‘Donald Trump is my friend. He was extremely good to me when I needed it’

New York gossip queen Cindy Adams on Trump, Murdoch and her column’s enduring appeal

Firm friends: Cindy Adams with her husband, Joey, and Donald Trump at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1991. Photograph: Ron Galella via Getty

Firm friends: Cindy Adams with her husband, Joey, and Donald Trump at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1991. Photograph: Ron Galella via Getty

 

Cindy Adams, the long-serving gossip queen of the New York Post, was battling Hurricane Ida in her Manhattan apartment. Her terriers were disturbed, and she was not sleeping. “A glass-enclosed penthouse is not good,” she said. “The pounding of the rain. And not just rain, the thunder. I was up all night.”

The morning after, as blue skies returned, the 91-year-old was back at work, compiling her column just as she has done, five days a week, since 1979, and signing them off: “Only in New York, kids, only in New York.”

Over the past several weeks Adam’s star has gone through a transmutation. Gossip, a four-part Showtime documentary focused on the rise and, in some respects, fall of the art of the gossip industry, has just been was released. Adams is heavily featured.

This is the Big Apple. The big sin city. The city where you can do anything, where you can get dirty pictures, a hooker. You can get anything you goddamn want in the world. So it brings everybody like moths to a flame

“This is it, this is the Big Apple. The big sin city. The city where you can do anything. Get a hamburger at two in the morning, where you can get dirty pictures, a hooker. You can get anything you goddamn want in the world. So it brings everybody like moths to a flame,” Adams said, offering a consistently upbeat message of the Naked City past, present and future.

“They come from their little townships or villages. They live a reasonably nice life. They come to New York and it all goes to hell. I don’t know what they’re like in their home towns, but when they get here for five days they turn into wild people. The ones who stay get devoted to the city.”

The New York Post, is of course, a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, his first in the United States – ownership of the Wall Street Journal came much later. Newsprint, it is widely reported, is the media baron’s first love and a trumpet for his viewpoint of power, and who is currently wielding it. “Of course we’re friends,” Adams says of her boss. “I have an intense love of the New York Post because I’m a New Yorker and it’s the smart mouth of New York.

“You can’t go the Hamptons, or go out to dinner, if you haven’t read the Post, because you’ll have nothing to talk about. It is the quintessentially smart mouth of New York, and we who work on it have a bit of that.”

Gossip queen: Cindy Adams in her Park Avenue penthouse in New York. Photograph: Daniel Arnold/New York Times
Gossip queen: Cindy Adams in her Park Avenue penthouse in New York. Photograph: Daniel Arnold/New York Times

In that sense Adams’s beat is the whole city, its powerbrokers and the gossip that surrounds them, often like a bad perfume. She’s a sharp operator who probably would mind being described as a tough broad. “My loyalty is to anyone who will give me the best quote or the best story,” she says.

Her mother, a single parent, worked as a secretary in the water department. (She later married an insurance agent.) Adams came to gossip – a term she doesn’t care for – via the comedian Joey Adams, her husband from 1952 to his death, in 1999. “To Joey, this was the most exciting job on earth, and I got pushed into it,” she says. In fact, her husband and the famed columnist Walter Winchell were brothers-in-law. It was Winchell who famously said, “Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.”

In her home, the walls and ceiling are plastered with Post scoops, themselves tributes to the energy of the city. Donald Trump features prominently, along with Harvey Weinstein and a four-decade parade of dubious characters.

Curiously, though, there’s no Jeffrey Epstein, an absence that suggests he was a nonentity in social and power terms. “I didn’t know him. Never met him. If I did, I didn’t have any reaction to him,” Adams says.

Harvey Weinstein is a different story. Weinstein was subject to countless blind items – articles in which the details of a matter are reported but the identities of the people involved are not – in the Post’s Page Six column and used the tabloid to promote himself, just as the tabloid used him. “Harvey Weinstein didn’t want to live in Tulsa,” she notes.

When I was a new kid on the block, 1,000 years ago, anyone could get a story about a movie star or a TV star. I needed to become something, and I began to find ways to get stories that simply nobody else would have

With the release of the documentary has come new recognition for Adams, but also criticism. Adams is known for making friends, or at least having contacts, with a succession of international rogues, among them the Indonesian president Kusno Sosrodihardjo, aka Sukarno, of whom she cowrote an autobiography in 1965, and Imelda Marcos, the widow of widow of the former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. Criticism for those associations has amplified by the documentary.

“It’s a valid point,” Adams concedes. “When I was a new kid on the block, 1,000 years ago, I was eager to get stories that nobody else could get. Anyone could get a story about a movie star or a TV star. I needed to become something, and I began to find ways to get stories that simply nobody else would have.”

But there’s a second point, she says, which underscores the New York mentality. “These important people like a general or a president are not used to the New York mentality. With Sukarno, people would approach him on their stomachs in the Javanese way. I kissed him on the forehead and called him honey. I was doing what I could do to make them laugh or smile. It was very New York, and that’s what it was.”

Her friendship with Trump still rankles many. Adams acted as Trump’s mouthpiece during a divorce battle. (Trump’s then wife, Ivana, went to the New York Daily News columnist Liz Smith. ) Cindy and Donald had been introduced by Roy Cohn, the fearsome attorney, who, she says, “is what he is – he was awful. I was just a kid, so I meant nothing to him.”

But Cohn had use for her husband, who acted a toastmaster at dinners for important people, and Trump learned from Cohn how to use the press to further his goals. Trump and Adams became fast friends, so much so that she avoided writing about him for the four years of his presidency.

Donald Trump utilised everything he could to get his name out. That’s how he made his name to begin with. That’s why Roy Cohn told me in the 70s, ‘This kid is going to become something in New York. He’s going to run the city’

“It wasn’t easy, but I believe in intense loyalty. He’s my friend and extremely good to me when I needed it after my husband passed away. I don’t forget something like that.”

In that Trump understood – and understands – how to work the media, now with the self-publishing subsets of social media, is it correct to call his the first tabloid presidency?

“He utilised the press, he utilised everything he could to get his name out. That’s how he made his name to begin with. That’s why Roy Cohn told me in the 70s, ‘This kid is going to become something in New York. He’s going to run the city.’”

Adams was standing by Trump on the night of his election victory, watching seven TV screens from the middle of his office as everyone stood back. “He said to me, ‘Do you remember what Roy Cohn said?’ It was the night that this kid became president of the United States.”

Gossip queen: Cindy Adams with some New York Post front pages in her Park Avenue penthouse. Photograph: Daniel Arnold/NYT
Gossip queen: Cindy Adams with some New York Post front pages in her Park Avenue penthouse. Photograph: Daniel Arnold/NYT

Gossip has received positive reviews. An equally good, if fictionalised, take can be found in the Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis masterpiece Sweet Smell of Success. But Adams hasn’t found approval from all quarters.

A reporter from New York magazine described her column as “reporting of the kitten heel rather than the shoe leather – proudly transactional, rarely transparent, tailored not for the public interest but for private grievance or professional manoeuvring or petty warfare”.

But Adams, in her 10th decade, gives as good as she gets. “She had a bit of an attitude, and I understood I was going to be castigated. If a lady comes to you and she has long blond hair, and she thinks you’re not noticing it – and I notice everything, it’s what I do … She placed it down one shoulder and then the other, repeatedly. It’s a nervous tic that shows insecurity.”

Adams shows no sign of giving up on her beat. It’s not for everyone, but she has opinions on how gossip itself hasn’t changed but its forums have. “When I started it was once a charming, amusing little fun thing. Now everyone is doing it. Every broadcast, every journalist, every newspaper. It’s in varying forms, but it is gossip. It’s infiltrated the entire world.”

As goes Cindy Adams, so goes New York – and, in her estimation, the world. “For all its problems, it’s still the capital of the world. You can’t get away from it. You can’t get tougher and smarter and richer and glossier than you can here. It isn’t going to happen in Poughkeepsie.” – Guardian

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