I try to walk everywhere. Not just because walking is good exercise or because I’m convinced that sitting in traffic with the meter running causes heart disease, but because you never know when you’ll run into a celebrity. For example, I was strolling up Park Avenue recently, past the Waldorf-Astoria, when I suddenly found myself being shooed off the sidewalk by the cops. The cause of the inconvenience wasn’t a hostage situation or some cockamamie new idea of the Mayor’s to alleviate gridlock by turning the sidewalks over to buses, but a TV commercial that Ivana Trump was shooting for Kentucky Fried Chicken in a horse-drawn carriage in front of St. Bartholomew’s church.
According to William Lever, an account manager with Ogilvy & Mather’s London office, and one of several on the scene, the product to which the costume-jewelry queen had lent her gold-plated name was the Fillet Tower Burger, a hefty treat that, alas, will be available only in Britain.
“It’s chicken fillet, hash brown, cheese, mayo with ketchup at the bottom and a bit of everything,” Mr. Lever explained with relish. “That’s why it’s called a Tower.”
The commercial, as saturated with double-entendre as the Fillet Tower Burger undoubtedly is with calories, opens on Mrs. Trump, resplendent in a royal blue dress and lots of jewelry, as she emerges from her limousine and overhears some sad sack, played by comic Ryan Stiles, telling another man, “I’ve got this mad urge to buy a Tower.” Mrs. Trump naturally assumes he means the kind with arresting views of Central Park and a 24-hour concierge service.
“Ooh! I love a man with a tower,” she coos.
“The other version of the burger, please,” barked Tim Pope, the commercial’s director. The crew had been shooting since 7 A.M. and it was now nightfall. I asked Mr. Lever what the other version included, guessing bacon. But he said it was the same burger, just a different box.
At that moment, a horrible clatter arose down the block. It was Margaret, the nag who normally pulls the carriage in which Mrs. Trump and Mr. Stiles were now filming. Margaret was expressing her dissatisfaction at being momentarily hitched to a lamppost by putting a serious hurt on a newspaper box with several solid kicks. Then some street musician started playing the bagpipes on the other side of Park Avenue. That’s not the sort of thing that conjures up Big Apple chic to the average Brit, or for that matter enhances Mrs. Trump’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” allure. Speaking of which, I feel compelled to report that she looked absolutely fabulous. For all the horror stories one hears about cosmetic surgery, Ivana Trump is living proof that with enough money and the right doctor any woman can look like a chick in an Archie comic.
To my disappointment, Mr. Lever informed me that the tower-loving line had been cut, though he denied that its Freudian overtones caused Mrs. Trump to exercise script approval.
“She’s really good fun, absolutely into the concept,” insisted Marcus Vinton, another member of the Ogilvy & Mather team that had flown in for the shoot.
A break was called and Mrs. Trump stepped off the carriage like Cinderella as a crowd of cops, tourists, homebound commuters and paparazzi (most of whom seemed to be in the employ of Kentucky Fried Chicken) formed a respectful semicircle around her. However, nobody was permitted an audience except for a handsome young man in a velvet sports coat who chatted with Mrs. Trump as an equal while she held up one side of a copy of the British tabloid The Sun as he held up the other and the cameras flashed away.
“That’s Bill Coles,” whispered a publicist. “He covered Louise Woodward for The Sun.”
Britain may be the only nation on earth whose journalistic standards are more shameless than our own. To wit: The publicist explained that The Sun was the Fillet Tower Burger’s “media partner,” which apparently gave Mr. Coles exclusive access to Mrs. Trump.
“He would say, ‘You’ll never guess what happened to me,’” explained the publicist, predicting the sort of caption that might run under the picture. “‘I met Ivana.’”
Unfortunately, I didn’t. After the photo op, Mrs. Trump was ushered into her blocklong black limousine for the ride to her Winnebago, which was parked on the corner. Luckily, Mr. Stiles, after shooting an “E.P.K.,” an electronic press kit on the making of the commercial, made himself available for a brief interview.
Working with Mrs. Trump was a pleasure. “She has a better sense of humor than I thought,” he said, “and she loves her chicken.” He added that the unalloyed affection New Yorkers displayed for their queen-now that Leona Helmsley has come into her inheritance and no longer has to work for a living-had taken him somewhat by surprise. “Now I know what it feels like to be in a parade,” he said. “She’s constantly waving to people.”
Mr. Stiles, who enjoys a cult following in England as a member of the cast of the improv program Whose Line Is It Anyway? and appears in the United States on The Drew Carey Show , confessed that Mrs. Trump’s former husband came up in conversation, though only briefly. “I told her I worked with Donald,” he confided. “She said, ‘Oh.’”
Suddenly, the limo returned-in reverse. Apparently, it hadn’t deposited the hard-working Slav at her Winnebago or taken her ahead to the Plaza, the shoot’s final location, where her word was once law and where the rain that was now falling would undoubtedly mingle with bittersweet memories. For the next half-hour, the car didn’t move at all as the crew shot its door opening and closing while Mrs. Trump sat inside not doing much of anything except being a good sport.
The ad’s climax comes after Mrs. Trump goes off with Mr. Stiles in the hopes that he’s going to buy her a skyscraper. Of course he purchases a Tower burger instead. “So, Ivana. Have you had a Tower before?” he asks guilelessly. Swallowing her disappointment that he isn’t a billionaire and possible boyfriend material, “She bites into the mighty burger,” according to the script, and then vanishes into the Manhattan mist with Mr. Stiles as the words “Finger Lickin’ Good” run across the screen.
However, the Ogilvy & Mather people warned me the finished commercial may depart from the script thanks to Mrs. Trump’s creative input.
“She’s been brilliant at improving the end line of the commercial,” said Mr. Pope, who unfortunately couldn’t recall the precise nature of Mrs. Trump’s contribution since he couldn’t hear it. “We were in the middle of a bloody traffic jam and then somebody started to play the bagpipes,” he complained as the rain ran down his eyeglasses in rivulets.
The church ladies who run the bookstore at St. Bart’s were also a little peeved, reporting that business in religious books and trinkets had come to a standstill because of the commercial shoot. “They blocked our store and nobody came in,” one of them groused.
It also looked as if the 5:30 service was going to be a bust. Still, that didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of several male choir members who stood at the top of the church’s stairs in flowing white and blue robes and watched the crew strike the set. Not only had Ivana Trump graced their presence, one of them noted, but it was also Epiphany.
“Our cup runneth over,” he said, his eyes rolling heavenward.