Con­fi­dent. In­cor­ri­gi­ble. Bully.

Lit­tle Donny was a lot like can­di­date Don­ald Trump. Long be­fore he at­tained vast wealth and fame, the as­pir­ing pres­i­dent was mak­ing an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion HE WAS TRUMP IN MINIA­TURE, AN EMBRYONIC VER­SION OF THE BOM­BAS­TIC, FLAM­BOY­ANT CAN­DI­DATE WHO HAS DOMI


AS A FIVE-YEAR-OLD, the boy fol­lowed his babysit­ter on an ur­ban sa­fari, de­scend­ing into a sewer that was un­der con­struc­tion be­neath New York City. The light fad­ing, the sit­ter grew con­cerned that the boy would panic. But lit­tle Donny Trump kept walk­ing into the gath­er­ing dark­ness.

In el­e­men­tary school, Donny im­pressed class­mates with his ath­leti­cism, shenani­gans and re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge mis­takes, even one so triv­ial as misiden­ti­fy­ing a pop­u­lar pro­fes­sional wrestler.

No mat­ter his pals’ ridicule, one re­called, he dou­bled down, in­sist­ing wrestler An­tonino Rocca’s name was “Rocky An­tonino.”

At the mil­i­tary academy where he at­tended high school, Donny grew taller, more mus­cu­lar and tougher.

Struck with a broom­stick dur­ing a fight, he tried to push a fel­low cadet out a sec­ond-floor win­dow, only to be thwarted when two other stu­dents in­ter­vened.

Long be­fore he at­tained vast wealth and far-reach­ing fame, Don­ald J. Trump left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion in the pros­per­ous Queens neigh­bour­hood where he evolved from a mis­chievous, in­cor­ri­gi­ble boy into a swag­ger­ing young man.

He was Trump in minia­ture, an embryonic ver­sion of the bom­bas­tic, flam­boy­ant can­di­date who has dom­i­nated the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, more than three dozen of his child­hood friends, class­mates and neigh­bours said in in­ter­views.

Even Trump has ac­knowl­edged the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween him­self as an adult and when he was the boy friends al­ter­nately re­ferred to as “Donny,” “The Trum­pet” and “Flat Top” (for his hair).

“When I look at my­self in the first grade and I look at my­self now, I’m ba­si­cally the same,” the 70-year-old pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee once told a bi­og­ra­pher. “The tem­per­a­ment is not that dif­fer­ent.”

His face crowned with a strik­ing blond pom­padour, young Don­ald com­manded at­ten­tion with his play­ground taunts, class­room dis­rup­tions and dis­tinc­tive coun­te­nance, even then his lips pursed in a way that would in­spire fu­ture mim­ics.

Taller than his class­mates, he ex­uded an easy con­fi­dence and in­de­pen­dence.

“Who could for­get him?” said Ann Trees, 82, who taught at Kew-For­est School, where Trump was a stu­dent through sev­enth grade.

“He was head­strong and de­ter­mined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face — I use the word surly — al­most dar­ing you to say one thing or an­other that wouldn’t set­tle with him.”

A fierce com­peti­tor, Trump could erupt in anger, pum­melling an­other boy or smash­ing a base­ball bat if he made an out, two child­hood neigh­bours said. In school, he mis­be­haved so of­ten that his ini­tials be­came his friends’ short­hand for de­ten­tion.

His fa­ther Fred C. Trump’s suc­cess as a real es­tate de­vel­oper paid for the pri­vate schools, lim­ou­sines and 23room house to which Don­ald and his four sib­lings grew ac­cus­tomed.

Yet Don­ald also learned that com­fort and se­cu­rity could be fleet­ing if his grades and behaviour were poor.

When Don­ald was 13, his fa­ther abruptly sent him to a mil­i­tary board­ing school, where in­struc­tors struck him if he mis­be­haved and the re­quire­ments in­cluded daily in­spec­tions and strict cur­fews.

“He was es­sen­tially ban­ished from the fam­ily home,” said his bi­og­ra­pher, Michael D’An­to­nio. “He hadn’t known any­thing but liv­ing with his fam­ily in a lux­u­ri­ous set­ting, and all of a sud­den he’s sent away. That’s a rough way to start out in life.”

Trump, in an in­ter­view with the Wash­ing­ton Post, de­scribed his years at the mil­i­tary academy in rosier terms, say­ing his par­ents thought the dis­ci­pline “would be good for me be­cause I was ram­bunc­tious.”

“I was a wise guy, and they wanted to get me in line,” he said. “Think­ing back, it was a very pos­i­tive in­flu­ence.”

If noth­ing else, the mil­i­tary academy taught young Don­ald a les­son that would prove valu­able in adult­hood as he nav­i­gated two di­vorces, bank­ruptcy and reg­u­lar spasms of bad pub­lic­ity: No mat­ter the cri­sis, he could pre­vail.

IN JA­MAICA ES­TATES, the Queens neigh­bour­hood where Don­ald grew up, the Trumps’ house on Mid­land Park­way was dis­tinct, if not for its size then for what it sug­gested about the wealth of its builder, Fred Trump.

Seven­teen brick steps led up a slop­ing hill to the en­trance, which was framed by a colo­nial-style por­tico, a stained-glass crest and six white col­umns. Two Cadil­lacs were in the drive­way, their li­cence plates bear­ing their owner’s ini­tials, “FCT1” and “FCT2.”

“No one had in­di­vid­u­al­ized li­cence plates in those days,” said Ann Ru­dovsky, who grew up nearby. “Ev­ery­one talked about the Trumps be­cause of the house and the cars.”

Un­like most fam­i­lies in the neigh­bour­hood, the Trumps had a cook, a chauf­feur and an in­ter­com sys­tem. Their colour tele­vi­sion, a rar­ity at the time, was among the Trumps’ ac­cou­trements that most im­pressed Mark Gold­ing, Don­ald’s child­hood friend.

“He had the most amaz­ing train set,” re­called Gold­ing, a lawyer in Port­land, Ore. “He had all these spe­cial gad­gets and gates and switches, more ex­ten­sive than any­thing I’d seen. I was very en­vi­ous.”

Don­ald is the fourth of Fred and Mary Trump’s five chil­dren, the first of whom, Fred Jr., a gre­gar­i­ous air­line pi­lot, suf­fered from al­co­holism and died at the age of 43. Maryanne Trump, Don­ald’s older sis­ter, be­came a U.S. Ap­peals Court judge. An­other sis­ter, El­iz­a­beth, was an ad­min­is­tra­tive sec­re­tary. His younger brother, Robert, went into busi­ness.

Their mother, Mary, a Scot­tish im­mi­grant, rel­ished at­ten­tion, thrust­ing her­self to the cen­tre of so­cial gath­er­ings. She also loved pageantry, spend­ing hours watch­ing on TV the 1953 corona­tion of Queen El­iz­a­beth.

Mary Trump suf­fered a hem­or­rhage af­ter Robert’s birth that forced doc­tors to per­form an emer­gency hys­terec­tomy. She also de­vel­oped an ab­dom­i­nal in­fec­tion that re­quired sev­eral more surg­eries, dur­ing which she nearly died.

At one point, Fred Trump in­formed his daugh­ter that her mother “wasn’t ex­pected to live, but I should go to school and he’d call me if any­thing changed,” Maryanne Trump once told Gwenda Blair, who au­thored a de­tailed his­tory of the fam­ily. “That’s right — go to school as usual!”

Maryanne Trump de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle ex­cept to say, “He’s still a sim­ple boy from Queens. You can quote me on that.” Nei­ther El­iz­a­beth nor Robert Trump re­sponded to mes­sages.

Fred Trump, with his thick mous­tache and hair combed back, was a stern, for­mal man who in­sisted on wear­ing a tie and jacket at home. A con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can who ad­mired Barry Gold­wa­ter, Fred Trump and his wife for­bade their chil­dren from curs­ing, call­ing each other nick­names and wear­ing lip­stick.

Fred Trump “was re­ally very kind of tight-fisted,” said Peter Brant, a newsprint mag­nate who was among Don­ald’s clos­est child­hood friends. “He didn’t give Don­ald a whole bunch of rope.”

When Fred Trump vis­ited one of his con­trac­tors, he some­times brought Don­ald along and hired a teenage boy who lived next door to watch him dur­ing the meet­ing. One af­ter­noon, re­called the sit­ter, Frank Briggs, 81, he led Trump on a sewer ad­ven­ture dur­ing which “it was pitch black and you couldn’t see the en­trance.”

“The thing that amazed me,” Briggs said, “was that Donny wasn’t scared. He just kept walk­ing.”

Den­nis Burn­ham was four years younger and lived around the cor­ner from Don­ald. He in­her­ited his own im­pres­sion of his neigh­bour from his mother, who warned that he should “stay away from the Trumps.”

“Don­ald was known to be a bully. I was a lit­tle kid, and my par­ents didn’t want me beaten up,” said Burn­ham, 65, a busi­ness con­sul­tant in Texas.

Once when she left Den­nis in a playpen in a back­yard ad­join­ing the Trumps’ prop­erty, Martha Burn­ham re­turned to find Don­ald throw­ing rocks at her son. “She saw Don­ald stand­ing at the fence,” Den­nis Burn­ham said, “us­ing the playpen for tar­get prac­tice.”

FOR KINDER­GARTEN, Don­ald went to the pri­vate Kew-For­est School, which re­quired skirts for girls and ties and blaz­ers for boys. Ev­ery­one had to rise when their teacher en­tered the class­room.

Don­ald was among a group of boys who pulled girls’ hair, passed notes and talked out of turn. “We threw spit­balls and we played rac­ing chairs with our desks, crash­ing them into other desks,” re­called Paul Onish, a class­mate, de­scrib­ing him­self and Trump as “prob­a­bly the two worst.”

Don­ald spent enough time in de­ten­tion, Onish said, that his bud­dies nick­named the pun­ish­ment “DTs” — short for “Donny Trump.”

“He had a rep­u­ta­tion for say­ing any­thing that came into his head,” said Don­ald Kass, 70, a re­tired agron­o­mist who was a school­mate. When Trump misiden­ti­fied Rocca, the pro wrestler, Kass re­called, “We would laugh at him and tell him he was wrong, and he’d say he was right. The next time, he would make the same mis­take, and it would be the same thing all over again.”

In his neigh­bour­hood, Don­ald and his friends were known to ride their bikes and “shout and curse very loudly,” said Steve Nachti­gall, who lived nearby. Nachti­gall said he once saw them jump off their bikes and beat up an­other boy.

“It’s kind of like a lit­tle video snip­pet that re­mains in my brain be­cause I think it was so un­usual and ter­ri­fy­ing at that age,” re­called Nachti­gall, 66, a doc­tor in New Jer­sey. “He was a loud­mouth bully.”

At times, Trump’s class­mates fought back.

Af­ter he yanked her pig­tails, Sharon Maz­zarella hit Don­ald over the head with her metal lunch pail as she fol­lowed him down the stairs out­side the school. “I must’ve been quite an­noyed,” Maz­zarella said.

In his mem­oir, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump wrote that his main fo­cus as a young­ster was “cre­at­ing mis­chief.” As a sec­ond-grader, he wrote, he “ac­tu­ally” gave his mu­sic teacher a black eye be­cause “I didn’t think he knew any­thing about mu­sic, and I al­most got ex­pelled.”

Asked about the punch re­cently, Trump said, “When I say ‘punch,’ when you’re that age, no­body punches very hard.”

IF HIS GRADES SUF­FERED and he an­noyed his teach­ers, Trump found suc­cess on the play­ground.

Dur­ing dodge ball games, he was known for jump­ing and pulling his knees up to avoid balls thrown at him.

“The Trum­pet was al­ways the last man stand­ing,” re­called Chris­man Scherf, 70, a class­mate who is a surgeon in Ari­zona.

IN 1958, when they were 12, Trump and Brant (the newsprint mag­nate) liked to board an E train bound for Man­hat­tan, a dis­tant land of soar­ing, ex­otic prom­ise. They did not ask their par­ents for per­mis­sion for their Saturday ex­pe­di­tions. Man­hat­tan was too far and too dan­ger­ous for two boys from the tran­quil, lowslung reaches of Queens.

Ex­it­ing the train at 53rd Street and Fifth Av­enue, Don­ald and Peter felt like an ur­ban ver­sion of Lewis and Clark. They ex­plored Cen­tral Park’s bu­colic re­cesses, watched African-Amer­i­can men play bas­ket­ball on courts along the East River and ob­served the pan­han­dlers and hus­tlers in mid­town.

Around Times Square, they dis­cov­ered nov­elty shops, where they bought stink bombs, hand buzzers and fake vomit — per­fect ac­ces­sories for prank­ing their pals.

The shops also sold switch­blades. On Broad­way, “West Side Story” was a smash, and the boys, imag­in­ing them­selves as gang mem­bers, bought knives to fit the part.

Near the end of sev­enth grade, Fred dis­cov­ered Don­ald’s knives and was in­fu­ri­ated to learn about his trips into the city. He de­cided his son’s behaviour war­ranted a rad­i­cal change. In the months be­fore eighth grade, Fred Trump en­rolled Don­ald at the New York Mil­i­tary Academy, a board­ing school 70 miles from Ja­maica Es­tates.


Trump wore a crew cut, a thick wool uni­form and was awo­ken daily with a record­ing of reveille.

In­stead of steaks pre­pared by his fam­ily’s cook, Don­ald sat in a crowded mess hall and filled his plate from vats of meat loaf, spaghetti and some­thing called “mys­tery moun­tains,” a stew of deep­fried left­overs re­made as meat­balls.

In­stead of his own bath­room, he had to shower with fel­low cadets.

In­stead of his fa­ther, Don­ald’s new taskmas­ter was Theodore Do­bias, a nonon­sense com­bat vet­eran who had served in the Sec­ond World War and had seen Mus­solini’s dead body hang­ing.

Do­bias, who died re­cently, would smack his cadets with an open hand if they ig­nored him, stu­dents re­called. He set up a box­ing ring and forced stu­dents with poor grades and dis­ci­plinary prob­lems to fight each other.

Do­bias said he rec­og­nized in Trump an in­nate drive: “He wanted to be No. 1. He wanted to be no­ticed. He wanted to be rec­og­nized. And he liked com­pli­ments.”

Trump won medals for neat­ness and took pride in his grades. He dis­tin­guished him­self on both the base­ball and foot­ball teams.

IN HIS SE­NIOR YEAR, the academy ap­pointed Trump to the pres­ti­gious po­si­tion of cap­tain of A Com­pany.

As a leader, re­called Peter Tick­tin, a com­pany pla­toon sergeant, Trump could in­spire re­spect with­out rais­ing his voice.

“He never yelled at any­one,” said Tick­tin, now a Florida lawyer who touts Trump’s can­di­dacy on his Face­book page.

“He’d just look at you, the eye­brows kind of raised. The kind of look that said you can’t dis­ap­point him.”

Once, Trump led a drill team in New York City’s Colum­bus Day pa­rade. Stand­ing on Fifth Av­enue, Trump turned to Maj. An­thony “Ace” Castel­lano and de­clared his am­bi­tion.

“You know what, Ace?” Castel­lano re­called Trump say­ing.

“I’d re­ally like to own some of this real es­tate some day.”

In his 18th year, Don­ald Trump had a clear sense of his own destiny, a vi­sion he shared with a fel­low cadet, Jeff Orte­nau.

“I’m go­ing to be very fa­mous one day,” Don­ald promised.

“You know what?” Orte­nau re­calls telling Trump. “You’re prob­a­bly go­ing to be pres­i­dent.”


From left, Mark Gold­ing, Don­ald Trump, Irik Sevin, Peter Brant, Paul Onish and Mal­colm Mal­lory at Onish’s bar mitz­vah. All six boys at­tended Kew-For­est School in Queens.

Don­ald Trump stands next to his school teacher in the top row. This photo is from the year­book for Trump’s last year at Kew-For­est.

Don­ald Trump and Peter Brant, both about 11 years old, play­ing with snorkel gear in the pool of the Roney Plaza Ho­tel in Mi­ami Beach.

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