“The DiFalcos were cheap wine, cigarettes, loud laughter. My mother’s family, on the other hand, was quiet and resolute.” This is how Carole DiFalco Radziwill described her family background in her memoir, “What Remains”. Much has been made about the fact that Carole is connected to the Kennedy family. She, herself, downplays that connection, letting us know that it was a very marginal one at best, one which the Kennedys and the Radziwills allowed her, begrudgingly, to assume. In that book, she also describes, with love and humor, her own family, which was a bit on the wild side, where rules were often broken, and charm, good manners and a graceful lifestyle were not even a consideration.
She wrote about people like Grandma Millie, a 300 pound woman with a penchant and talent for shoplifting. Millie was known for her ability to walk out of Waldbaum’s with 5 pound roasts and a box of Devil Dogs stashed under the folds of her ample bosom. When she wasn’t pilfering groceries, she was either sneaking cigarettes to the children who hung out at her house, or tending to her crop of marijuana, which had to be relocated when the cops became suspicious.
Carole also wrote, at great length, about her parents – two very different people. Her dad’s side of the family was everything we’ve ever experienced or come to know about what it means to grow up in an Italian culture. They opened and then closed a family restaurant, “DiFalcos”, in Yonkers, near the raceway. He and his family worked at different jobs, to provide for their children and maintain their home. Carole’s humor and passion may have come from her dad, but she gives her mother, who she describes as being the smart one, all of the credit for giving her the gift of intellectual curiosity. No matter how you look at it, there was nothing in Carole’s background that could have prepared her for what her future would bring – no GPS setting which would have directed her to the homes and into the vastly different lives of the two families of which she would become a part.
After her dates with her future husband, Tony, turned into something much deeper, she was introduced to his mother, Lee, at a luncheon held by the Radziwills at their house in the Hamptons. Although the luncheons became a regular occurrence, the behaviors and menus at the meals never reached a level of comfort for Carole. Lee served endive salads, sorbets and Evian with lemon wedges. Her soon to be daughter in law was more accustomed to her own family’s dining style – grabbing food wherever and whenever one wanted it, often standing in front of an open refrigerator door while eating. What meals were served with the entire DiFalco family in attendance often resembled an “every man for himself” free for all, as they slid soda cans across the table and dove into bowls of pasta, generously sprinkled with Kraft parmesan cheese. In light of this and all of the lunches with Lee, Carole began to realize that she had been ” thrust into class divide”.
There was one member of the Kennedy family with whom Carole did develop a fast friendship and bond. Carolyn Bessette, John Kennedy Jr.’s wife, had also been on the receiving end of the family’s less than warm reception. Carole witnessed their obvious dismissal of any notion that there would ever be a wedding for Carolyn and John while at a New Year’s Eve dinner hosted by Edwin and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg at their home. She wrote of the conversation this way, “At my turn I say, “I think John and Carolyn will get married.” And suddenly the room is quiet. “No, he won’t,” says Ed. “Caroline doesn’t even know her.” That discussion began and ended in a matter of seconds, and the others simply moved on.
The two women continued their friendship until only Carole was left. A plane crash took Carolyn and John. Cancer took Tony four weeks later. Carole went on, as a widow, without her trio of best friends. After enough time had passed where she felt comfortable in doing so, she wrote her memoir. She told all of us about the disease that had defined her entire married life, and she opened closet doors, spilling not only her own family’s skeletons but some of those of the family she had joined in marriage, all over the pages of that book.
Now Carole is a member of The Real Housewives of New York City. In a recent interview with Jacob Bernstein of The Daily Beast, Radziwill talked about how she was approached by Andy Cohen with the idea of her joining the cast. The fact that she was even considering it shocked a few of her friends. One of those friends, film director Joel Scumacher enumerated the reasons why it wasn’t such a good idea. Carole made the decision to accept Cohen’s offer for her very own good reasons. Bravo would serve as a way to promote her books and make her some money. She explained to Bernstein that “George Plimpton once said that he would sit in a department store window if he thought it would sell a book. And I thought this is better than sitting in a window.” She also was very clear, when she signed her contract with Bravo, that the whole Princess Radziwill/Kennedy thing was not how she wanted to be viewed and that they could not promote her role that way. She told Bernstien, “I’m a DiFalco at the end of the day.”
During the season premiere, she spoke very little to the others. When she found it uncomfortable to talk about children, she excused herself with a gentle reminder that while parents may find their children to be the center of their universe, they are not the center of THE universe. I don’t often read the Bravo blogs by the Housewives because they have become a whole lot of he said, she said, defending the indefensible, and lecturing viewers ad nauseum in the process. Carole’s was worth reading, however. She blogged about her perspectives on each of her castmates, not in the usual Housweife way, but with a wit and in a style that hasn’t ever been equaled by any of the other Bravolebrities.
Some may compare her to Bethenny Frankel, but I think Carole has her beat by a mile. Bethenny’s bite was often as bad as her bark. She was emotionally invested in her relationships with the other women, particularly with Jill Zarin. Radziwill brings none of that baggage, but she does bring something none of the others have. She knows and likes Andy Cohen. I’ll try not to hold that against her, but it is a relationship that existed before she signed her contract with Bravo – something to which none of the others, in any city, could lay claim. She also has the instinct and intelligence to know that one learns nothing while their lips are moving. While the others scream and gossip and argue, Carole has listened and observed, and then shared her observations with us – each one hysterically true.
If I were the other ladies, I’d be on my best behavior around Carole. She’s studying all of them, paying close attention to their words and adding very little to the conversation, all the while looking slightly bemused. I think she just might be taking notes, biding her time, waiting for the right moment and a signal from Bravo that she can resume writing, now that her recent novel is completed and waiting to be published. She knows Andy, she knows publishers and she’s already written about her life amid two rich and powerful families without even flinching. Aviva might want to let her order a Diet Coke if she wants one. LuAnn should reconsider entering into any more conspiracies against Ramona. Maybe Heather and Ramona should knock off the business rivalry stuff. You never know who’s observing and listening to all of this foolishness – storing all of it away for some later date. I, for one, look forward to this Season of New York’s Housewives just because of the quiet one. I just like watching her watching them.