To Beverly Hills ‘Housewives,’ their ‘struggle’ is relative
The cast members of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” insist they’re not ladies who lunch. Ignore the fact that they’re at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills shortly before noon poking at platters topped with ahi tuna tartare, crispy rock shrimp, and smoked salmon pizza.
“This is a rarity. Really, it is,” said Lisa Vanderpump-Todd, one of the newest inductees to the “Housewives” franchise who also happens to own the restaurant. “We’re really not women who lunch. I mean, look at these ladies. Do they look like they eat?”
Taking a semi-break from their whirlwind press tour, the women are nibbling on their food and excusing themselves while they take calls from their kids.
Bringing the “real” to Rodeo Drive are former child actors (and sometimes feuding sisters) Kim and Kyle Richards, a.k.a. Paris Hilton’s aunts; Vanderpump-Todd, a sharp-tongued British restaurateur; Camille Grammer, a former dancer known mostly for her marriage to Kelsey Grammer; Taylor Armstrong, an Oklahoma native who runs a consulting firm; and Adrienne Maloof, whose family owns the Las Vegas Palms Casino Resort and the Sacramento Kings, and who is married to Paul Nassif, a cosmetic surgeon featured on E!'s reality series “Dr. 90210.”
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In the photo caption, the last name of Lisa Vanderpump-Todd is misspelled as Vandekamp.
They say they’re looking to combat the stereotypes that shadow them — no matter how close to the truth those labels may be.
“Society has this image of the Beverly Hills woman walking down Rodeo Drive with her poodle, eating bonbons,” said Vanderpump-Todd, who is almost never too far away from Giggy, her pint-sized pooch. “But that’s not the case. I mean, Giggy doesn’t walk. Giggy gets carried,” she deadpanned.
Armstrong chimed in, more earnestly: “Just because we live in this Zip Code, doesn’t mean we don’t struggle.”
Struggle is in the eye of the beholder, of course. In the show’s Oct. 14 premiere episode, which drew more than 1.5 million viewers, Grammer laments, “God this is going to sound so obnoxious,” when she talks about flying in private jets, or “This is going to sound crazy, don’t judge me” before informing viewers that she employs four nannies for her two children. In the same episode, the women fly in a private jet to a catch a Sacramento Kings home game. Later in the season, Armstrong will throw a $50,000 birthday party for her 4-year-old daughter.
“People are always like, these aren’t real housewives,” Kyle said. “We are real housewives. But there’s also the housewife that’s home, doing laundry all day with six kids who’s trying to hold three jobs. Not every housewife is the same.”
Andy Cohen, Bravo’s senior vice president of original programming and development agrees with many fans that believe this cast represents what the “Housewives” brand originally set out to be. “We’re going back to our roots with these ladies,” Cohen said. “We’re back to the West Coast and … we found some women who live very aspirational, over-the-top lives.”
Since the Orange County version launched in 2006, the “Real Housewives” chain has expanded to include New York, Atlanta, New Jersey and most recently, Washington, D.C. The franchise has built its reputation on cat fights and controversy and the Beverly Hills cast is no different, with two of the ‘Housewives’ (Kim and Camille) admitting to quitting the show for a few weeks during production.
Sometimes the reality of the drama is a little too real, with marriages ending in shambles. Orange County ‘Housewife’ Vicki Gunvalson recently filed for divorce from husband Donn, while Luann de Lesseps (“Real Housewives of New York City”), Tamra Barney (" Real Housewives of Orange County”), and DeShawn Snow ( “Real Housewives of Atlanta”), all initiated divorces after appearing on TV. In the Beverly Hills division, viewers watch the dissolution of Grammer’s marriage.
“I knew stuff was happening because he wasn’t returning my calls, or my texts,” Grammer said. “We weren’t communicating and I knew something wasn’t right.”
The former Playboy model filed for divorce from the “Frasier” star in July after 13 years of marriage. Not exactly what she had in mind when she expressed her desire to break free from his shadow and show that she is a “real person” in the first episode.
And her fellow ‘Housewives’ are all too aware of the pressure on their marriages. As Maloof noted, “Everything’s on tape and that can cause issues.”
But it’s the dynamic within the ‘Housewives’ sorority that has made the franchise a success.
“We’re like ‘Sex and the City,” Grammer said. “We argue but in the end we find a way to all come back together.”
Or at least they find a way to tolerate each other. At times during lunch, Kim interjected random ramblings about her line of water bottles or took shots at Taylor — “Taylor wants everybody to know she’s the youngest. We keep hearing that!” Her unfiltered musings didn’t go unnoticed, with the women whispering and tapping each other not-so-inconspicuously.
Yet the women maintain that there’s more to their crew than petty arguments.
“We do have those dynamics but a lot of our show is not about bitchy cat fighting,” Vanderpump-Todd said. “Viewers will follow our journey in business and our family lives. There’s a little more to it. There’s a lot more to us. There’s a lot more to Beverly Hills.”
Is Beverly Hills’ mayor concerned that Bravo has put forth these women as national ambassadors for the area?
“The way I look at it, Beverly Hills is the center of fashion, sophistication and energy,” Jimmy Delshad said. “The show really brings out those three elements.”
Despite the potential over-the-top drama and stereotypes, he said he suspects the series will “have a very positive effect on Beverly Hills.”
Most of the women don’t live in the Beverly Hills Zip Code, but rather the lavish “Platinum Triangle” that includes, Beverly Park, Bel Air and Holmby Hills. But real estate technicalities aren’t causing the women anxiety at this moment. Beverly Hills is a state of mind for them.
With lunch over and paparazzi lurking outside, staying in touch with that mind-set is the priority.
For Armstrong, it means leaving behind a bag of leftovers.
“I don’t want to be photographed with that.”