Narrator: Susan Orlean has been writing for The New Yorker for many years. Recently, she started a new column and it's called Afterword. It's an obituary column, but the lives that Susan is writing about aren't the usual prominent people. She wrote recently about a tavern owner in Portland, Oregon, the inventor of a popular suntan lotion, and a restaurateur in Los Angeles' Chinatown. Recently, Susan wrote about one life you almost certainly knew of, a very well-known person with an even more famous name.
Susan: Ivana Trump always had the highest hair in the room. In her younger years, her frothy blonde mane was bobbed, and her forelock and the hair on her crown were teased aloft the three inches off her scalp. The result was sculptural, dimensional. In later years, she transitioned to a beehive, a solid-looking mound on the top of her head, finished off with wispy bangs. The website TheHairStyler.com calls it, "the Ivana Trump long straight up-do" and rates its popularity at just a half star out of the possible five, but Ivana, always the boss of her, went her own way. Salih Salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan produced her hairdo for the past two decades.
Salih: Her hair always has to be perfect. Every day we trimmed her bangs, make sure it's a finished perfect look.
Susan: The salon's website features several pictures of Ivana modeling her look. The rest of the photos show women with more contemporary hair, long and loose and without elevation, but Ivana stayed the course. It was always 1963 on her head.
Salih: Even in the pandemic time, she always want to look nice, hair done, taking care of her look. She's a iconic woman in New York City.
Susan: In one of the last photos taken of her in public, she was on her way to the salon. What's surprising about the picture is that her hair is in a low ponytail, flat against her head. It's probably no accident that the caption points out that she had let her hair down, something she rarely did in public, likely in anticipation of people not believing that it was her.
When we first came to know Ivana in the 1980s, she was married to her second husband Donald, who was then merely a loudmouth russet-face developer, without the slightest whiff of the presidential rising from him. At the time, they seemed a perfect pair. She was fabulous. He was a fabulist. He inflated his net worth and her modeling and skiing accomplishments. He bought revered landmarks such as the Plaza Hotel in New York, she gilded and bedazzled them. She had crazy hair, he had crazy hair. His quiff became as much a signature as the beehive became hers.
Ultimately, of course, the scale of and the damage done by her excesses, was nothing compared with his. She called him The Donald. The addition of the article to his name made it seem like a royal title or an honorific, but she never undersold herself. In fact, she was confident of her value. To that end, she applied to trademark her name in 1989, in case she wanted to monetize her brand. It turned out to be a wise move because she ended up selling a lot of Ivana Trump products on TV shopping channels.
Male Speaker 1: This is a great look here.
Ivana: Absolutely fantastic. They are good. They are really hot, hot, hot.
Susan: Still, Donald Trump occupied a lot of psychological, social, and emotional real estate. How would it feel to be yoked to that? One Trump wife didn't seem to dig it. I was once sent on an assignment to Mar-a-Lago, Trump's toehold in Palm Beach, and drag myself to a morning yoga class there. Marla Maples, who by then had replaced Ivana as Mrs. Trump, was in the class, downward dogging next to me. Afterward, in the locker room, we got to chatting. She seemed tired, not from the yoga but perhaps from the sheer weightiness of being part of the Trump apparatus. They divorced not long afterward.
Ivana, by contrast, always displayed a peppery energy and a genuine relish for her role as a Trump. She seemed animated by the attention, even when it was negative. It all was a compliment by her reckoning. She once told Vanity Fair, "I think it's upsetting to people that Donald and I have it all." After their divorce and respective re-marriages, she kept the name and proudly announced to interviewers, "I am the first Trump wife," as if she were part of a pre-planned production rollout where the first model is viewed as the most authentic, the best.
Female Speaker 1: How often do you two talk?
Ivana: Talk about once every 14 days. I have the direct number to White House, but I no really want to call him there because Melania is there, and I don't want to cause any kind of jealousy or something like that, because I'm basically first Trump wife, okay [chuckles]? I'm first line to him. [laughs]
Susan: We will never know the truth behind one of Ivana's last big public gestures in 2017, when she claimed that The Donald had offered her a role as ambassador to the Czech Republic, where she was born, the daughter of an electrical engineer and a telephone operator. In a wonderful flourish, perhaps the ultimate cold shoulder to the husband who had cheated on her, she claimed that she had turned down the job.
Did he really offer her the ambassadorship? Who knows? But it was a brilliant move on her part to suggest that while he might think he was all that, she really couldn't be bothered. She explained triumphantly in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, "I have a perfect life."
Ivana: Why would I go and say bye-bye to Miami in the winter, bye-bye to Saint-Tropez in the summer, and bye-bye to spring and fall in New York? I have a perfect life.
Narrator: Ivana Trump died in July. You can read Susan Orlean's column Afterword at NewYorker.com. We also heard in that piece from Trump's longtime hairstylist, Salih Cakirca.
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