A September 1989, feature in New York magazine by Edwin Diamond, titled “Trump vs. Stern: The Unmaking of a Documentary” closed with this line:
"A close associate of Stern's says, 'Trump may be tough, but so is Leonard. He's living a good life now, and he doesn't need this. But somewhere down the road, he'll be heard from."
Two and a half decades later, Leonard Stern, a real estate competitor of Trump's, has a late-blooming investment that is finally airing, even though he hasn't had anything to do with the project since the Reagan administration. This, thanks to a producer he once employed named Libby Handros.
Just yesterday, Trumpthemovie.com went online with a hilarious teaser trailer that shot around the web. (You can watch the full movie here.) The documentary film,Trump: What's the Deal? was the subject of Diamond's 1989 feature story. Funded by Stern, the documentary was never broadcast over the airwaves.
Handros tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "We did two back-to-back screenings at the Bridgehampton Community House, July 3, 1991, which was ironic because it was the day that Donald announced his engagement to Marla Maples." According to the New York Times, Stern asked the producers not to screen it, but they did it anyway.
Recounted to Diamond, the documentary was intended to be the first of a few Stern-funded documentaries on “men whose persona took on a life of its own,” according to Stern's wife Allison, a former television producer. People like George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and Lee Iococca, the article suggests.
Narrated by a Robin Leach-sounding British man, allegedly Peter Foges, the trailer teases the documentary by comparing The Donald of the late 1980's to The Donald of today.
The trailer claims, “the new Trump and the old Trump, are the same Trump.”
Back when the documentary was made in the 1980's, it was a critical, but seriously reported work produced by Ned Schnurman, a long-time PBS man and creator of Inside Story. Joining him were Al Levin, also of PBS, and Libby Handros, who joined Schnurman right out of college.
The production, created by Schnurman's independent firm “The Deadline Company,” was hired by Leonard Stern, a billionaire, who also owned the Village Voice, a weekly called 7 Days, and “several publishing interests.” Stern claimed, "I have nothing to do with the editorial side at the Voice or 7 Days, and I have the same rule for television."
But, before the film could make it to the screen, producer Ned Schnurman claims that Trump was "threatening litigation before, during, and after the airing of the program."
Per Diamond's long-read feature, there is more to the story.
[7 Days] reported (in 1988) that some resales of the condominiums on Trump Tower were not going well. The article also questioned the quality, design, and the construction of the Tower and two other Trump buildings. The resale losses were not Trump's -- as condominium developer, he'd already had his payday -- but his pride was involved. As a Trump friend explains, 'You can call Donald mean, arrogant, egotistical, vain, tough, and it doesn't bother him deep down. He takes those as synonyms for “powerful.” But suggest that his product is second-rate and that sets him off. To him it says, “You're less than the best."
As Trump discovered the existence of the forthcoming documentary, Diamond wrote:
"In the Trump view, a business rival has loosed two sets of news hounds on him, one print and one electronic."
This, perhaps, is where the feud started.