Ivana Trump: Glamorous Czech-American Businesswoman Whose Marriage to Donald Trump in the 1980s Established Them As One of New York’s Power Couples

From a New York Times obit by Clay Risen headlined “Ivana Trump, Former Wife of Donald Trump, Is Dead at 73”:

Ivana Trump, the glamorous Czech-American businesswoman whose high-profile marriage to Donald J. Trump in the 1980s established them as one of New York’s quintessential power couples of that era, died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 73.

Mr. Trump announced her death on Truth Social, the conservative social media platform he founded.

“I am very saddened to inform all of those that loved her, of which there are many, that Ivana Trump has passed away at her home in New York City,” he wrote. “She was a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing woman, who led a great and inspirational life. Her pride and joy were her three children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. She was so proud of them, as we were all so proud of her. Rest In Peace, Ivana!”

The New York City police are investigating whether Ms. Trump fell down the stairs at her home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, just off Fifth Avenue near Central Park, according to two law enforcement officials. One of the officials said there was no sign of forced entry at the home, and the death appeared to be accidental.

Mrs. Trump had commanded almost as much media attention as her husband and together they helped define the 1980s as an era of gaudy excess among the social elite, an image that Mr. Trump used to fuel his turn as an outsize television personality before his 2016 run for the White House.

Though Mr. Trump often bragged about his singular business prowess, Mrs. Trump played a critical part in building his real-estate empire, beginning soon after their marriage in 1977.

Often described as detail-obsessed and a workaholic, she worked alongside her husband on several of his early signature projects, like the development of Trump Tower in Manhattan and the Trump Taj Mahal casinoin Atlantic City, N.J.

She was the vice president for interior design for his company, the Trump Organization, and managed one of his most prized properties, the Plaza Hotel, while raising their three children, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka.

The couple’s 1990 divorce, driven in part by Mr. Trump’s affair with Marla Maples, whom he later married, provided tabloid fodder for weeks. In a deposition, Mrs. Trump accused Mr. Trump of raping her, though she later said that she had not meant the word literally.

The divorce made Mrs. Trump something of a heroine for spurned wives everywhere — she had a cameo in the 1996 film “The First Wives Club,” in which she tells a group of disgruntled divorced women, “Don’t get mad, get everything!”

She used her business prowess to great effect as well. She developed lines of clothing, jewelry and beauty products, which she promoted through outlets like the Home Shopping Network and QVC. She invested in real estate, domestically and in Europe, and wrote several books, including “The Best Is Yet to Come: Coping With Divorce and Enjoying Life Again” (1995) and, most recently, “Raising Trump” (2017), a memoir of her marriage to Mr. Trump.

Ivana Marie Zelnickova was born in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. An athletically gifted child, Ivana was particularly adept at skiing, competing with the Czech junior national team, an experience that allowed her to see at least some of the world outside of her small town.

She attended Charles University, in Prague, and received a master’s degree in physical education in 1972.

She was briefly married to Alfred Winklmayr, an Austrian ski instructor, in what she later termed a “Cold War marriage,” which allowed her to receive an Austrian passport and move to Canada. They never lived together, she said, and the marriage was “dissolved” in 1973.

In Canada she worked as a ski instructor and as a model promoting the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. While working at a reception in New York, she met the 29-year-old Mr. Trump, who was just beginning to plot his rise to the top of the Manhattan real estate world.

The two married nine months later in a ceremony officiated by Norman Vincent Peale, the author and Protestant religious figure.

Mr. Trump’s first big project was redeveloping the aging Commodore Hotel, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. Mrs. Trump, who was then working on her interior design license, jumped in alongside him, at first overseeing plumbers and electricians and later, near the end, passing judgment on “every pillow, every table and chair, and every brass column,” she told Vanity Fair in 1988.

The hotel reopened in 1980 as the Grand Hyatt, a glitzy marker of a new decade of rapid development and material excess, qualities that would become synonymous with the Trump brand.

Mrs. Trump soon became an equal, if behind-the-scenes, partner in Mr. Trump’s business. She emphasized opulence: It was she who chose the pink marble and gleaming brass of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue. Though she insisted that her husband was the boss, it was also clear that she was among his closest confidantes, advising him, for example, on his decision to go into the casino business in Atlantic City.

She held even more sway over the growing Trump household. In the introduction to “Raising Trump,” she bragged on Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric and minced no words about who did what in their upbringing.

“I believe the credit for raising such great kids belongs to me,” she wrote. “I was in charge of raising our children before our divorce, and I had sole custody of them after the split. I made the decisions about their education, activities, travel, child care, and allowances. When each one finished college, I said to my ex-husband, ‘Here is the finished product. Now it’s your turn.’”

The couple used their wealth to take on the New York social scene but ended up projecting themselves far beyond it, into the TVs and reading materials of Americans far from the skyscrapers of Midtown. They became fodder for gossip columns, People magazine profiles and “Saturday Night Live” sketches.

And as the couple rode high toward the end of the 1980s, with a fortune estimated at $3 billion, she coyly batted down speculation about an imminent run for the White House by her husband.

“It’s not for the next ten years, definitely not,” she said in 1988. “There is so much to do. We have invested in this town close to a billion dollars. We can’t just put it in escrow and go to the White House. It would go down the drain in a second. It’s too young, too new. But in ten years Donald is going to be just fifty-one years old — a young man.”

Clay Risen is an obituaries reporter for The New York Times. Previously, he was a senior editor on the Politics desk and a deputy op-ed editor on the Opinion desk. He is the author, most recently, of “Bourbon: The Story of Kentucky Whiskey.”

 

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