I first laid eyes on him at Robin Leach’s 50th birthday party.
I was seated in a banquette facing outward, a prime spot for ogling the many celebrities who came that evening to toast the great “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” host on the semi-centennial of his birth -- Regis, LaToya, Tony Bennett and then, the man himself: Donald Trump. And clinging to his arm, Marla Maples, nicknamed the Georgia Peach.
Oh, what a night, as the song goes. From that first time seeing him in person -- at this party in 1991 at a lavish nightclub on East 48th Street (a space now occupied by the Kaballah Centre) -- my fascination with Trump has never waned.
From his dalliance with the Georgia Peach to “The Apprentice” to his many famous feuds to his historic campaign this summer to save America, journalists the world over owe their gratitude to a man whose ongoing saga has guaranteed that no day would ever be a slow news day as long as he is around.
For me, one Donald Trump story looms largest, even more than his campaign to rule America. The story played out over many months in 2013, involving Bill Maher, an orangutan and, as it turned out, Trump’s lawyers -- a group of people who have probably never known a dull moment since the day they accepted Trump’s first check as a retainer.
For this was the time Trump sued Maher after Maher compared Trump’s appearance to an orangutan. It happened during an appearance Maher made on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in January 2013.
Specifically, Maher said Trump’s famous orange-tinged hair bore similarities to the fur of an orangutan. The producers of “The Tonight Show” then showed side-by-side photos of Trump and one of the orange-haired great apes. Maher also made this comparison at around the same time on his HBO show, “Real Time.”
During this same appearance with Leno, Maher called Trump a “liar,” a “racist” and “a douche bag.” Maher was apparently reacting to some tweets Trump had posted lambasting him, according to the first of five stories I wrote that year about their feud. Maher accused Trump of not composing the tweets personally, but shunting the assignment off to “a syphilitic monkey.”
Well, thin-skinned as usual, Trump took umbrage with these remarks and he sued Maher a short time later. Specifically, the lawsuit was reacting to jokes Maher made about Trump’s birth origins and demanded that Trump produce his birth certificate. This had to do with Trump’s campaign at the time to prove that Barack Obama was not a native-born American.
In making the birth certificate joke, Maher had mentioned Trump’s vow that he would contribute $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice if the president would produce a birth certificate. If memory serves, Maher doubted Trump would make good on this vow, and this too irritated Trump.
Trump’s lawsuit then demanded that Maher make good on a “promise” Maher made -- apparently jokingly -- that he would contribute $5 million to a charity of Trump’s choice if Trump would produce his own birth certificate. Maher joked that this document would then “prove” Trump was not the offspring of orangutans. Apparently, Trump didn’t get the joke.
So in February 2013, Maher reacted to Trump’s lawsuit on “Real Time.” Among other things, Maher called Trump an “idiot” (again) whose “family reunions are held at the zoo.”
Maher then said of Trump’s reactions to his “Tonight Show” comments: “This upset The Donald so much they could barely stop him from flinging his feces!”
Maher then commented specifically on Trump’s lawsuit. “Don’t forget this is not a libel case,” Maher said. “No, no. They seem to be trying to set a bold new precedent that jokes on late-night talk shows are now legally binding agreements between the comedian and the person they’re making fun of.”
By April, Trump -- who is not exactly known for the length of his attention span -- apparently lost interest in the suit and it was dropped.
But in September of that year, Maher was still talking about it. “I don’t even think Donald Trump is a real person,” Maher told Leno, appearing again on “The Tonight Show.” “He’s a pop reference from the ’80s. It’s like having a feud with J.R. Ewing!”
After that, however, Trump seemed to get the last word in, at least for the time being. Turning his ire on Leno, Trump tweeted the next day: “I’ve always defended jayleno but he never defends me. He’s not a loyal person & I now understand why everybody dumped him,” Trump tweeted, referring to NBC’s decision to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon the following winter. “Jay sucks!” tweeted the man who would be president.