Radziwill is one of those names that used to only resonate with women of our generation. At one time it was the married name of Lee Bouvier, the sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Her husband was Prince of Poland and during their marriage, she was known as Princess Lee Radziwill.
She had a son, Anthony, John F. Kennedy, Jr’s cousin, who married an ABC producer, Carole. And then she got the title “Princess.” Anthony died of a terrible cancer shortly after his cousin’s plane crash that awful summer of 1999. It was the last summer of my mother’s life and I remember the TV on in her hospital room showing footage of the search for the young Kennedy and her coming to consciousness, me asking, “Do you know his plane has disappeared?” and her nodding that she did. We loved our celebrities, Mom and I.
After her husband’s premature passing, Princess Carole disappeared behind whatever curtain of obscurity rich widows have access to. She didn’t go back to ABC so I’m sure she was well-situated with enough resources to live comfortably in Manhattan, traveling in high cotton of course, because the Bouvier girls, Lee and Jackie, came from a certain class and era—all white gloves and elegance and privacy. Once Jackie married JFK and events unfolded, the media were everywhere. As befitted women of their class, the two Bouvier women were notorious protectors of their own privacy.
No accounting for bad judgment
So I was quite surprised when Princess Carole turned up as one of the so-called Real Housewives of NYC. It seemed a peculiar move toward shallow celebrity by a woman who had career accomplishments and inherited wealth. I am certain that “Aunt Jackie” rolled in her grave and is still rolling and it’s said that the former mother-in-law Lee was appalled. She–and I–see it as a truly tacky move.
The show is my guilty pleasure—pleasure isn’t accurate, it’s more like a guilty horror, like looking at scary insects from a safe distance—because the bad behavior of this group of exceedingly shallow women is so loathsome. I can’t defend my interest in this show but I can say that I look at it with furrowed brow and a social psychologist’s eye. The behavior of groups still interests me, even though I never did complete my PhD in social psych, which is the study of how groups interact. (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.)
The Princess Radziwill seemed an unlikely candidate for such a low-rent venture.
The first year she kept an observer’s bemused distance from the nastiness but after that, she seemed to jump into the muck with both feet. Who knows, maybe the show producers felt her story line was too boring and wanted to up her visibility.
It was sad to see her behavior degenerate. And just as her co-star, the “Countess” Luanne sang rather badly, “money can’t buy you class.” It really can’t. Too bad they don’t listen to themselves.
This past season, The Princess’ show “scandale” was the accusation that she had used a ghostwriter almost a decade ago for her very good memoir of that sad summer when her husband, his cousin and his best friend (JFK, Jr) and her best friend, Carolyne Bessette all died, along with Carolyne’s sister, Lauren, who is almost always a footnote to the story.
Since the Princess had been a producer, almost a journalist, it seemed a stretch that she’d hire a ghostwriter. I bought the book and read it in two sittings. It was beautifully written, so moving that it brought me to tears. No, not a ghostwriter, I thought.
So why was this story line on the reality show?
Really bad judgment.
It’s well-established that “Real Housewives” (many of whom aren’t housewives at all) sign releases that allow the show wide latitude in how they are depicted. So peculiar as it would be for a writer to allow a storyline like this, it’s the price of being on the show. And, the Princess has a new book to pimp. A novel, this time.
But back to the memoir. After reading it, I looked at the Amazon Review by Publisher’s Weekly, in which the completely tone-deaf reviewer accused her of jumping on the Kennedy bandwagon with the book. I suppose it was hard for the reviewer to understand that famous people also have friends and that Carole was telling the story of her beloved husband’s death that coincided almost exactly with the death of his cousin/best friend and her own best friend who was married to JFK. The fame was a fact, not the reason for the story. And it was a story of grief. It’s hardly jumping on the Kennedy ghoul wagon to tell one’s own personal story of one’s own grief. She was, after all, part of the extended Kennedy family and a dear friend to them.
That review pissed me off because it was so unfair and because I loved the book and her voice so much.
But that “ghostwriter” story line nagged at me.
Curious about whether her other writing was in the same style, I clicked on her website. But the “blog” she writes for the RHONYC show had a completely different voice. Her bio a different one, still. Nothing on that website had the lovely writing I had seen in her first book. Of course, it’s not unusual for a celeb to hire someone to ghost their site I thought. Who likes to write bios?
I zoomed over to Amazon to read a few pages of her new novel. The tone also differed from her first book. But one could make the case that chick-lit’s written entirely differently than a literary memoir.
But still, the RHONYC storyline had raised the spectre of “ghostwriter” and now, I wondered for real. Doubt had raised its head and I couldn’t shake it.
It was clear I’d never shake it. I’d always wonder. And so would others.
Did she or didn’t she? Was she a real writer? As good as her book? Or did the Radziwell money buy her a ghost?
This post isn’t really about the facts. It’s about judgment.
The kind of judgment an accomplished woman exercises when she choose to join a show in which women attack each other and are humiliated. The kind of judgment a woman of means makes for fame and visibility and maybe even a platform to sell a novel.
It’s puzzling, really, why a woman who had written such a tender and affecting memoir would allow her credibility as a writer to be put on the line for a ridiculous reality show. Or why someone with what seems to be plenty of money would want to be part of such a program or use such a cheap tactic to sell her own books.
But then, this is the world we live in now, where “fame” at any cost seems to be the goal, even for women in generations closer to mine.
As I writer, I could never make the choice she did. Not that kind of bad judgment.
As I writer, I shake my head, and think, “what a shame.”