When Donald Trump was president, the world should have been Cindy Adams’s oyster.
Forgive me for this reference, but she seemed destined to be the Ben Bradlee to Mr. Trump’s J.F.K.
The White House had come onto her turf. The chief executive was her old pal. Mr. Trump was the first tabloid president, a creature of the New York gossip columns. That was the litter box in which he sharpened his claws and perfected his media sorcery.
Ms. Adams, who attended all three of Mr. Trump’s weddings and covered both of his divorces as if they were Watergate, seemed the best positioned to get scoops out of the new president.
She stood next to him at Trump Tower on election night in 2016. He reminded her of what the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn had told her back in the 1970s: “One day this kid is going to own New York.”
It was expected that she would get even more New York Post headlines than she did in 1990, when she broke many of the salacious stories about Mr. Trump’s affair with “the Georgia peach,” Marla Maples, and his ensuing split from Ivana. “GIMME THE PLAZA!” one Cindy front-page headline blared, describing Ivana’s purported divorce demands. She was channeling the Donald, dueling with her rival, Liz Smith, who broke bulletins from Ivana in The New York Daily News.
And, Ms. Adams had made a career of being a sympathetic ear to Sukarno, the shah of Iran, Manuel Noriega, Imelda Marcos and Leona Helmsley. She certainly would have had no trouble getting a good seat in the White House briefing room. And yet. …
“I stayed away so I would be safe,” Ms. Adams said, pointing out that everyone in Mr. Trump’s orbit seems to crash, sooner or later. She noted that, a few days before our interview, Trump’s buddy Tom Barrack was arrested in Los Angeles.
“They started acting crazy,” Ms. Adams said of the Trump circle. “I think so many people around him got caught in something. I would have gotten caught in something. Hard not to be. They’ll find something.”
“It’s not worth it for me to get three stories and be important to The New York Post and get killed,” she said, speaking metaphorically.
Ms. Adams was sitting in her Park Avenue-meets-Ming Dynasty penthouse, her bare feet with Jungle Red toenails stretched out.
She was wearing a Prada blouse that her Yorkie puppy, Jellybean, had just “whoopsed” on, as she put it, with “10-cent pants and $5,000 worth of jewelry.” And that’s not counting the diamond-encrusted Yankees ring that George Steinbrenner gave her.
It’s not that Ms. Adams wasn’t tempted to extract some news from her old pal camped on the Potomac, but she steered clear.
“I never went to Mar-a-Lago,” she said. “I went nowhere. I didn’t go anywhere near him.”
You don’t get to be 91 and still in the game without having some good instincts. And without being a firecracker.
But President Trump did call her sometimes.
“I think he was just checking with a friend to see how he was doing,” she said.
Were her editors upset that she didn’t take more advantage of her relationship with Mr. Trump?
“No,” she said. “They understood.”
You know things are serious when Cindy Adams, who sometimes prints her hate mail in her column for fun, worries about cancel culture and the Twitter horde. The famously unexpurgated columnist isn’t even on Twitter but she knows about the buzz saw of public discourse. You say the wrong thing, you’re done.
“It’s so intense,” she said. “I’m afraid to speak out. You go to a dinner party, they want to strangle you.” She added, “Newspapers, sooner or later, will get rid of you if everybody is killing you. Look at all the people we know who have been fired lately for whatever reason.”
Doesn’t she have protected status as a New York landmark?
“I can say lots of things, I can and I do,” she said. “Look, I took Donald’s part when nobody else was. I can do that, and I understand people don’t like me because of it. I don’t care. I’m loyal to a friend. I will never forget anybody who was good to me. Never. So, I was with Donald.”
She recounted when she first moved into the palatial apartment — which was once owned by Doris Duke, and bought by Ms. Adams in 1997 — her late husband, Joey Adams, a comedian and humor columnist, was very frail. Mr. Trump sent a team over to install a security system.
“I’m not going to forget stuff like that,” she said. “I am loyal, whether it’s Donald or anybody else. If you were good to me, I pay back. If you were evil to me, I’ll get you back.”
After Mr. Adams’s death in 1999, Mr. Trump picked her up in a limo and took her on a helicopter ride to scatter Joey’s ashes over Central Park.
“Joey was never No. 1, he was No. 2,” she said. “He was never a Seinfeld of today, he was never a Bob Hope of yesterday. But he had a No. 1 lifestyle. He was the brother-in-law of Walter Winchell. Remember Walter Winchell at the Stork Club?”
Still, Ms. Adams is not like most of the Republicans in Congress, who are busy helping the former president weave a pernicious mythology about what happened on Jan. 6.
Asked if that dreadful day made her feel differently about Mr. Trump, she replied, “Of course it did. I’m not immune. I thought it was terrible. Horrible. I can’t believe that I would live through something like that, that’s how awful it was.”
She said it was hard during the vitriolic 2016 race between Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump because she liked them both so much. “You can’t get into mud like that,” she said. “You can’t.” (She has pictures with both pols on display, as well as one with Rupert Murdoch.)
According to those who have seen him lately, Mr. Trump has been described as either relaxed or depressed. What is her impression?
“Depends on when you get him,” she said.
She does not believe he will run again. “I think there may be a few too many bridges that he’ll have to cross,” she said.
She is certainly no fan of this White House.
“He’s not with it,” she said of President Biden, calling Jill Biden “our ventriloquist first lady.”
“Then there’s Kamala,” she sniffed. “I think he should watch out for her.”
Always a Workhorse
Ms. Adams is the centerpiece of a new Showtime docuseries called “Gossip,” produced by Imagine Documentaries, the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer outfit, and directed by Jenny Carchman. It explores the columnist’s prismatic life and the tabloidization of the media and society.
It’s billed as a treatise on “bottom feeding at the top,” and shows the gossip queen’s nocturnal crawl through a velvet-rope-line world of dictators, scoundrels, movie stars and politicians.
(Watch out for the bizarre story related by the former Post editor in chief Col Allan, who claims Tom Cruise’s front teeth fell out on the tablecloth during a restaurant meeting.)
“News today, news is gossip, that’s what it is,” Ms. Adams told me. “There’s no straight reporting anymore.”
She isn’t fazed by her latest close-up. “Now, even orthodontists get documentaries,” she said. “You don’t have to be somebody. You shine shoes? Good. We’ll do a two-parter.”
She jokes about her longevity at The Post. “I was there when Alexander Hamilton founded it, for Chrissake.”
Ms. Adams was always a workhorse, out, looking glamorous, five nights a week to truffle hunt for her punchy Post column — until the pandemic left her isolated at home with her housekeeper, Nazalene, and Jellybean.
“I’m a book reader,” she said. “If you give me Grisham, I’ll sit for the rest of my life. And I’ll read Daniel Silva and James Patterson. I have a dog and I’m OK. Was it difficult? Of course. Look, there was a time I didn’t get my hair done, there was a time I never got a manicure. I haven’t bought anything in two years — to buy to go where? It’s been horrible, and writing has been a nightmare. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would have no ability whatsoever.”
The mere idea of a buzzy column, chockablock with notables and quotables, is almost unfathomable in this age, when the rich, the famous and even anyone fame-adjacent, have their own publishing platforms and give it all away up front free. We’re swimming in a sea of overexposed nobodies. Their every lived moment is in your face on Instagram and they have little use for the press. Anemic magazines bend over backward to get stars, allowing them to do interviews with one another.
“You have to speak to their team,” Ms. Adams said. “In the old days, you could speak to Clark Gable. You had his phone number. Now they have a team. The whole team is 17 years old, if that. The team doesn’t know who the hell you are because they’re 11 years old.”
Still, she said, “There’s always gossip. Down in the old days at the riverbed, the ladies washing clothes in the river, they talked. The hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. It’s always been that way.”
Offering up the ne plus ultra of overexposure, Bennifer 2.0, Ms. Adams said: “They tweeze their chin, it’s in the paper. It doesn’t matter. They have several P.R. people. Several.” She joked that the famous parts of J-Lo’s anatomy have their own P.R. agents, too. “What is the point of writing about them when they’re sending their own stuff to you?” she said of the current crop.
She fretted about the state of her magpie craft. “My feeling about gossip is, it’s gone so low and so down,” she said, “soon, they’re going to have a camera in the bottom of a toilet bowl, shooting up.”
Ms. Adams was never Gawker. “I never outed anybody,” she said. “I never said somebody was sleeping with somebody if they were married. I didn’t do dirt.”
As someone who came of age in the time of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, she thinks today’s A-listers leave something to be desired.
She is most emphatically not impressed with the Duchess of Montecito, a.k.a Meghan Markle, she said, christening Harry “Prince Empty.” About the couple’s four-book deal, reportedly worth $20 million, the columnist noted, “He’s going to pee on everybody. And when he did this Oprah thing, his socks were too short. I never saw anything so disgusting. His ankles.”
How about Britney Spears?
“I think anybody should be free,” Ms. Adams said. “It’s her father who should be put away.”
What does she think about Chrissy Teigen?
What does she say to those who believe Rupert Murdoch, the Post overlord, is bad for the world and climate change, that Fox News is out of control, and that Mr. Murdoch is just as much of a monster as Logan Roy on “Succession”?
“What is the matter with you?” she said, laughing. “Get out of my house. Find another question.”
Jared and Ivanka? Can they make a comeback with their old liberal social set on the Upper East Side?
“Yes, of course, they will,” she said. “It’ll take a little while.”
Will Ivanka run for Senate in Florida?
“She won’t even walk for senator,” Ms. Adams said, laughing again.
‘I’m a Product’
She worries that The New York Times is tilting too far leftward, though she praises the paper as “The Statue of Liberty,” and she worries about the focus on identity politics in the country and proliferation of microaggression complaints.
“Soon, they’re going to have Oscars just for Hungarians with one left leg,’’ she joked. “Simple, joyful, glamorous living, nice food, going out, wearing pretty things, it’s gone. I just don’t know what the country is going to be.”
She said she doesn’t have any grudges going at the moment but assured me that when she speaks about vengeance, it’s not all talk.
She tells me a story about Dorothy Kilgallen, the Hearst showbiz gossip columnist and panelist on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” Back in the ’60s, when Ms. Adams was working for $5 a week for a weekly paper, Ms. Kilgallen was the top gun.
When Ms. Kilgallen began relentlessly attacking Joey Adams in her column, Ms. Adams wrote a “vicious” retort about the more famous columnist.
“I said, ‘I know who you sleep with, I know where you go.’ I said in the column ‘If you do one more thing about Joey, I will see that every one of the teachers of the schools where your kids go get this, and I will hand it to every kid as they leave the school.’”
Ms. Adams said that she is all about her friends and her dogs. As far as children, “I didn’t want any,” she said. “My husband, who was the same age as my mother, he didn’t want any.”
The series recounts how, at a tender age, Ms. Adams was put under the knife on her mother’s orders.
“They did my nose at 15 on some couch in Brooklyn,” she said, chuckling. “You weren’t allowed to have your nose done until you were 16 because you are still growing. My mother took a look at me at 15 and she says, ‘You’re ugly.’ My mother was beautiful.”
Didn’t that mess her up?
“No, I kissed her,” she said, looking indignant. “I was quite grateful. What, are you crazy? I looked lousy, like Wallace Beery, and I looked better after. Why would I be unhappy?”
The documentary also shows pictures of Ms. Adams, as a teenager, scooping up a load of titles. She was Miss Bazooka Bubble Gum, Miss Brooklyn Dodgers, Miss Jersey State Fair, Miss Brooklyn Dodgers, Miss Upswept Hair and Miss Bagel of the Brooklyn Better Bagel Bakers’ Bureau.
“My grandmother had no money, came from Russia, cleans stoops on the Lower East Side, took in boarders,” she recalled. “My mother was an executive secretary, perfect, gorgeous English. She gave me lessons. My speech is broadcast English, which means it’s not regional. It’s not Western, it’s not Southern, it’s not British, it’s not New York. It’s absolutely perfect. My mother was not going to let me be a nobody. She wasn’t going to have a loser. I’m a product. I was nothing and she put me together.”
Interviewing Ms. Adams is a movable feast. We started in the living room, then moved into her office, which is a temple to tabloids, with front pages citing her scoops decoupaged on the walls and ceiling.
We went through wooden doors, hand carved in the year 1600 and found in Beirut, eventually emerging onto a terrace, from which the Plaza can be glimpsed.
Finally, we had a glass of chardonnay in the kitchen, where shelves of stuffed animals stared down at us. An embroidered pillow reads: “A spoiled rotten dog lives here.” Hanging in one corner of the kitchen is a New York City traffic light.
“OK, I am not what we call a culinary expert,” she announced. “If you’re asking for anything beyond wine, forget it.”
Sipping St. Francis, we decided to crank call Sheila Nevins, the docu-queen (who is not involved in this one).
The conversation between the two salty grandes dames of New York went like this:
Sheila: “Will you come to the Crosby Hotel and watch a film about something you don’t give a damn about?”
Cindy: “Downtown? I should go downtown?”
Sheila: “Have you ever been to the Crosby Hotel?”
Cindy: “Yes, don’t talk down to me. I will send my car and driver to bring you uptown for dinner.”
Sheila: “I will send my car and driver to bring you downtown.”
Cindy: “Shove your car and driver up your husband and come to dinner. OK?”
Sheila: “OK. I really do love you even though you’re a bit of a” — bleep!— “Goodbye.”
Later, Ms. Nevins told me that Ms. Adams is “more than a gossip, she’s a bit of a shrink.”
I told Ms. Adams I had to go back to Washington.
“What’s to love in Washington?” she demanded. “They got rubber-soled shoes and they got suits that have creases. New York is the capital of the world. Washington is the toilet.”
I protested that my hometown is beautiful and that L’Enfant modeled it on Paris.
“The Galápagos, the Congo, I’ve been to Siberia, I’ve been everywhere,” she cracked. “You are going to tell me that Washington is like Paris? Really, something is the matter with you. OK, get out of my house.”
Confirm or Deny
Maureen Dowd: If you’re indicted, you’re invited.
Cindy Adams: Confirmed.
You once wore a mink hat to an A.S.P.C.A. board meeting?
Yes, I did. It was dumb, but I didn’t know I shouldn’t do it.
Your late Yorkies had sable coats and a car and driver.
You carry a clock in your purse.
Paris Hilton was the beginning of the end.
No. I think Meghan is the beginning of the end.
Khloé is your favorite Kardashian.
Nobody is my favorite Kardashian.
Bill de Blasio has been the best mayor in your lifetime.
What language would you like me to say “No” in?
You will be sad when The Daily News finally folds.
No. I thought it already did.
Judge Judy is in charge of all your medical decisions.
Ivanka Trump did not invite you to her wedding.
She didn’t, no. I don’t think I was an important enough journalist for her.
Charlie Rose once flashed you in the bathroom at Elaine’s.
Never. Where did you get this dreck?
You love Keith McNally’s Instagram account.
I don’t know. OK, out, out, out!