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The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett might not be willing or legally able to release recordings from Donald Trump’s 11-year tenure on the NBC reality show. But in the wake of the Republican presidential candidate’s explosive comments revealed in an Access Hollywood tape from 2005, several people associated with The Apprentice are coming forward to discuss the kind of behavior that might have been on public display had Burnett decided to allow access to the tapes.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with nearly a dozen men and women who worked with Trump on The Apprentice, as well as his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. Based on the interviews, a picture emerges of Trump as a dominating presence who routinely made sexist comments. At times, he even exhibited racist behavior, these people say.
“I did hear what would be in a workplace considered sexist language or inappropriate language, but that was pretty normal, actually, and almost expected,” says season four contestant Marshawn Evans.
Season four Apprentice winner Randal Pinkett says he remembers being quizzed by Trump about which of his fellow contestants he would sleep with. “It was kind of common knowledge that Donald loved women, loved to compliment women, loved to talk about women’s looks,” Pinkett says.
On the show, Trump repeatedly emphasized the female contestants’ looks. “When we first started shooting and there were still a lot of contestants and you don’t necessarily know all their names well, he definitely would describe the girls by their bodies and their physical attributes,” says a source who worked on the show but declined to be named. “Like the girl with the really big chest and blond hair, and the really hot one,” whereas male contestants would be referred to by the college they attended or their business background.
The source notes that while Trump talked to the male contestants like colleagues, he was known for “talking down” to the female competitors “like children.”
Trump’s behavior extended to his original female advisor on the show, Trump executive Carolyn Kepcher, formerly the executive vp and chief operating officer for Trump’s golf properties. “He was always more dismissive of Carolyn,” says the source, adding that the attitude also extended to female crew members. “We would not necessarily send the girl camera crews to do the close-up stuff just because it was always weird. I know one of our camera operators would get uncomfortable. I found out from her after the fact that he was saying things to her.”
A camera person on the show classifies Trump’s interactions with a blond female camera operator as “borderline sexual misconduct.”
“It was more a creepy feeling you felt when he was around on set,” the camera operator continues. “The way he looked at you or would be dismissive to all the female producers and only deal with Mark Burnett — he was just an overall asshole who thought of himself as very important.”
In the video made public by The Washington Post on Friday, Trump is heard making misogynistic and predatory comments to then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, including that he grabs women in the genitals and tried to have sex with Bush’s co-host Nancy O’Dell. Trump apologized for the comments and dismissed them as “locker room talk” in the presidential debate with Hillary Clinton on Sunday night. He also said he has not physically abused women.
But Apprentice staff and alums, many of whom could not speak on the record because of non-disclosure clauses in their contracts, say Trump’s treatment of females left a lasting impression. The reveal of the tapes prompted Johnny Petillo, a co-executive producer on the show, to pen a Facebook post Saturday about an incident in which he witnessed Trump’s objectification of women. “As a man who was raised to respect and revere the mothers, daughters, and sisters in our world, I am completely dumbfounded how a person so devoid of character, class, and respect can still be supported by so many,” Petillo wrote.
Another Apprentice alum, season one and two producer Bill Pruitt, tweeted Saturday: “I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse. #justthebegininng.”
Evans recalls that Trump would fixate on women’s looks during the filming of The Apprentice‘s signature boardroom scenes. “If you were in the middle of the discussion or talking about the merits of why you won or lost, sometimes you would be interrupted with a compliment or something that had to do with your physical attributes,” she says. “That happened pretty much every single time you’re in the boardroom.”
A former NBC staffer recalls Trump making specific requests for certain eliminated contestants to visit him in his office after they were “fired” from the show. “One of the stops along the way was always Trump Tower, and he would always make sure that if it was a pretty girl, we had to bring her by,” the staffer says.
One such contestant who caught Trump’s eye, according to Evans, was Jennifer Murphy, an ad sales manager who had competed in the 2004 Miss USA pageant and approached Trump during the pageant about appearing on The Apprentice.
“Everybody, the men and the women during season four, knew that Donald Trump loved Jen and that Jen was his little Barbie doll,” Evans recalls. “At the time, there was a lot of chatter that, well, is she just here because she was a former Miss [USA contestant]?'” (Trump later described Murphy as “one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen” in a New York Times article that same year.)
Murphy acknowledges she enjoyed a cordial relationship with Trump before and after she was on the show. “I could tell he was keeping an eye on me during the pageant,” she says of their first meeting. “After the finale in New York, I went and met with him in his office and he had his daughter and son give me a tour and meet all of his different executives and divisions.” She was offered positions at two different companies under the Trump umbrella: one at Miss Universe and one working for the Trump Organization’s operations out of Rancho Palos Verdes. Although Murphy turned down both positions, she says she and Trump spoke once a month on average. “If he was coming to town, he’d let me know,” she recalls.
As season one contestant Kristi Frank recalls, producers and casting directors pushed a particular dress code for the female contestants.
“They happened to pick the shortest skirt I had for the opening when I could meet Mr. Trump,” Frank says. “They wanted us to be sexy.”
Evans claims producers and casting directors came to her hotel room to approve her outfits during a week-long stretch of interviews for hopeful contestants in 2005 – the first year Trump also interviewed hopefuls for the show. “Every day that I had an interview, they were very particular about my wardrobe. If it didn’t meet the Trump sexy style, they would say this is not what would fit, or blend, or what Donald would like,” Evans says.
The stories told to THR echo those of contestants and crew members who spoke to the Associated Press last week about Trump’s lewd behavior and crass language both on set and behind the scenes. That behavior was reflected in a transcript from a 2010 episode of Celebrity Apprentice published by The Huffington Post on Monday in which Trump heavily criticized the appearance of a female musician, Emily West, involved in the competition and described himself as a “skin guy.”
Sources who worked closely with Trump when he owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants claim he demonstrated a bias against women of color. One recalls he did not want African-Americans in the top 10 of the Miss USA pageant. “He was very concerned one year. He did not want one woman to win because she was Puerto Rican,” says the Miss USA source. “He said, ‘She can’t win. Don’t get me wrong she’s a beautiful girl, I just don’t want her to win.’”
NeNe Leakes, who served as a judge for Miss USA 2013, says higher-ups at the pageant attempted to influence the voting process in meetings that occurred prior to the pageant. “You pretty much knew who was going to win,” she tells THR. “You’re just kind of told in a way that this person’s going to win. We don’t have any control. I don’t know who the girl next to me voted for, I just know that these are the top picks we need to be looking at, don’t worry about nobody else, just worry about these two people right here.”
Producers on The Apprentice also attempted to influence the outcome of that program, according to Evans. She alleges production interfered with the show’s results in the episode in which she was fired, when a fellow contestant, Brian Mandelbaum, initially said he intended to offer himself up for elimination.
“I later found out – because [Mandelbaum] told me – that one of the producers asked him to turn his microphone off and took him away from Trump Tower to a bar and explained that if he quit like that, that it was going to look bad for him, because Donald always makes people who quit and don’t fight look bad,” she says. “So in the boardroom, he started throwing, I think it was me and Randal, under the bus.”
Although it was unclear whether the producer had instructed Mandelbaum on which contestants to name in the boardroom, Evans and Pinkett both happen to be African-American. (Mandelbaum declined to comment.)
Pinkett went on to win his season – the first African-American champion on the show. However, the triumphant finale was dampened by what he deemed to be a “racist” and “insulting” comment Trump made on air.
“After Donald declared me the winner and said, ‘Randal, you’re hired,’ he asked me a question that he had never asked any contestant prior and never asked of any contestant after me. He asked me if I wanted to share a title with the white runner-up,” he recalls. “The better question is: Why did Donald ask me to share? And my only answer is that he did not want to have an African-American have a clear, clean, full victory.”
The person Trump wanted him to share the prize with? A 23-year-old female financial journalist named Rebecca Jarvis. “Leading up to my finale, Donald was interviewed by Us Weekly, and when the interviewer asked what he thought about the two of us, he said that he thought I was lazy and he thought that she was beautiful,” Pinkett says. “It just felt like a really bizarre choice of words to call the black guy lazy and to call the woman beautiful.”
Pinkett also says he experienced “institutional racism” when he worked at Trump Entertainment Resorts for a year in 2006 – the job being part of his prize. “There were no executives of color in the organization,” he says. “I never sat in a room with another person of color over my entire year there other than the person I saw in the mirror.”
Adds Pinkett, “All of that behavior simply predicated the behavior that we’ve seen in recent years and on the campaign trail. That’s Donald.”
With additional reporting by Marisa Guthrie and Scott Feinberg
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