Donald Trump’s second wife, Marla Maples, has always been a bit of joke.
For decades now, the Farrah Fawcett-esque pageant girl turned model or actress or singer-songwriter or somesuch, was punchline fodder for reporters, late-night talk show hosts, even her own husband. It was plain to see why: a busty, blond, New Age woman, Marla was a caricature of the gold-digging mistress, an easy cliché all the better to understand the parody of a man that is Donald Trump.
I’ve always loved Marla. Despite her cartoonish depiction in the press, Marla seemed to be a woman of delightful contradictions: a devout Southern Baptist, but also a hippie; a Georgia peach with aspirations of New York high society; an earnest and ambitious, if not extraordinarily talented, performer willing to drop everything and be the kind of traditional wife and mother Donald claimed to want. More than anything—and who could say why—by all accounts Marla Maples deeply loved Donald Trump.
It had been 15 years since a high-profile divorce relegated Marla to a footnote in yesterday’s news. But after years of teasing, Donald actually made good on his threats to run for president of the United States. And with his unlikely clinching of the GOP nomination, Marla—the infamous husband-snatcher, who allegedly immortalized Donald in a New York Post headline as “The Best Sex I Ever Had”—suddenly mattered again.
In March, Marla, 52 and still stunning, was booked for ABC’s Dancing With the Stars—“an opportunity to really be seen in my own light,” she hoped. But the media was less interested in Marla’s jive or her Kabbalah Christian hybrid faith or her spiritual whisper-music, and more keen on dredging up her past with The Donald.
By the time Marla was spotted at the Republican National Convention in July—she was there to support her daughter, the seldom-mentioned Tiffany Trump, who managed to land a speaking role at her absent father’s coronation—the affair with Donald, their rocky marriage, and her ultimate dismissal from their union (Marla contends she left him) had been dredged and re-reported by every reporter with a decent memory of the ’90s or a subscription to a news archive.
“Remember When Donald Trump’s Wife and Donald Trump’s Mistress Got in a Public Brawl in Aspen?” Gawker asked, recounting the 1990 New Year’s Eve Day when Marla confronted Donald’s first wife, Ivana, with: “I’m Marla and I love your husband. Do you?”
The woman who had moved to California and raised her daughter alone building a sweet, quiet(ish) life as an infrequent television host and “spiritual motivator,” was back in the media: As the side-piece Donald Trump brought on his family’s skiing holiday; the Hawaiian Tropic model Donald saw as a sex symbol better suited to the pages of Playboy than as his wife in the penthouse of his eponymous tower; the mistress who might have—who can be sure?—gotten not-so-accidentally pregnant with a baby Donald allegedly suggested aborting; the amateurish gold digger who left a palatial home with a curiously small fortune in tow after her 10-year relationship went up in flames—like everyone but she knew that it would.
Surely there is more to Marla Maples?
Marla has authored no published books. The only available work by Marla is “Journey to Fitness,” a Fonda-inspired workout video that “combines stretching, muscle shaping, and mental conditioning.”
Meanwhile, the closest to a historical biography of Donald’s second wife comes in the form of a biopic-lite from Lifetime Television (naturally). The episode, titled “Intimate Portrait,” aired in 1995 and is available on VHS at the Indianapolis Public Library, and from a seller on Amazon for $8.18, including shipping.
I obviously bought it.
“Meet your heroines, the people who’ve achieved professional success and survived personal tragedy, in this series of up close and personal portraits,” the box beckons.
Via that same box, the filmmakers promise never-before-seen footage of Marla’s Plaza wedding and discussion of the demands of a high-profile marriage, a burgeoning acting career, and motherhood.
Instead, they delivered a thoroughly depressing 45 minutes of television.
The infomercial that is Marla’s Intimate Portrait was filmed in the year following her glamorous wedding—a time known as the honeymoon period. Yet Marla’s opening and (spoiler!) ending scene is the 30-year-old walking the grounds of Donald’s Florida mansion Mar-a-Lago alone—in mom jeans with Tiffany strapped to her back. (Marla was ahead of the natural childbirth, baby-wearing trend.)
“It reads like a love story ripped from the pages of the most romantic novel,” the narrator begins. “Theirs was a love that they thought could never be...a Cinderella story with some jagged edges.”
We learn that Marla was kind of a big deal in Cohutta, the tiny Georgia town without a stoplight where she grew up. Marla’s lovely mother breathily narrates a photo album of Marla (the Maples women all sound a little Marilyn Monroe), through pageants and school plays, basketball championships, and being crowned homecoming queen.
After high school, Marla enrolled at the University of Georgia, but dropped out to pursue an acting career, by way of quite a lot of swimsuit labor.
“I was a people pleaser,” Marla says, explaining the modeling and bikini competition days in Atlanta that followed.
When Marla landed the role of “screaming woman” in Stephen King’s 1986 Maximum Overdrive, it gave her the confidence and the connections she needed to make the move to New York. It would be her biggest role until she landed a part in The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway in 1992.
But enough about her. Lifetime is getting to the real reason they think we’re all here.
“Marla was about to meet the man who would break, twist, and one day, mend, her heart,” the narrator gushes over an image of a 1990 Playboy cover with Donald Trump smirking. “Prince Charming was married...very married, with three children. But Donald and Marla were confronted with a love they couldn’t ignore.”
Lifetime’s version of events is predictably skewed from here. It was “chance meetings” that brought Marla and Donald together from 1984 until the 1990 Aspen encounter. The doc claims their “scant contact” was “limited to polite conversation” during the time we now know (according to accounts in a half-dozen Trump biographies) Maples was living as a kept woman in hotel rooms throughout the tri-state area.
As they tell it, Marla and Donald fell in love not in a hotel bedroom, but under the watchful eye of God at the Marble Collegiate church in Manhattan, the same house of worship that Donald attended with his first wife, Ivana, and their children, the very one where he and Ivana exchanged vows. (Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter has argued that the church location makes the presidential hopeful’s adultery more respectable.)
At one point, Marla says Donald supported her posing for Playboy.
“Playboy offered me $2 million to pose, and, hey, Donald might have liked that, but that was something that just wasn’t in my make-up to do,” Marla says. “It may be fine for some women, but for me it’s not the direction I wanted my life to go.”
Donald and Marla aren’t interviewed together by Lifetime, but the real estate mogul spared a minute or two for the documentary. In his solo session, Donald disclosed that he never technically left Ivana for Marla, and with his empire crumbling, the timing was rotten for a love affair anyway.
“It was a wrong time for me to have a relationship,” Donald said. “At the same time, it was great to know somebody was there, and she was there like nobody I’ve ever seen.”
And Marla was there. Until she wasn’t. According to tabloids at the time, the restive couple would break up and reconcile with the seasons. After one row, Donald presented Marla with a diamond ring. Weeks later, he leaked to the press that he was dating future first lady of France, Carla Bruni. Marla read in the papers that she had been replaced.
“I don’t believe that the things he’s supposed to be saying are true. I’m in shock,” Marla told The Daily News. “If so, then there’s no trust in this world.”
According to Gwenda Blair’s book, The Trumps, Donald vacillated on whether to reward Marla for her loyalty by giving her what she wanted most: marriage. (Marla had taken to packing a wedding dress when she traveled. “You’ve got to be prepared,” she said.)
But in 1993—after years of very public bickering—Marla got pregnant, and upped the pressure on Donald to make her an honest woman.
“I’m not the kind of guy who has babies out of wedlock and doesn’t get married and give the baby a name. And for me, I’m not a believer in abortion,” Donald told Vanity Fair.
The actual birth of Tiffany is an incredible Donald Trump moment to imagine. An infamous germaphobe and emotional desert island, Donald was, in 1993, party to the kind of natural birth experience you would guess him to find, well, disgusting. (This is a man who has never seen his current wife use the bathroom.)
Marla took “a spiritual approach to her delivery,” her Ob-GYN told Lifetime. In a candle-filled hospital room, Marla listened to her New Age music and used aromatherapy and massage to ride the waves of her contractions. Marla said she and Donald “did a lot of kissing while I was delivering.” Donald even cut the cord.
“I was very nervous, because she was in a lot of pain,” Donald said in an uncharacteristically human moment following Tiffany’s birth. “I tried to convince her to take something, but she wouldn’t. I asked the doctor to convince her, but he knew Marla was determined not to take any drugs. She’s so strong, such a strong woman. I’m amazed.”
According to the Donald Trump biographies, the long-awaited marriage of Donald and Marla came after a mix of pressure from the mother of his newest child and and an effort to improve his image before a public offering on his hotels and casinos. But Donald told Lifetime it was a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road that sparked a “life is short,” might-as-well-get-married, proposal.
After trotting out previously unseen video footage of the couple’s 1,300-guest wedding, Marla’s documentary ends where it began: her walking the grounds of an 118-room Palm Beach manor with Tiffany in tow.
“One lucky lady, who is living her dream.”
Not so much.
By 1996, tabloids were reporting a “rumpled and sandy” Marla had been found by police on the beach at 4 a.m. with a bodyguard, miles from her palace. In 1997, Donald and Marla announced they’d be putting their prenuptial agreement to work. Their divorce was finalized in 1999, and Marla moved with Tiffany to Calabasas, California, a city later immortalized in Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Donald hasn’t held back about the breakup of his marriage with Marla, calling her “selfish” and writing in The Art of the Comeback, “Marla was always wanting me to spend more time with her.” (Marla wasn’t always a saint. According to a 1994 Vanity Fair story: “She taunted him in public for being overweight. She played with the hair on his head, lifting it up and exposing his scalp, and poking fun at his efforts to hide his hair loss. She derided his sexual prowess in front of his friends and associates.”)
Marla has kept relatively quiet since the breakup, which makes sense because she’s contractually obligated to do so. As such, Marla has generally been kind to her ex-husband, telling interviewers looking for dirt that she will always love him. But there have been glimpses into other, less generous opinions Marla may hold.
“I worry about his future,” she told The Daily News in 1997. “How complete can you be from watching another building go up? I feel good when I do a movie. I like my work. But is that my true happiness? I think he’s missing a whole level.”
When Donald flirted with a run for the 2000 presidency as the Reform Party candidate, Marla reportedly told the Telegraph she would not be silent during a general election.
“I will feel it is my duty to tell the American people what he is really like. But I can’t imagine that they would really elect him, would they?
“His drug is attention. He’s so ego-driven,” she reportedly said.
Donald fired back on national television, telling Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, “I think it’s in the best interest of Tiffany if she doesn’t talk,” Donald said. “Why am I paying money to someone that’s violated an agreement?”
He asked the same question to a judge, claiming he shouldn’t have to pay Marla $1.5 million in alimony he owed. The judge disagreed.
Outside a church in Florida, Marla told a Christian interviewer that Donald “cannot grasp God and cannot give the power over,” calling her former marriage “the emptiest, darkest place to be.”
During this time, Marla apparently wrote a memoir. All That Glitters Is Not Gold was billed as a tell-all “cautionary tale,” but was quashed for good in 2002 after several delayed releases. (If you have a copy, won’t you please to send it to The Daily Beast?)
Donald told The New York Times he was “not unhappy” about the book’s cancellation. “She signed a confidentiality agreement,” he said, but didn’t comment on whether he had himself had a tiny hand in the book’s burial.
And in 2007, while Donald was firing contestants on his runaway hit, The Apprentice, Marla landed a reality show of her own. On ABC’s The Ex-Wives Club, Marla starred as one of three jilted sort-of celebrities who aimed to help recent divorcees rebuild their lives over the course of an episode.
Donald was less than thrilled about Marla’s new opportunity. “[S]he’s not allowed to do it because we have a thing called an agreement. It’s called a prenuptial agreement,” Donald told Larry King before the series release. “She’s not allowed to be discussing me. And it seems that the show, in the show, she’s discussing me. So hopefully it’s fine. Hopefully she thinks I’m a wonderful person.”
Marla later responded to Donald’s request saying, “That is what it’s about. How are you ever going to make Donald Trump happy? I spent many years trying to make him happy.”
Now that’s a book people would read.