Jimmy Breslin wrote about New York characters, and one who showed up often in his columns over the years was Donald J. Trump. Here are three of his columns for Newsday – from 1990, 1989 and 1988 -- taking note of Trump as a grandmaster of illusion.
The Art of the Trump: Call It Corum's Law
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on June 7, 1990.
Suddenly, we have all these prudent, responsible bankers, loan papers crackling in their frightened hands, chasing madly after Donald Trump for money. It seems like great sport, but I must tell you that I believe this to be temporary and that Trump, no matter what kind of a crash he experiences now, will come back as sure as you are reading this. I now will tell you why.
Trump survives by Corum's Law. This is a famous, well-tested theory and is named after Bill Corum, who once wrote sports for the Hearst papers when they were in New York. He had a great gravel voice and did radio and television announcing for the World Series and heavyweight championship fights. He was a round little guy who was the youngest Army major in World War I, and when he came back he announced, "I just want to smell the roses." He read Balzac at the bar, often wrote exciting English, drank a ton of whiskey and lost as much money as he could find at the racetrack. He was a tough guy who understood weakness.
Corum was asked to become the head of the Kentucky Derby by Louisville businessmen who said they had a grave problem. Newspapers all over the world claimed Louisville was a place where Derby visitors were robbed. Prices were tripled, touts were everywhere and women who were supposed to be available and uncommonly glamorous turned out to be nothing more than common thieves.
Corum glanced at the clips and threw them in the air. "This is great. There is nothing better for a championship event than a treacherous woman. If a guy from North Dakota goes home from here after the race and has to be met because he doesn't even have cab fare left, that guy is going to say to himself, 'Wow. I must have had a hell of a time. I can't wait for next year.' But if that same guy goes home and he still has half his money, he is going to say 'I guess I didn't have such a great time at the Kentucky Derby after all.'
"Because, gentlemen, this is the rule. A sucker has to get screwed." Corum ran the Kentucky Derby on this premise for years, and the game was good for all of Louisville. No sucker ever wept.
Today, Corum's Law runs all of Donald Trump's situation. But instead of horseplayers, the suckers who must get screwed are a combination of news reporters and financial people. It is all quite simple. Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery, about which I will tell you. He uses the reporters to create a razzle dazzle: there are five stories in the newspapers in the morning papers leading into 11 minutes of television at night. The financial people, who lead such dreary lives, believe what they read and see on television. Trump is larger than life. No, not Trump. Don't use that name. It's Donald! He cannot lose. The financial geniuses can't wait to rush into the glamour and lights. They want to touch Trump's arm. "Here, I'm from Prudential, the rock of Gibraltar. Take our $ 75 million to build another crap game. Can I ride on your boat?"
During 1989, when Trump announced he was buying the Eastern Shuttle and about to start a building on the West Side that could be seen from Toledo and would park 9,000 cars, he was on the first page of this paper and others as often as the logo. There were four stories about Trump in one day's issue of The New York Times newspaper. He had the joint from front to back. I remember looking at the paper with the four stories in it and saying to myself, "Look at this, all these years later and the Times hires a whole room full of guys who are out on the take." On television that night, all I saw was announcers genuflecting as they mentioned Trump's name. They mentioned it in unrelated conversation, as if Trump were a part of the language. I said, "What kind of a payroll must this guy have?"
But when I started to think about it, I immediately realized I was wrong. Things were even worse. These reporters were doing it for nothing! The scandal in journalism in our time is that ethics have disintegrated to the point where Donald Trump took over news reporters in this city with the art of the return phone call.
Trump bought reporters, from morning paper to nightly news, with two minutes of purring over the phone.
"I just talked to Donald!" I heard somebody say in the place where I work. "Donald called!" somebody at the Times told me they hear various reporters say, enthusiastically, almost every day. "I have to get off. Donald is on the other phone," a friend of mine at NBC said one day. They even put an article in front of his name, as if he were The Bronx.
Donald Trump, who must have been spending about half of each day on the phone with reporters and editors, owned the news business.
From reporters and bankers, the illusion spread. How can one forget the sight of wise businessmen standing at a bookstore and buying Trump's book so they could learn something about business. These book buyers were taking a fall without even getting a phone call from Trump. The book was nothing more than safe-cracking by hardcover. Yet here were people working for a living reading and nodding at the sage advice, "Smell blood!"
Trump's next book, scheduled for publication any day now, has been held up. It is being edited with flea powder.
Once, here was healthy dishonesty in the news business in New York. Then, a gossip columnist named Walter Winchell had a nightclub build a personal barbershop for him. If Winchell had Trump, he would have made Trump bigger than the president. Winchell also would have been living on a full floor of the Plaza.
But today all of this has been replaced. Not a quarter hits the floor. "I'm going to take over all of Atlantic City and then Los Angeles," Trump announced. It made the front pages. "Donald called!"
But all involved now, particularly the worried bankers, should know that Corum's Law remains. Trump will call and announce his rise. The suckers will write about a heroic indomitable spirit. Redemption makes an even better tale. So many bankers will grab his arm the sleeve will rip. All Trump has to do is stick to the rules on which he was raised by his father in the County of Queens:
Never use your own money. Steal a good idea and say it's your own. Do anything to get publicity. Remember that everybody can be bought.
The trouble with Trump's father was that he was a totally naive man. He had no idea that you could buy the whole news reporting business in New York City with a return phone call.
Violent Language, Between You and I
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on May 2, 1989.
It has been reported by reliable people, and my own ears, that Donald Trump says, "Between you and I." Of course this is the unmistakable line between those who care enough about their own language to learn the object of a preposition and those in need of remedial. When the unwashed get to the word "between" while speaking, the first thing their ear tells them is that "Between you and I" is right because it has a tonier sound to it, almost regal they imagine, than "between you and me." Therefore such people as Donald Trump say, "Confidentially, between you and I . . . "
And the listener, ears flinching, immediately learns quite a bit about Trump.
This also provides Trump with his proper name in this city. From this point on, he shall forever be known as "Between You and I" Trump.
Knowing this, one recoiled, but was hardly suprised to find in the newspapers this morning a full-page advertisement by "Between You and I" Trump in the insolent, cruel words one would expect of him for, of course, lack of knowledge of a language always breeds words of thuggery.
The ad for the first time reveals all the rest of the things that anybody would want to know about Donald Trump.
In his ad, which ran in all four of the city's newspapers, "Between You and I" Trump practically called for the death of the teenagers arrested for the rape and attack on the 28-year-old jogger in Central Park.
As the young woman is not dead and those arrested for her attack do not as yet even have a trial date, much less guilt established, his scream for vengeance could be considered premature by some.
At a time of shocking crime, it seems best to have authorities who in low, cold voices will persist, persist, persist and see that the guilty are surely and as swiftly as possible given proper punishment. Outside the courthouse, beware always of the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation and appealing to a crowd's meanest nature.
And here yesterday is what "Between You and I" Trump had in his ad in every paper in this city:
"Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes . . . Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I am looking to punish them . . . I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid."
Such violent language sounds as if it were coming from someone who walks around with bodyguards.
Let us now turn to how the legitimate tough guys speak of violence. We had in Metropolitan Hospital the other night, at the bedside of the 28-year-old victim of the attack, the following:
Her badly wounded mother, father and two brothers. Officer Steven McDonald, paralyzed forever by a bullet. McDonald was shot by a 15-year-old at a spot in Central Park only a hundred yards away from where the young woman was attacked. Also present was Father Mychal Judge, a priest who spends all his time with those dying with AIDS. All stood around the young woman's bed and held hands and prayed.
The family of the young woman did not stop expressing their gratitude for all those who pray for their daughter.
"Forgiveness," Steven McDonald said in a wheelchair he can never leave.
"We must forgive or we cannot be," Father Mychal Judge said.
The language of those who know.
The curious thing about "Between You and I" Trump is not that he destroyed himself yesterday, for all demagogues ultimately do that, but why he became so immensely popular with the one group of people who are supposed to be the searchlights and loudspeakers that alert the public to the realities of such a person. That would be those who work in the news business. Even the most unhostile of eyes cannot say that his buildings are not ugly. Yet all news stories say "imaginative" when common sense shouts "arrogant." Always, the television and newspapers talk of his financial brilliance, when anybody in the street knows that most of "Between You and I" Trump's profits come from crap games and slot machines in Atlantic City, the bulk of that, the slot machines, coming from old people who go down there with their Social Security checks.
It also is an undeniable fact of life that gambling keeps bad company.
Yet with the one quality Trump has, amazing brashness - "I just bought the sky!" - he has overwhelmed the newspapers and television more than any one we ever have had in this city. Barnum or Mike Todd used guile and chicanery, but Trump understood that this year, you can blind their minds by showing them a diamond. During a celebration of greed he became toastmaster.
It would be comforting if "Between You and I" Trump was doing it the old way, by having half the reporters on a payroll someplace. But the news business today is so utterly dishonest that the people are below taking bribes. Instead, Trump buys them with a smile, a phone call or a display of wealth that so excites these poor fools that they cannot wait to herald his brilliance.
"He let me see his yacht!"
And so "Between You and I" Trump, who runs crap games and slot machines, became an all-news person. Trump today bought a man a wooden leg! All candidates stand with sides lathered with excitement as they wait for Donald Trump's endorsement!
His thinking on anything was accepted. One paper - I think it was the Times, but I have all these piles of clips around me and to tell you the truth I cannot read them - ran four separate stories on Donald Trump in one day.
Finally yesterday, in order to cash in on a young woman in a coma, to make an unedited statement, he ran his ad and showed himself for all to see what he was.
A New Set of Planes For a Master of Air
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on October 13, 1988.
Yesterday, I went to inspect for possible purchase a couple of the apartments Donald Trump has up for sale in his building on Central Park South called the Trump Parc. I was shown this first studio apartment - oh, a hovel, a nook with one window and one wall made out of glass to try and give you the feeling of being on a prairie. The Trump full-page ad for his building was bigger than the apartment.
Of course Donald Trump himself didn't show me the apartment; he was out announcing that he was going to buy the Eastern Airlines shuttle for, what is it, three-hundred million? The wonder of Trump is that he almost never uses his own money. Yesterday, Bob Seavey, former chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, said: "He will get $ 310 million of somebody else's money, buy the airline and have $ 10 million left over for himself."
And now, standing in one of his apartments in the Trump Parc building, in this cell on the seventh floor, I asked the young woman showing me this prison cell for the price. "Three twenty five," she said brightly, which meant $ 325,000.
"It has a southern view," she said. I pulled the shade on the one window aside and looked out at the southern view, which was of the wall of an ugly building on 58th Street.
I followed her to another studio apartment, this one with higher ceilings but down on the third floor, where you can hear with more clarity the truck horns on 58th Street. I looked out the southern view window and this time I saw the same ugly building, but now I also could see the marquee of the Helmsley Windsor Hotel. I asked the price. "Two hundred sixty nine."
Not quite, I told her. I thanked her profusely and I left. I walked from the Trump Parc to Fifth Avenue and then passed the Trump Tower, this brown glass building whose cheap architecture bawls one word into the sky over a once beautiful avenue: greed.
Yet the man whose name is on it, Donald Trump, can stand and say that it is one of the wonders of the eye and everybody in this city of rich sheep cries out that, most certainly, the Trump Tower is true grandeur. Trump, in the crinkling of an eye, senses better than anyone the insecurity of people, that nobody knows whether anything is good or bad until they are told, and he is quite willing to tell them immediately. His instinct appears to tell him that people crumble quickly at the first show of bravado, particularly members of the media, which is the plural of mediocre. Trump cannot be blamed for taking advantage of people who love to be victims of press agentry. He will tell the shoe-shine boys of the press that he plans to have his Eastern Airlines shuttle fly into space, and they will treat it as exciting news. As far as getting publicity whenever he wants it, Trump is the white Al Sharpton.
He comes out of Jamaica, in Queens, and while he essentially runs crap games, the public associates him only with the highest buildings, the most fantastic dealings, personal presidential abilities, and with the heavyweight champion lounging in the outer office. In this, he becomes the second man from Jamaica who was able to maintain himself in a higher strata while conducting a common crap game. You must hear about the first. He was Dr. Phillip Lambert, who had a dental office on the second floor of a building under the el on Jamaica Avenue. Trump comes from the north side of Jamaica Avenue. Dr. Lambert regarded cavities as a nuisance. "I got the best hands in the world, what am I doing sticking them into some guy's mouth?"
His hands could make a pair of dice pirouette upon command. When a sucker would be steered into the waiting room, the Doc would throw his patient out and lock the door. In the waiting room, he had two magazine racks, whose sides would magically fold out and form a table, one end of which he jammed against the wall. Inside a magazine, Dr. Lambert kept a green felt cloth, which hewould throw on the table. When the sucker threw the dice down the table and up against the wall, he found he could not quite reach the dice by himself. Lambert, who kept a set of dice under his thumb, would oblige and throw dice back to the shooter. Dice that you could lose with. Lambert kept in the trunk of his car at least 3,000 sets of bad dice, for matching the dice in any game anywhere.
Yet at all times, Lambert was considered a professional man. He was "Doctor Lambert" in the Three Star Diner downstairs, at the American Legion Hall, the Jamaica Jewish Center and at Knights of Columbus bazaars.
If passersby on Jamaica Avenue heard howls coming from Lambert's upstairs office they would assume that Lambert perhaps had just drilled through somebody's tongue. Actually, he was doing something much worse to a man, fleecing him of all he had. Once, a diner owner who claimed he had made over 4,000 ham and cheese sandwiches in his career, went up to Lambert's office for an hour and the Doc didn't even leave the guy with his rye bread.
The second crap game operator from Jamaica, Donald Trump, left Jamaica and found a place, Atlantic City, where a crap game is legal and can be conducted honestly. Trump has a boardwalk joint whose casino is open to retired postal clerks, New Jersey wise guys and half the cocaine peddlers on the East Coast. Yet Trump walks around Manhattan as a magnate. Yesterday, he was busy buying an airline. And I was in one of his apartment buildings, where, if you first look at the advertisements, then at the apartments and ask the price, perhaps you receive a better idea of who he is than you do from newspapers or on television. The man is the best boaster of his time.