the death of Ivana’s father during the process before things finally settled, and Ivana walked away with several million dollars. Things stayed tense as Ivana’s third marriage fell apart two years later, and more lawsuits and rumors flashed through the headlines. (There was a fourth marriage with subsequent struggles years later). Ivana’s divorce from Donald alleged a marital rape, and “cruel and inhuman treatment” by Donald toward her.

Ivana is now 67 years old, and she in many ways mirrors the journey of Trump himself; honestly, the two seem like relatively kindred spirits. She has stayed in the public headlines with her own reality shows, she has launched clothing lines and written books, and she offers semi-frequent media interviews. While she has remained largely silent during Trump’s campaign for presidency, she occasionally offers quips to the media, commenting on Melania’s speech abilities or on how Donald didn’t help her raise the kids but she has remained strangely silent about the recent womanizing allegations.

Ivana does, however, believe Trump should be president, that he would be great at it, and that he was always meant to be a politician. In one interview, she blamed the Marla Maples scandal for disrupting Trump’s political plans, because the world hated Trump at the time of the divorce.

Although, even after researching, I still don’t know about the woman who defined Donald Trump’s early life, understanding her helps me better understand him.

And it doesn’t make me any less scared of a Trump presidency.

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Sheer Bitchery

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Elda Furry rushed away from her boring life in Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and took herself right to Broadway, determined to see her name in lights.

Before, she had been the daughter of a butcher, she was a Baptist and had had half dozen siblings. In New York, she took the stage a few times, as a chorus girl, as a character actress, and as a traveling performer, before marrying a bona fide Broadway star, DeWolf Hopper, a man older than her father, and Elda was his fifth wife, and apparently he had a type: they all had names with two syllables and ending in A (Ella, Ida, Edna, Nella, then finally Elda). But DeWolf proved to be a bore to her as well, alcoholic and relatively self-absorbed and calling poor Elda any of his wives’ names interchangeably. So she left him.

So Elda took her soon, DeWolf Jr (who later went by Bill) and moved to California, where she vowed to see her name not just in lights, but lit up in the credits of silent films on the silver screens across America. She consulted a numerologist for $10 and, guided by the stars, changed her stage name to Hedda. Hedda Hopper.

Starting in 1915, and for over two decades, she made over 120 movies, generally as a high society woman in the background, but never made it as big as she had hoped, even when she played Mona Lisa herself. Wanting the attention for herself but never quite making it, Hedda grew to resent the stars around her who proved to be great successes.

And somewhere along the way, Hedda learned her greatest talent lied in gossip. Securing a newspaper column in the late 1930s, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, she was soon being read by millions as she told the public who was up-and-coming, who was washed up, and what films to be excited about. Hedda Hopper could make or break careers, and most in Hollywood knew to rightfully fear her power: making her angry, reporting a story to another newspaper first, or ignoring her were all very dangerous choices. Her greatest rival was Louella Parsons, another Hollywood gossip with a column, and they feuded for years.

Hedda worked through her own little network of spies (hairdressers and maids and everyone in between), her firsthand sources to pregnancies, affairs, divorces, and marriages, and her scandalous seeds over the next few decades, until her death of pneumonia in 1966, but many in Hollywood remained frightened of her for years after her death. Hedda relished in fear, even calling her home “the House that Fear Built”, and she worried little about upsetting anyone. When actress Merle Oberon asked Hedda why she was writing such terrible things about Merle, Hedda famously smiled back at her at a party, and gave her most memorable quote.

“Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.”

While Hedda danced the night away with her close gay friends in clubs, she destroyed the careers of individuals she outted as gay in her columns. During World War II, while her own son (the actor William Hopper) served in the military, she accused certain celebrities of being anti-American. And after World War II, she listed names of suggested Communists, often leading to intense FBI investigations of the individuals; among the accused was Charlie Chaplin, who she suggested should be banned from the country (and indeed, for years, he was).

Most famous for her enormous and lavish hats, and nicknamed Hedda Hell by Louis B. Mayer himself, Hedda Hopper has been gone for 50 years now. While her legacy remains firmly entrenched in the tabloids and paparazzi of Hollywood, who now use blogs, tweets, and live social media broadcasting to scandalize celebrities, in many ways Hedda Hopper’s worst nightmare has now come true: Her name has been largely forgotten.

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Remembering Natalie

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Natalie Wood had that dangerous gleam in her eye. The smallest change of intention can be seen there in her movies. With one glance and no words, she could turn from playful to flirtatious, sexual to bored, casually interested to deeply hurt.

And that laugh. That delicious, almost childlike laugh of hers, whole body behind it. And she could definitely turn on the tears.

And, my god, her figure, her small-waisted perfect figure.

Natalie Wood was a powerhouse.

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In her movie career, she would play Native Americans and HIspanics and Puerto Ricans, but her ethnicity was actually Soviet. Natalie’s parents both hailed from Russia, and her birth name was Natalia Zakharenko. Her parents (though it is believed the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father) fled from Russia after violent political conflicts that had deadly consequences for both sides of the family, came to America, and started a family, changing their name to Gurdin. Natalie Gurdin had an impossible stage mother, Mara, who pushed, prodded, screamed, and manipulated to get Natalie roles in films in Hollywood.

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And so the studios started casting little Natalie in movies, using the last name Wood to make her more accessible. And so she spent her childhood sometimes a regular kid in a regular class, and sometimes on movie lots, working long days alongside Fred MacMurray and Bette Davis and a hundred others, going to school on a lot. She made duds (Tomorrow is Forever and Father Was a Fullback) and she made classics (The Star and the Ghost and Mrs. Muir), but she became immortalized as the practical monkey-faced girl who learned to believe in Santa Claus in the Miracle on 34th Street.

As a teenager, Natalie sought to claim life as her own. She discovered alcohol and sleeping pills, rebellion against her overbearing mother, and how to use sex, even to get roles if needed. She made films that were iconic for her time but that have been nearly forgotten now, like Marjorie Morningstar, and she made sure she would never be forgotten when she played the female lead in Rebel Without a Cause at the age of 16. The following years were hard. She lost friends to tragic deaths, fell in and out of love, struggled through medcical emergencies, had her heart broken and broke hearts, dabbled with substances, even attempted suicide.

But those eyes… those eyes just kept showing up in role after role. And that laugh. That smile. That figure. That soft voice that could carry weight. Bob and Carol and Alice and Ted. West Side Story, yet another iconic role. Splendor in the Grass. The Great Race. Gypsy. They wouldn’t let her sing in West Side Story, she just wasn’t ready for that, but she did her own songs in Gypsy. Various moments in her adult life were immortalized in Hollywood as you watched her grow from child to mother.

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Natalie ha one great love, the actor Robert Wagner. But after her marriage to him failed, she tried again with actor Richard Gregson, and had a daughter, Natasha. She married Wagner again and had little Courtney. And she loved being a mother. She had years off screen when she wasn’t acting. She traveled the world. She had lovers and friends, straight and gay, in Hollywood and around the world.

Natalie died far more tragically than many realize. She grew up deathly frightened of dark water. Her mother had received a warning from a fortune teller about dark water, and Natalie herself had had a frightening experience as a child, nearly drowning in dark water on a movie set. She told friends about her fear her entire adult life, refusing to swim unless the area was well lit. So when she boarded a boat in her early 40s with her husband Robert and her movie costar Christopher Walken, and had far too much to drink, mixing it with sleeping pills, and argued with her husband that night… well, her body was found the next day, drowned, floating in dark water. Controversy and opinions about Natalie’s death still make tabloid headlines, and the investigation into her death is still ongoing, even 31 years later.

Were she still alive, Natalie would be in her 70s now. Her life would undoubtedly have had more heartbreak, losing friends through the AIDS crisis, struggling to find roles in her older life, likely struggling with alcohol and depression still. But she would have seen her daughters grow, and she would have met her grandchildren. And she would have definitely made at least a few more classics to be remembered alongside the others for hundreds of years to come.

And she still would have had those dangerous and alluring eyes. Those eyes…

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