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Tags: donald | trump

Behind the Scenes With Donald Trump

Ronald Kessler By Monday, 19 May 2008 09:52 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

As personal butler to Donald Trump, Anthony P. “Tony” Senecal is not about to tell you about the gorgeous young women who swarmed after Donald before he married Melania Knauss. Nor will he disclose the secret of Donald’s hair.

But Senecal will tell you what Donald is like behind the scenes, including his quirks and how and why he fires people.

Senecal presides at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Both home to Donald on weekends and a private club for 450 members, Mar-a-Lago is a Shangri-la that Marjorie Merriweather Post built in 1927.

A 55,695-square-foot Mediterranean-style complex, Mar-a-Lago has 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a ballroom, a spa, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, and a private tunnel leading to Donald’s beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

The two-story, Venetian-palace living room provides a view of the ocean to the east and Lake Worth, part of the Intracoastal Waterway, to the west. Some 36,000 Spanish tiles dating to the 15th century, gold leaf ceilings, and gold bathroom fixtures adorn the home. As Mrs. Post explained, “Gold is much easier to clean.”

Almost every weekend from November to May, Trump hops on his Boeing 727-100 in New York to fly to Palm Beach and stay at Mar-a-Lago. Members pay $185,000 to join and $12,000 a year in fees. The club has 10 suites, where guests pay $1,000 to $5,500 a night.

'Who's Who' of Guests

Almost every celebrity, from Jay Leno and Regis Philbin to Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, has been to Mar-a-Lago. Recently, Oprah Winfrey threw a three-day birthday party there for Maya Angelou, who was turning 80.

Senecal once worked for the doyenne he still respectfully refers to as Mrs. Post. Later, he was mayor of Martinsburg, W.Va. He came to national attention when the Washington Post ran a front page feature story about changes in West Virginia with a photo of Senecal, sitting with his cat Morris on the shoeshine stand of his tobacco shop.

After Trump bought Mar-a-Lago on South Ocean Boulevard, the head of security hired Senecal. He then became an underbutler.

In 1993, Trump decided to turn the home into a club. He wanted Senecal to be the concierge.

“I was serving him breakfast,” Senecal tells Newsmax. “He said, ‘So you’re going to be the concierge. What do you think about that?’”

“Well, I don’t like it,” Senecal said.

“Well, what do you want to be?” Trump asked.

“I thought as long as I was able, I would be your butler,” Senecal replied.

“Mr. Trump stood up and hit me in the arm and said, ‘And the butler’s what you’re going to be,’” Senecal, 76, recalls.

“When I first started, I wasn’t the servant type,” says Senecal, who wears a charcoal three-piece suit as his uniform. “It was touch and go until Mr. Trump found out I was a former mayor. That made me a cut above. Then,” Tony says wryly, “I became the mayor of the wealthiest and largest town in West Virginia.”

In fact, Martinsburg is neither.

Trump describes Senecal as having an even bigger ego than he does.

“He treats the members as equals,” Donald tells me with a touch of wonder. “In fact, I think he might think he is above them. Every great place needs a Tony.”

Visiting 'Society'

For my book “The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America’s Richest Society,” my wife Pam and I flew to Palm Beach with Donald and stayed for a weekend at Mar-a-Lago. We had the Spanish suite, which goes for $5,500 a night and overlooks the ocean. It was hard work, but someone had to do it.

Donald’s routine is the same today as it was then. A German Maybach limousine picked us up on the tarmac at West Palm Beach International Airport. Members of the Mar-a-Lago staff were standing outside to greet us as we arrived. Then Donald spent the weekend playing golf, making calls, meeting with architects, and checking on everything at the club. We followed him around.

Mar-a-Lago is also home to events such as the annual International Red Cross Ball and a black-tie party for club members on New Year’s Eve. One year when we attended, Donna Summer sang. She had the audience on its feet. It was a remarkable sight, billionaires with their hands in the air, gyrating to a disco beat, clapping and singing along at the diva’s command. As Summer, shimmery in a silver sheath, sang "On the Radio," they responded lustily: “Oh ohhhhhhh oh oh.”

On Sundays during the season, Mar-a-Lago has a brunch that recently included caviar with blini, smoked salmon, Alaskan crab claws, cocktail shrimp, freshly opened oysters, cold poached mussels, eggs Benedict, omelets made to order, sausage and bacon, Belgian waffles and French toast, escargots in a wine sauce, seared scallops, rack of lamb, pasta with bolognese sauce, roasted turkey and prime rib carved to order, endless desserts, fresh fruit and cheeses, homemade truffles, and the best Danish pastry imaginable. Served with champagne, the buffet always has one other item — meat loaf, Donald’s favorite food.

Donald also loves bacon. At breakfast one morning when we stayed with him, the multi-billionaire strode across the terrace between the pool and the mansion, a piece of thick-cut, apple-smoked bacon in hand, and went off to parts unknown. Soon he returned for another foray to the kitchen. He strode across the terrace again, another piece of bacon in hand.

As butler, Senecal is the first to see Donald in the morning.

“Mr. Trump sleeps like three or four hours a night,” Senecal says. “He gets up and he reads five or six newspapers every day. I’m here by 5 o’clock with the newspapers, and there are many times when he opens the door and says, ‘Let me have 'em.’”

Trump reads The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, New York’s Daily News, the Palm Beach Post and the Palm Beach Daily News, known locally as the "Shiny Sheet" because it is printed on smudge-proof high-quality paper so heiresses to America’s fortunes won’t get their fingers smeared with ink.

Senecal often serves Trump breakfast or dinner in his room.

“He doesn’t like to see the plate piled up with vegetables and stuff,” Senecal says. “He wants what he ordered. And if he ordered a steak, that’s what he wants. He doesn’t want it all globbed up with veggies. And you better bring some butter, and you better bring some ketchup.”

Melania, a stunning former model, is a “disciplined eater,” Senecal says.

“I don’t know why she has to watch her weight, but she does,” he observes. “In the morning, she’ll have a fruit plate and yogurt and a cappuccino. Then usually at noon, she’ll have something like salmon and a little mashed potatoes. Then at night, it could be a fruit plate again; it could be chicken.”

Asked about Donald’s quirks, Senecal says, “Once he decides that he’s going to go after somebody, he just does it. I mean it’s just incredible. Take the thing with Rosie O’Donnell. He just decided he didn’t like her. And he didn’t. He told everybody he didn’t like her. That’s the last person in the world I would want as an enemy.”

Donald’s widely publicized aversion to shaking hands is overblown, Senecal says. He does shake hands with people but doesn’t like to do so just before he eats.

As for Donald’s hair, “I don’t know a thing about his hair,” Senecal says.

'Red, White, and Blue American'

Usually Trump has a running feud with the town of Palm Beach, where anyone with less than $100 million is considered poor. The latest scandal revolved around an American flag Trump erected at Mar-a-Lago. Flying from a 70-foot pole, the flag’s overall dimensions are 15 times larger than the town’s restrictive regulations allow. Landmarks Commissioner William Hanley called the flag a “major affront to the town.”

The town responded to the indignity with a daily fine of $1,250. Trump sued for $25 million, claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated.

While Senecal rarely speaks to the press, when the Palm Beach Post inquired about the flag during the controversy, he said, “I think you can see it halfway from Cuba.” To me, Senecal explained, “Mr. Trump was born on Flag Day. He is a red, white, and blue American.”

Trump and the town eventually settled. The town agreed to let Donald keep the flag if he moved it to a less conspicuous location. Instead of paying the fine that then totaled $120,000, Trump agreed to donate $100,000 to veterans’ charities.

As an employer, Trump is both demanding and loyal, Senecal says.

“We were remodeling the bathrooms in the front hallway,” Senecal recalls. “We were all lined up at the front door when he came in on Friday. He looked around, and everybody’s kind of beaming, because the finished job looked nice. And then he goes over to the new fire alarm box and rubs his finger across it, and it was dusty. Everybody’s heart sank.”

Senecal says there are three things none of Trump’s more than 20,000 employees should do. “You don’t steal from him; you don’t lie to him; and you don’t embarrass him,” Senecal says.

Usually, if Trump decides to fire someone, he will go back to New York first and think about it.

“Then he’ll call up whoever’s in charge here and say, you know, ‘Get rid of . . . ’ Then there are times when he’s just said, ‘Get out of here. You’re fired.’ That’s when he’s really, really been upset over something. Like cutting the bougainvillea down or something like that.”

But wasn’t that a mistake?

“They should know better, so it’s not really a mistake,” he says.

Some years ago, when Senecal’s home air conditioning system gave out, Trump had it replaced. When Senecal had to undergo heart surgery, Trump called him the day before.

“So when do you go under the knife?” Trump asked.

“Tomorrow,” Senecal said.

“Well, if you don’t make it, don’t worry about it. You’ve had a good life,” Trump said.

And then Trump said, “Listen, I don’t want you going back to your place. You come and recuperate at Mar-a-Lago.”

Pamela Kessler contributed to this article.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

As personal butler to Donald Trump, Anthony P. “Tony” Senecal is not about to tell you about the gorgeous young women who swarmed after Donald before he married Melania Knauss. Nor will he disclose the secret of Donald’s hair. But Senecal will tell you what Donald is like...
Monday, 19 May 2008 09:52 AM
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