Town & Country: It’s been 13 years since Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson released his documentary about the children of one percenters. Here’s how things have changed for Trump and her fellow cast mates.
One day about 15 years ago, Ivanka Trump invited filmmaker Jamie Johnson—and a video camera—to tour her Trump Tower bedroom. The heir and heiress (he to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, she to her father’s real estate empire) were close friends, so when Johnson began casting “Born Rich,” his documentary about inherited wealth, Trump was a natural fit.
In that particular scene, Ivanka—then just 21 and a college student—takes Johnson around her the room, a pastel-painted palace with Beverly Hills 90210 posters on the walls, and sweeping, 68th-floor views of Central Park. “No matter what I hear about my parents, about my family, no matter what I read,” she says in the film, wearing a silver cross necklace and speaking in the same measured cadence she uses today, “the fact is that I’m absolutely proud to be a Trump.”
At the time, the 5-foot-11 Trump had modeled for Versace, appeared on the cover of Seventeen, and co-hosted the Miss Teen USA pageant her father owned, but she was essentially, as USA Today wrote in 1997, “a fashion-world curiosity.” “Born Rich,” which premiered at Sundance in January, 2003, was in many ways Trump’s public debut; she appeared alongside an impressive roster of moneyed co-stars, including S.I. Newhouse IV (grandson of Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse) and Georgina Bloomberg (daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg). It was a raw chronicle and time capsule of their privileged lives, released at a time when Paris Hilton was not yet a household name, the Kardashians were still going through puberty, and reality television was defined by average Joe-fronted programs like Survivor and Real World.
“In friends that I have now, the major quality I look for is sincerity,” Trump says in the film. Apparently she found the tall, pensive Johnson, who speaks in similarly precise phrases, sincere. The New Jersey native, who co-produced the movie with his childhood friend (and Trump’s ex-boyfriend) James “Bingo” Gubelmann, was a senior at NYU when his film premiered (Gubelmann did not respond to a request for an interview). He certainly never imagined that he’d still be talking about the movie 14 years after its release. Of course, he also couldn’t have imagined that a member of the cast would eventually go on to become America’s First Daughter with a West Wing office of her own.
“Whether her participating in the film and her support of it was an act of friendship or whether it was exclusively because she was interested in the meaning of the project,” Johnson says, “I couldn’t tell you, but she was always very supportive.” Indeed: Trump attended the Sundance premiere, and after “Born Rich” was acquired by HBO, she spoke at a presentation by the network at the Television Critics Association convention in Los Angeles the same year. “One of Ivanka’s nicest qualities is that she’s supportive of her friends and she’s loyal,” Johnson says.
Johnson’s other friends, however, weren’t as easily convinced. He asked around 50 fellow heirs to participate, and “people were reluctant,” he recalls. About 40 of them turned him down. “But there were instances where people came to me wanting to participate because they saw it as an opportunity to make a public statement about the impact of wealth on their own lives.”
Once the cameras started rolling, Johnson was pleased to see his subjects were very open about their lives. “They were more candid than what you might see today from children in similar circumstances,” he says. The precocious filmmaker, who was 23 when “Born Rich” was released, went on to make another documentary movie, The “One Percent,” in 2006, and wrote a column of the same name for Vanity Fair from 2008 to 2011. “Now people are much more camera-conscious and aware of shaping a public image,” he says.
Trump, it seems, was adept at using this moment to her advantage. While most of the 11 rich young people who appear in the film come off as conceited and naïve—alternately smug and clueless about their silver-spoon advantages—Trump pulled off the opposite: She managed to appear if not grounded, then at least appreciative.
“You would expect [Ivanka] to be a total horror. Instead, she is so gushingly grateful about her lot in life that it’s hard to dismiss her as anything other than spoiled,” wrote one critic in a 2003 review of the film. (Merely spoiled is, in this context, the best case scenario.) Another noted, “While snobbery is par for the course for many of Johnson’s subjects, the poised daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump, 21-year-old Ivanka, stands out from the well-bred crowd as a young woman who appreciates her position and is making it work for her.”
“From the very beginning, Ivanka personified the best of what it’s like to be a Trump: her public poise, her grace, and her ability to sound calm, collected, and stay on message,” says publicist and society columnist R. Couri Hay. (Through a spokesperson, Trump declined a request from T&C for an interview.)
Ivanka already knew the story she wanted to tell about herself. In the film, she says she’s always known what she wanted to do: “Rather than getting Barbie dolls—I used to get upset—I always wanted Legos or Erector sets,” she says. “I love looking at the New York skyline and being able to figure out what I’m going to add to that and what patch of sky one of my buildings will be in. I’ve always wanted to go into real-estate development.” This oft-repeated anecdote would go on to became part of Ivanka’s personal mythos—she would even use it during her speech at the Republican National Convention last summer, when she introduced her father.
Later, in an interview promoting the movie, Trump said she had a hard time identifying with the perspective of some of the other participants, telling USA Today, “the theme of the documentary is being able to go out into the world and not have to work. I can only imagine! It’s not an option I have. I’ve been told from the beginning that I have to work.” Her father, also quoted, is happy to put it in more colorful terms. “She’s on a budget that lives her very nicely but still in the realm of reality, as opposed to craziness. The rest of these kids, they come across as spoiled-brat children who don’t understand the world.”
According to Hay, Ivanka’s appearance in “Born Rich” was a canny move that ultimately catapulted her career. “What the Trumps are all about is a brand, and it launched her as the face of the brand,” says Hay, who covers the comings-and-goings of the New York elite for Avenue and Hamptons magazines. “I think she noticed that with her parents always in the papers, and always on television. She knew she wanted to be in front of the camera and she knew she had something to say.”
Johnson didn’t fare quite as well. At a party in Southampton following the film’s debut, a group of “Ivy League bankers from privileged families” called him “an idiot” and “a traitor to your class,” Johnson told the New York Times in a story about the response to the movie.
“It was a huge scandal when it came out,” says man-about-town Peter Davis, a writer and magazine editor who has spent more than two decades covering New York society. “I think that anyone who tries to write about or especially do a documentary about WASP culture and rich people is in for trouble. Nobody wants to talk in that group—and he got people to talk, because he’s from that world and he’s one of them.”
Georgina Bloomberg was indeed part of that world, but she was not as comfortable talking about it as her childhood friend Ivanka. “It was very clear even back then that she always knew the right thing to say. She really knew how to handle herself and was always very poised,” says Bloomberg, who was 19 when she invited the “Born Rich” film crew to visit her at a horse show as a favor to a friend she and Johnson shared.
Although her father, the ninth-richest man in the world, had recently been elected mayor of New York City, Bloomberg says, “I had no experience doing this. I had nobody representing me or controlling me.”
Looking back, Bloomberg says that she and her fellow co-stars “were all honest, some of us probably to a fault.” In the film, she griped that “having the last name Bloomberg sucks”—something she would not say today. “I’ve come to have a lot more respect for my parents and my last name and everything that my father has done and how hard he worked to provide a great life for us,” says Bloomberg. “It’s a last name that now I’m proud of. At 19, I wasn’t.”
Hay points out that Bloomberg, along with Trump and Johnson “turned their famous last names into currency in the media, which allowed them to promote things that they care about.” Bloomberg, a competitive show jumper, started a charity that makes riding clothes more accessible to people in need, has served on the boards of the U.S. Equestrian Team and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and was honored by the Humane Society of the United States for her animal welfare work. (The 34-year-old also has a son, Jasper, with her former partner, Argentine equestrian Ramiro Quintana.)
She says Trump is “still a good friend of mine,” and while the two “never” talk about their fathers and don’t see each other regularly, they correspond through “the occasional text and [offer] well wishes on big milestones in life.” Having children gave them a new bond.
When she thinks back about filming “Born Rich,” Bloomberg says it was “a really good learning experience” and doesn’t regret being in it—though she probably wouldn’t do it again. “It’s sort of like doing a reality show,” she says. “You can sit there and be completely honest and show people that you’re a good person … but at the end of the day, it’s left up to somebody else to edit, and [they can] piece it together and put you with other people who might make you look bad.”
Cody Franchetti, an Italian baron with Millikens and Rothschilds in his lineage, agreed to be in the film despite never having met Johnson: “I thought it was an interesting project because in America we have this culture of, shall we call it, ‘the aristocracy of dollars’ instead of ‘the aristocracy of blood.'” He felt inclined, he says, to represent the latter category—or, as he puts it, “Old World” money. “It’s the duty of the rich to cultivate themselves,” Franchetti tells Johnson in the film, citing one such example: “I’m reading a book and I’m thinking about a pussy, but I find when I get the pussy, I’m thinking about the book.”
While he may regret his choice of words, Franchetti was satisfied with how he was characterized. In retrospect, he says, “I was portrayed the way I wished.”
It’s a stark contrast to the sentiment of his co-star, Luke Weil, who ultimately sued Johnson and demanded his scenes be cut from the movie. In one particularly memorable scene, Weil, heir to a gaming-company fortune, brags that Brown University couldn’t kick him out because he was rich, even though, he says, “In my entire first year, I think I attended less than eight academic commitments.” In another, he sounds off on prenuptial agreements: “If this little ungrateful bitch has the nerve to [balk at a pre-nup], then she’s just a gold-digger and I don’t want to get married to her anyways.”
A New York court ruled in Johnson’s favor. “It’s buyer’s remorse,” Hay says. “The judge ruled it was very clear from the release, which was done by a top-tier entertainment lawyer in L.A., that this was a commercial project.”
A spokesperson for Weil declined T&C’s request for an interview, explaining: “Sadly Luke is unavailable for the next few months [because] he is near the Amazon building a clinic.” Weil’s LinkedIn profile currently lists him as the co-founder of Rios Nete, a healing and research center in Peru, and founder and CEO of Andina Acquisition Corporation, an investment firm focused on South America. Prior to his time in the Amazon, according to court records Weil pled guilty to misdemeanor assault in the third degree and reportedly spent time in a Tribeca detention center.
Franchetti, for his part, parlayed his 15 minutes of Born Rich fame into the beginnings of a career in the entertainment business. He attended film premieres alongside Lauren Bacall (the paparazzi were only interested in him, he says, because “she was a has-been in their view”); hired a publicist from PMK (“Nicole Kidman’s P.R.”); received an offer to be on The Bachelor (he declined); and filmed a reality TV show pilot with the E! channel (the concept entailed Franchetti using his money to turn an unknown stranger into a star).
After a few years in Los Angeles, Franchetti had what he calls “an existential—not crisis—but a change of what I wanted to do.” He spent six months on his family’s private island in Maine and then returned to New York, where he earned a masters in Modern European Studies at Columbia.
Today, Franchetti lives quietly. His Manhattan apartment is brimming with “maybe 5,000 volumes, and stacks [of books] four rows deep all the way up to the ceiling,” he says. He’s written for academic journals and has been at work on a book for the past three years. “I am working until the wee hours of the morning on it,” he says. “I used to be a socialite with a P.R. agent and now I’m a recluse. I haven’t been to a restaurant in six months.”
Johnson also lives quietly in the city, and has two film projects in the works. Neither are documentaries. While Black Sweater, a menswear line he launched a few years ago (Trump attended its launch party at Bergdorf Goodman in March 2011) is no more, Johnson still makes sweaters for family and friends.
Josiah Hornblower, a descendant of Whitneys and Vanderbilts whom Johnson has described as “thoughtful and introspective,” says his life has taken a similarly career-oriented turn. After working in finance in New York, Hornblower relocated to California before settling permanently in Austin, his hometown, where he now lives with his wife and two children. He’s launched two biotech companies (one of which, Pelican Therapeutics, won $15.2 million from the state of Texas in public funding last year). In Austin, he says, wealth is “very understated.”
When Hornblower agreed to participate in Johnson’s project more than a decade ago, he never expected the film to take off the way it did. To this day, he still experiences the lingering effects of Born Rich every time he Googles his name. “Would I have done it again? No,” admits Hornblower. “But I don’t spend a lot of time in life regretting anything. It’s been 15 years since Jamie interviewed me and a lot has changed.”
Indeed it has. Ivanka has put down her erector sets and now has an official role in her father’s White House. One thing that has never wavered is her commitment to being a Trump. “I’m proud of my family name and I’m proud of everything they’ve done and ever accomplished,” she says in the film. “It’s not a bad shadow to be under.”
Here’s what the rest of the “Born Rich” kids have been up to:
Stephanie Ercklentz: The finance heiress, who complained in the film that “my friends are at downtown Cipriani right now drinking bellinis and I’m here [at Merrill Lynch] crunching numbers that are never going to get looked at,” married hedge fund billionaire Charles “Chase” Payson Coleman III (a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York) in a 2005 ceremony at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. The photos on New York Social Diary are among the most recent of the couple, who reportedly paid $36.5 million for a full-sixth-floor apartment on the Upper East Side in 2008 and another $52 million last summer for the fifth-floor unit. Inside Philanthropy reports that their family foundation “gave away around $5.7 million in a recent year,” with priorities that include education and health. These days, Davis says, the Colemans are “the ultimate private people.” (A family representative did not respond to a request for an interview.)
Christina Floyd: In the film, the brunette daughter of professional golfer Raymond Floyd gives viewers a tour of the Hamptons, and when Johnson points out an African-American man on one of the courts at her tennis club, she says, “He’s probably a pro.” Since the film’s release, Floyd graduated from Wake Forest University with a bachelor’s degree in art history and launched her own art advisory business, Floyd Contemporary, according to the Daily Mail. She and Ivanka Trump have remained close friends: Ivanka referred to her as “my best friend” in 2007 and before her 2009 marriage Floyd told People, “Jared and Ivanka are good together. They understand each other perfectly.” Floyd herself married Emmanuel Di Donna, who was then the worldwide vice chairman of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s, where the couple met. He now runs an art gallery on the Upper East Side. Floyd did not reply to requests for an interview.
Juliet Hartford: When asked what she’d do with a million dollars in the film, the A&P grocery-store heiress quipped, “Give it all to the homeless, just kidding. I’d just have a few houses in like the Bahamas and London, and animals and a plane. A big art studio.” She spent the years following the film’s release tending to her ailing father at their home in Lyford Cay, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair story. In it she estimated that all that remained of the onetime $2 billion Hartford fortune was $11 million. Huntington Hartford died in 2008, and while it’s not clear what she’s doing today, a personal website with photography and video, juliethartford.com, is still live. Hartford did not respond to a request for an interview.
S.I. Newhouse IV: The Condé Nast publishing heir, who offered a tour of his Haverford College apartment and a peek at his fencing skills in the movie, told a college publication he was “flattered” that Johnson asked him to appear in the film (the two were a year apart at the Pingry School in New Jersey). “No regrets, not in the slightest,” he declared to Variety in 2003. After graduating from Haverford in 2003, Newhouse was reported to be “applying his English degree and creative writing concentration from Haverford to the world of publishing, specifically through an executive training program at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.” He married Sheila Bhashyam in 2009. That year, he was listed as a marketing manager for the digital business group at Condé Nast. The couple reportedly sold their loft at 55 North Moore Street in Tribeca for $2.7 million in 2012. Newhouse was not available for an interview.
Carlo Von Zeitshel: The great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II said in a 2008 interview that he was “not a fan” of “Born Rich”: “My friends and those I care about know me for who I am, and that is all that matters. A couple of sound bites out of context don’t make for an accurate portrait of a person.” After working for Morgan Stanley in Milan, he launched an art gallery, CVZ Contemporary, in Soho in 2004. Von Zeitschel did not respond to requests for an interview.
Watch “Born Rich” on YouTube here.
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