Stepping Into a New Role
A real estate queen seeks fame on the TV screen.
(FORTUNE Magazine) - "These are so pretty, right?" says Barbara Corcoran, the self-crowned queen of New York real estate. She's referring to the red flowers on our table. We're at the Cafe Pierre on Manhattan's East Side. It's a narrow room, lushly draped, thickly carpeted, all decked out in white table linens and adorned with gilded wood and etched glass. Band music from the 1940s plays softly. "The way they're tied together," she continues. The flower stems are tightly bound top and bottom with rubber bands. "Reminds me"--she's giggling--"of S&M. You get my point, right?"
What I get is that Corcoran, 56, has me right where she wants me, shocked into paying very close attention to her. She recently attended a bash marking her departure from the Corcoran Group--a real estate brokerage firm she founded 35 years ago with $1,000 and sold in 2001 for $66 million--wearing, as the New York Times reported, a "buckskin miniskirt, gold cowboy boots, a fringed shirt, a gold sheriff's badge, and a miniature toy pistol tucked under a red garter belt." When sales of her business book, Use What You've Got, proved disappointing, she came up with a juicier title for the paperback: If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails. "You're easy!" she squeals, when I respond appropriately to her shtick. "You're a good audience! Why don't you come for dinner tonight?"
Corcoran's blond pixie cut and blue eyes are familiar to viewers of the morning news shows; she does regular advice spots for Good Morning America and The View. ("The top of the market is really stalled right now because rich people don't buy when they think they can get it for less.") But she has launched her new venture, Barbara Corcoran Productions, in the hope of snagging her own series. "I have a very good reality TV show idea that I love that I won't tell you," she says firmly, then immediately halfway relents. "But I'll tell you the vehicle I travel in: a little car that's shaped like a bubble. I'm hoping to go through little towns in the middle of America, waving. 'Here comes the lady in the real estate bubble.' You get it?" The pilot has been shot.
Corcoran taught herself how to command center stage while growing up in a loudmouthed family of ten kids. "I really was convinced I was stupid," she says. Eventually she was diagnosed with dyslexia--a learning disorder that she says helped her succeed in business. "I felt capable because I could use my mouth, not my writing or reading ability." Dyslexics sometimes think in pictures. "If you can picture it, you can get it," she says. "It's a great business talent, because I could always see it all right away--the timetable, the money, me being successful." Nowadays, "I see my little smiley face on a television screen," she says. "That's sort of what my business plan is. I hope I haven't lost my touch."
After dessert Corcoran asks the waiter if she can take the flowers home with her. But of course. As I escort her to the door, her bouquet falls to the floor. I'm on it in a flash. While I'm down there, she manages to dislodge her right shoe. Before I know it, I'm kneeling in the hotel lobby, flowers in hand, slipping a shoe on Barbara Corcoran's stockinged foot. "Oooh," she says. "My fantasy! I'm Cinderella!"