By Michael Ryan
December 07, 1987 12:00 PM

He pauses just a moment, not more than a beat, before he steps off an elevator or enters a lobby. Perhaps he is taking a psychological inventory—a gladiator adjusting his armor before he steps into the arena. He knows what will happen next.

Elbows jab. Whispers fly. Fingers rush to Instamatic shutter buttons.

“There he is.”

“It’s Mr. Trump.”

“Donald, why don’cha run for Governor?

“Mr. Trump, can I have your autograph?”

Some are soundless, stealing up behind him, their hands darting in through the cluster of people to touch the sleeve of his blue cashmere overcoat. The English peasantry did this to Edward the Confessor; his touch was said to cure scrofula. The touch of Donald Trump, perhaps, will bring good fortune.

It has certainly worked for him.

He is this year’s phenomenon, a 41-year-old member of a species on the verge of extinction: He is a Tycoon. That is an old word of Chinese and Japanese origins, but it fits him as well as it fits any Oriental prince. News articles say that Donald J. Trump may be worth anywhere from $850 million to $3 billion—he scoffs at the lower figure—and almost everything he touches turns to profit. He says he made money in the stock market, got out before the crash. Judith Krantz put him in a novel, I’ll Take Manhattan; Hollywood put him in the miniseries. He could be a movie star himself if he lost 10 pounds, and his wife and three kids—all beautiful, of course—are also industrious, bright and talented. His new book, The Art of the Deal, is tipped as a best-seller. His toys are two mansions, in Greenwich, Conn., and Palm Beach, a double triplex penthouse on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue that $20 million wouldn’t buy, a litter of limousines, a jet helicopter, a Boeing 727 and a 282-foot yacht that has been called the world’s greatest. Pause for breath.

As if that weren’t enough, the man parties with Frank Sinatra. He owns casinos in Atlantic City. He owns hotels. He owns a piece of the best real estate in Manhattan, where he plans to build the tallest building in the world. The Democratic Party has tried to enlist him as a fund raiser; the Republicans are eager to keep him in the fold. He says he’s too busy to run for President right now, but in a few years, well, who knows? But most amazing of all, he is a real estate man, a landlord. That should put him next to a revenue agent in the hearts and minds of the public. Yet men and women queue up for his autograph. And if you ask him why, he smiles his best I-may-know-but-I’m-not-telling smile and says, “I like the people, and the people like me.”

You can take the temperature of his status by walking through the hallways of his headquarters, on a high floor of New York’s monumental Trump Tower. The background chatter tells you that these brass-and-mirror gangways have become the corridors of power.

“There’s a man on the phone who has a symphony orchestra; he wants Mr. Trump to read the Preamble to the Constitution while the orchestra plays.”

“Robin Leach is on the phone.”

“Senator Moynihan is on the phone.”

“Every priest and rabbi in New York is calling this morning.”

“Bette Davis wants you to produce an evening at Carnegie Hall.”

“You have to be back here at 6:30 to be on television with Erté.”

Through it all, calmly, serenely, walks the six-foot-and-then-some Donald Trump in blue suit, red tie and an attitude that says that this is the way life should be.

I’ve taken a very good business, real estate, and I’ve added a tremendous element of excitement to it,” Trump says. “I’ve added quality to it. I’ve added showmanship.”

It is Saturday morning, and Trump is in his countinghouse, an enormous glass-walled aerie overlooking Central Park. His energy conveys a sense of youth that belies his wardrobe; the dark, expensive suit, the Windsor-knotted tie, the boxy, lavish overcoat could put him in the running for the Eisenhower cabinet. The room is decorated with the magazine covers on which he has appeared, like trophies from some media safari. “The fact is that I don’t like publicity,” he says. “I absolutely hate doing interviews.” And then he adds, flashing that smile that has launched a thousand cover stories, “By the way, not this interview. This is much nicer. I’m enjoying this. You understand.” The sincerity of the delivery, the warmth of the smile, the invitation to share in a just-us conspiracy, are powerful. A visitor becomes eager to suppress his I-bet-you-say-that-to-all-the-reporters impulse; suddenly the secret of Donald Trump’s success is clear. People want to trust him.

Many succeed. Trump has sold himself to America as the richest, brightest, smartest businessman the media can find. In a sense he has filled a need: America’s media are always hungry for heroes, and a young, rich billionaire fits the bill.

Ten years ago Donald Trump was just another millionaire, the son of Fred Trump, a developer who made his fortune building moderate-income housing in Brooklyn and Queens. Donald was the fourth of five children in a remarkable family. His eldest sister, Maryanne, married and raised a son; when the boy reached his teens, she went back to school, got a law degree, became a prosecutor and, a few years ago, a federal judge. Donald describes his second sister, Elizabeth, as the “sweetest” Trump. She is an administrative assistant at a New York bank. The family’s tragedy was Fred Jr., whom Fred Sr. had groomed to take over the real estate business. Fred Jr. had no interest in it, rebelled and became an airline pilot. But he took to drink and died of heart failure six years ago, at 43. “It’s hardest on our parents,” says Robert Trump, Donald’s executive vice-president and younger brother. “They think of him every day.”

With the Wharton School of Finance behind him, Donald moved into Manhattan in the early ’70s—to a tiny studio apartment, since Fred Trump hadn’t gotten rich throwing money around. Then it began. With no real track record, Trump persuaded banks to lend him money, New York City officials to give him tax breaks, property owners to sell to him cheap. “He’s very effective, very articulate,” says Anthony Gliedman, New York’s former housing commissioner. “It’s hard to be against him.” Gliedman learned that the hard way; he lost a long, bitter legal battle with Trump when he denied the young developer a major tax abatement in 1980. But his tenacity impressed his adversary: Today, Gliedman is an executive vice-president in the Trump Organization.

Trump made bigger and bigger deals in the ’70s—assembling the site for a new convention center, a hotel at Grand Central Station, building sites throughout Manhattan. He assured his fame in 1978, when he bought the site of the flagship Bonwit Teller department store to build a 68-story tower of opulence on Fifth Avenue. The ziggurat he built—filled with saw-toothed angles and soaring, curtained walls and gleaming brass and a $2 million marble indoor waterfall—made him a legend. Tourists flock to it; TV shows are made in it. Celebrities from Johnny Carson to Steven Spielberg fought to buy homes in it. “It’s the best piece of real estate in the world, in the most incredible city in the world,” Trump says with characteristic reserve. “It’s become the most successful building in the universe.”

It has also become the billboard that made Donald Trump a star. Great bronze letter T’s appear on every surface of the building where the name Trump does not, and the label has spread: There are Trump casinos in Atlantic City, Trump condos in Palm Beach. The only French-made Super Puma jet helicopter in North America has the name Trump emblazoned across it; the Nabila, a palatial $30 million yacht once owned by yesterday’s mogul, Adnan Khashoggi, will soon leave its Monte Carlo mooring for a trip to its new owner’s home in New York. It may be renamed Trump Card. “The first time I did it, with Trump Tower, maybe it was ego,” he concedes. “But now it’s economics. If somebody tells you you’ll do a hundred million dollars more business if you call a building Trump Pare than if you call it Tower on the Park or some other name, you’d have to be some kind of masochist not to do it.”

His reputation does not rest on business alone. Ivana Trump, his wife of ten years, has become one of the most quoted, photographed and talked-about figures in U.S. society, chairing charity balls and hosting dinners at Mar-a-Lago, the former Palm Beach home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, which Donald bought for $8 million in 1985. Ivana was a model and a former Czech skier when they met in Montreal at the 1976 Olympics. “There was an immediate attraction,” she says in her guttural Mitteleuropa accent. But no, it wasn’t love at first sight. “I wasn’t an 18-year-old girl,” she says with a hint of disdain. “I didn’t get excited immediately.” They dated for almost a year, and she knows exactly what attracted her to him: “Energy. That fabulous energy. You see people who are doers, they have this energy, this life, this spark. It’s part of Donald that that energy gets from one person to another. He’s just a great leader, the way he motivates people.” The skier and the giant mogul were married by the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.

Not only have the Trumps had three children together, Ivana also serves as chief executive of Trump’s Castle, the huge Atlantic City casino Donald’s company owns. She says her hold on the job is no more secure than that of any other Trump executive. “If I hadn’t worked out, I would have been here for a few months, and that would be that. Donald would give me a nice gallery, and I could collect art.” Instead she has become a driven executive, spending two nights a week at the hotel and helping to push it into first place in Atlantic City casino revenues for the first quarter of this fiscal year. “I think what attracts us so much together is not only the love and all that stuff,” she says. “It’s the energy. We are very much alike in that way. I can’t sit still.”

Although Ivana has been the toast of society, her husband has not always been as well received. He was widely criticized for pressuring tenants to leave a building he wanted to redevelop by threatening to house homeless people there.

But Trump’s most bitter opposition has been at the local, not the federal, level. New York’s city government was embarrassed last year when, after six years and $12 million, it admitted defeat in its attempt to reconstruct the Wollman skating rink in Central Park. Trump offered to take on the job and completed it in only four months. Since then Trump and Mayor Ed Koch have engaged in a caustic sniping war. Last summer Koch called Trump “piggy, piggy, piggy” when the developer asked for huge tax abatements for a project that would include the world’s tallest building. In retaliation Trump called Koch a “moron.” Relations have gone downhill from there.

Lately the showman-entrepreneur has shown himself ready to step out on a larger stage. Earlier this year he bought a series of newspaper ads criticizing the Reagan Administration’s conduct of foreign policy. Trump insists that he wanted only to speak his mind and not to throw his hat in the ring. “I was hoping that some politician sitting on his ass in Washington would see the ad, read it, and say, ‘That’s a great idea,’ ” Trump says.

The ad may not have had quite that effect, but it did start a few people thinking. House Speaker Jim Wright led a delegation to Trump’s office asking him to chair a major fund-raising event for the Democratic Party. Trump is a Republican but gave the invitation serious consideration before bowing to pressure from GOP friends and turning down his Democratic suitors. Beryl Anthony Jr., the Arkansas Congressman who came up with the approach to Trump, was disappointed. “There’s no question he was getting a lot of pressure from the Republicans,” Anthony told a reporter. “It would have given him the opportunity to see if his temperament is sufficient, if he could stand the scrutiny.”

Trump says he could. Although he has been heavily involved in two industries that are often entangled in scandal—gambling and construction—his name has never been blemished, and he vows it never will be. In general, government officials give him a clean bill of health, and even social activists are slow to criticize him, since he gives upwards of $4 million away every year to charities ranging from the homeless to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Hints from his office have it that he intends soon to set up a giant charitable foundation with the proceeds from his deals; the money, sources say, would go to the poor and medically needy. Such gestures may simply be the logical expression of a man who says he feels a “moral obligation” to help the poor; they would obviously be politically helpful.

Talk about a race for the Presidency has intensified considerably in recent weeks, but Trump insists that he isn’t running—at least not yet. “It’s so hard to just drop everything to do something like that,” he says. “It would be different to plan it in the future, but to just drop it…. I don’t have any intention of running.” Ivana, whose dual Canadian-Austrian citizenship would present an obstacle, will not be surprised if her husband decides one day to go for the White House. “Donald has achieved in the last ten years what a lot of corporations do not achieve in a hundred years,” she says. “In ten years Donald is going to be only 51 years old. How many casinos can you own? How many buildings can you build? Eventually Donald’s going to look at some other business. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s something else. I never say never.”

Trump has come down to Atlantic City to make a speech, press some flesh, look after business. He is in his element as he ascends an escalator high as Jacob’s ladder. “Isn’t this something?” he says. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” Then he pauses. “It’s not like I have three percent or seven percent of the stock—which in itself would be fantastic. I own 100 percent of everything.”

He looks on what he has done and sees that it is good. He inspects rooms, talks real estate, returns phone calls. “Lee,” he says to Iacocca, his partner in a Palm Beach real estate deal, “take my advice. Take the penthouse.” He deals quickly with a few members of Congress, then with retired general Pete Dawkins, the former Heisman Trophy winner who does some banking for him, then with a few more members of Congress. Finally he heads for the helicopter.

Night has fallen, and Trump stops for a word with the pilot before takeoff. The chopper pulls up over the Atlantic City marina, around the rainbow device that surmounts Trump’s Castle. Then it pulls up over the Boardwalk and circles Trump Plaza, swooping low to catch the 20-foot sign over the building and the giant red logo over the garage. Finally it flies by Trump’s new Taj Mahal casino hotel, then up and up and north toward home.

“Have you ever seen anything like that?” the great tycoon asks with a little boy’s wonder. In the background Atlantic City fades away, indistinct except for the great red letters that shout TRUMP everywhere, from every direction.

No, there is nothing like it. Nothing at all.