Waving to the crowd, the man with the most-talked-about hair in the world bounds onstage to the music of "Money, Money, Money," surrounded by the "Fun Girls"--tall, sexy models in short black skirts and white tank tops, who are leading the audience in a chant of "Trump, Trump, Trump..." Confetti sprinkles the stage and people wave conveniently supplied signs: "I Love You Donald," "Trump for President" and, naturally, "You're Fired!"
"Is everyone going to watch The Apprentice Monday night?" Donald Trump, wearing a huge smile, asks the crowd at the Dallas Convention Center. Four giant Trumps wave from screens set up across the front of the room. His worshippers roar back, "Yeah!" Some wave cell-phone cameras as they beam Trump's face to friends.
Standing behind a clear plastic lectern, Trump proceeds to earn $25,000 a minute telling the crowd how to "Think Big!" But he's less Big Boss than stand-up comic. Who knew? Maybe The Trumpster really wants an R-rated show on Comedy Central.
It's Sunday night and those in the audience paid anywhere from $30 to $500 (for VIP seating) to see Trump and to attend The Learning Annex's two-day Real Estate Wealth Expo. Former fire-walker Tony Robbins has whipped them into a frenzy learning how to "unleash the power." Grill-meister George Foreman has dished his "business secrets." And Mr. Cash Flow--Robert Kiyosaki--has inspired the poor dads to become rich dads.
Now it's down to the Big Man. Hawaiian-born Kiyosaki introduces Trump and tells the audience they will be writing a book together: From Millionaires to Billionaires. The crowd goes wild.
For 48 hours the hopeful have tromped from seminar to seminar to learn insiders' secrets about foreclosures, notes and mortgages, buying apartment buildings, acquiring abandoned property and, of course, "free money from the government." With 60 to 70 speakers to choose from, it's hard for neophytes to know who can get them on the fastest track to becoming a millionaire.
After bopping in and out of rooms listening to money, money, money, it was clear that the biggest business here is selling tapes, books and weekend training sessions. Exhibitors in a separate ballroom are hawking everything from foundation repair to coffee-shop franchises, condo cruise lines ("Own your own cruise ship!") to buying tourist rentals in France.
But when it comes to real estate savvy, The Donald is The King. That's why the Learning Annex founder and President Bill Zanker is paying him $1.5 million for giving a handful of one-hour lectures at real estate expos around the country. Trump starts his talk at 7:10 p.m. and is still taking questions from the audience at 9.
In a green-room interview before the speech, Trump says that nothing much he says in his talks now is different from talks he's given about success during his career. "You can go back a million years and forward a million years, but success never changes," Trump says. "It's all about knowledge. It's about never giving up."
So far this year, the Learning Annex has put on four other Real Estate Wealth Expos. A spokeswoman said more than 46,000 attended the expo in the red-hot real estate market of Los Angeles; more than 50,000 attended those in New York and Chicago, according to the company's publicity materials, and even more were expected in Dallas.
But there seemed to be considerably less real estate frenzy in Dallas. Before Trump's talk, it was announced that 18,000 people had bought tickets for the expo. Though it was billed as "sold out," the exhibit hall, set up with chairs for 5,000 people, had a lot of empty seats by the time Trump appeared. The Fun Girls were giving away tickets to the keynote speeches at the Mavericks game earlier in the week.
Maybe Trump will get the local market hopping. He came to Dallas not only to talk but to shop. "I'm going to be making a substantial investment in Dallas," Trump said. A reporter asked to follow Trump as he visited three potential sites. "Are you crazy?" Trump told him.
Sharon Lechter, co-author with Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, noticed that the audience in Dallas was a bit different from those in New York and Los Angeles. "In the crowd we saw a lot of families," Lechter says. "There were a lot of children. I met an 11-year-old who said he'd been reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad since he was 7."
While Paul Fegan, 14, and his 16-year-old brother George waited to hear Trump, they played with multicolored Slinkys given out by InCorp, one of the exhibitors. The teens came with their father, John Fegan, a residential developer in Colleyville, to see the popular Kiyosaki.
"He tells you how to get out of the rat race," George says, though he confesses that his father paid him $50 to read Rich Dad. Both want to attend Texas Christian University, dad's alma mater, and then make lots of money.
Father Fegan may have gotten a little more than he bargained for. Trump's speech started with some PG-rated advice--love what you do, never think anything is easy, don't lose your focus, know your subject, always stay a little paranoid--then slid into four-letter words, innuendo and double-entendres.
"Get the best people and then don't trust the bastards."
"Winning is so important. I'd like to say losing is OK, but it's not. Losing is shit."
After more than an hour, Trump asks the audience for questions, "preferably sexually oriented." The people who didn't bring their kids love it.
"Thank you for coming," says one young woman. "What do you mean by that?" says Trump, with the lift of an eyebrow.
Why does Trump do it? Last year, Forbes magazine put his fortune at $2.7 billion. (According to the Village Voice, last month Trump sued Timothy O'Brien, author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, for $2.5 billion for saying he was only worth $250 million.) Even for $1.5 million, it's not about the money. Trump takes questions long after anyone would expect him to, lapping up the crowd's praise and even accepting business cards from a few pushy folks dying to become his apprentices.
Now 60, Trump has been famous a long time, but the nature of his celebrity has changed with The Apprentice. It's almost as if he's playing a character: Donald Trump, rich, smart and salacious, with the knowledge that every heterosexual male in America is jealous of him. They know he didn't get Ivana, Marla and Melania with his looks. Trump plays his character with both self-deprecating charm and self-aggrandizing wit.
Though born rich, educated at the Wharton School of Business, he's still everyman. Like Joe Schmoe down the street, Trump went bust and went through two nasty divorces. Even Trump's hair has that poor-schlub quality. To a guy who asks why he wears a hairpiece, Trump pushes his 'do back from his forehead. "I get so abused about my frickin' hair," he says. "It's mine!"
But Trump got his fortune back and more. And his third trophy wife is expecting his fifth child.
So when an Aggie asks The Donald for advice on how to get a supermodel--"Make a shitload of money," Trump says--everyone knows he's telling the truth. At least about supermodels.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- That's It Then: The Cowboys 2015 Season Gets Put Out of Its Misery
Sun., Nov. 29, 2:00pm
Tue., Dec. 1, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 4, 7:00am
Fri., Dec. 4, 7:05pm
- The Cowboys' 5 Biggest Thanksgiving Turkeys
- Live From London: Your Holiday Weekend Weather Apocaforecast