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My life with Lee Radziwill: Daughter-in-law and RHONY star Carole reveals their bond

Carole Radziwill was the daughter-in-law of Lee Radizwill who died last Friday of natural causes at age 85. Carole married  her son Anthony in 1994 after the two worked as producers for ABC News. Following Anthony’s death due to testicular cancer in 1999, Carole continued her journalism career and in 2011 joined the cast of The Real Housewives of New York City. The 55-year-old was featured in the main cast for seasons 5-10. She announced her departure in July of 2018, along with her plans to return to journalism. Carole is currently working on a memoir picking up where her 2005 book What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love left off through Real Housewives of New York City and today. Here, in this DailyMail.com exclusive essay, she writes of the strong bond between the two women. 

I met Lee at her home 30 years ago, for lunch. At fifty-five, she was one of the most photographed and talked about women in the world. A princess, a startling beauty, a world traveler, one of the most interesting women of her day.

I was invited to lunch in East Hampton because I was dating her son, Anthony, and it was time to meet his mother. It was the start of a relationship that evolved, sometimes stuttered, and eventually settled into a genuine friendship. But that first day set the stage for how I came to know her – warm, but strong-willed; interesting and also curious. 

She had a razor-sharp wit and intellect. She was both formidable and playful. She invented style, she invented giving no f**ks, she demanded authenticity and lived unapologetically. 

Lee was the woman who launched a thousand copycats. She was the Maysles brothers before there were Maysles, an ‘It Girl’ before there were ‘Its.’ She was the original influencer—decades before millennials stumbled upon the word. 

Carole Radziwill, 55, is the daughter-in-law of Lee Radizwill, the sister of Jackie Kennedy. In a personal essay written for DailyMail.com, the journalist and former RHONY star opens up about their bond 

Carole said after her husband Anthony Radziwill died of testicular cancer in 1999, she and her mother-in-law 'clung together in grief'. Pictured: Carole on her wedding day with Anthony and Lee in 1994 

Carole said after her husband Anthony Radziwill died of testicular cancer in 1999, she and her mother-in-law ‘clung together in grief’. Pictured: Carole on her wedding day with Anthony and Lee in 1994 

'Truman Capote called her a swan, who had all the taste and style her older sister was credited with, yet spent a lifetime living in Jackie's shadow. But that was what the narrative got wrong,' Carole writes. Pictured: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with her sister Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland, and niece, Anna Christina Radziwill, on the walkway outside the Oval Office in 1963

‘Truman Capote called her a swan, who had all the taste and style her older sister was credited with, yet spent a lifetime living in Jackie’s shadow. But that was what the narrative got wrong,’ Carole writes. Pictured: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with her sister Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland, and niece, Anna Christina Radziwill, on the walkway outside the Oval Office in 1963

Fashion designers struggled to keep up with her because she didn’t set trends, she defined style. If life imitates art – art imitated Lee. Truman Capote called her a swan, who had all the taste and style her older sister was credited with, yet spent a lifetime living in Jackie’s shadow. But that was what the narrative got wrong.

Four years after that lunch, she gave Anthony and me an unforgettable wedding, with a dinner and reception under a Christian Tortu-designed tent that she filled with family, friends and affection. 

During my marriage, we interacted in the roles of family. I was her daughter-in-law, her son my husband. We enjoyed dinners, vacations and holidays together. On one of my first trips, Anthony and I joined her in St. Tropez. 

She woke early to water-ski each morning, then packed a basket of fruits and cheeses the three of us took for afternoons on the Mediterranean in a Chris Craft vintage boat. It was flawless, and elegant, like the final take in a movie.

She was a complex mother-in-law. She loathed boredom and didn’t suffer fools. She was exacting in her opinions, both good and bad. She adored her son but also knew her place in our lives. She led her own fascinating life, and didn’t often meddle in ours.

We were together, she and I, the afternoon a doctor called from Lenox Hill hospital to tell us the hematoma Anthony had gone in to have removed, was something worse. We each listened on separate extensions, and when she ended the call, before we returned to the hospital, she simply said, ‘Let’s be up.’ 

She changed into a bright-colored sweater and walked into his room like she did each time after that, right up to the end – armed with her smile, a good story, and unfailing cheer. On the hardest days, she never faltered, publicly.

As his cancer progressed, our relationship shifted; she understood as his wife I was in charge and I understood as his mother she was going through unimaginable pain. When it became clear he wasn’t going to survive, we became uneasy allies.

After we buried Anthony, for a short time we clung to each other in grief. Neither of us knew how to navigate it. Then Lee moved to Paris, as I drifted in New York. We were both trying to figure out this next chapter, and how to go on. Sometimes in moving on, you let go of everything. It was later, when I found myself in a completely new life, that I realized there were things I still wanted to hold onto. 

Carole writes that Lee 'gave Anthony and me an unforgettable wedding, with a dinner and reception under a Christian Tortu-designed tent that she filled with family, friends and affection'

Carole writes that Lee ‘gave Anthony and me an unforgettable wedding, with a dinner and reception under a Christian Tortu-designed tent that she filled with family, friends and affection’

'She was a complex mother-in-law. She loathed boredom and didn't suffer fools. She was exacting in her opinions, both good and bad. She adored her son but also knew her place in our lives. She led her own fascinating life, and didn't often meddle in ours', Carole writes

‘She was a complex mother-in-law. She loathed boredom and didn’t suffer fools. She was exacting in her opinions, both good and bad. She adored her son but also knew her place in our lives. She led her own fascinating life, and didn’t often meddle in ours’, Carole writes

Carole (pictured with Anthony) continues: 'In the twenty years after Anthony's death, Lee always introduced me as her daughter-in-law. Even after long absences, when it felt undeserved, she never wavered. Anthony and I didn't have children, so there was little in the way of family ties to keep us linked'

Carole (pictured with Anthony) continues: ‘In the twenty years after Anthony’s death, Lee always introduced me as her daughter-in-law. Even after long absences, when it felt undeserved, she never wavered. Anthony and I didn’t have children, so there was little in the way of family ties to keep us linked’

There were gaps. Then over the years we closed them.

In the twenty years after Anthony’s death, Lee always introduced me as her daughter-in-law. Even after long absences, when it felt undeserved, she never wavered. Anthony and I didn’t have children, so there was little in the way of family ties to keep us linked. 

What we had most in common was heartbreak, the thing we wanted to escape. But Lee, like me, was not overly sentimental, and this served both of us well. I flew to Paris for her 75th birthday party – dinner at La Voltaire with a group of her close friends. She was radiant and then, as always, we picked up as though we’d just spoken last week.

She started spending more time in New York, so we saw each other more frequently. We settled into a routine – always aware of Anthony’s absence – but also just two women, friends with history. We shared dinners at her apartment. 

 In the twenty years after Anthony’s death, Lee always introduced me as her daughter-in-law. Even after long absences, when it felt undeserved, she never wavered. 

Always the same — a small card table in front of the fireplace with a silk scarf for a tablecloth. Set perfectly, minimally, for two.

Talk was always easy even if we hadn’t seen each other in months. Lee was an insatiable reader, she knew all the latest art exhibits, plays, and books. 

She could tell you the new fashion designers from Paris to New York and which would have longevity. She was fluent in Spanish and French and could move between cultures and language like a ballerina.

She was fascinated with politics, but not the politics of the 1960s. She was rarely nostalgic about those times – the era that did its best to trap her. Those years were happy times for her but she didn’t dwell on them. 

She acknowledged her past with an occasional mention of Italy at Nureyev’s palazzo, or the white stallion from the King of Morocco, or those holidays – Stash, Jackie, President Kennedy and their children — in Palm Beach. 

But she was grounded in the present. She preferred to talk about new ideas and places. Gossip bored her. Sixty years of scrutiny will do that.

Lee in her later years was still seductive, generously curious and formidable. A woman who possessed the same beauty, style and imagination she had when she was Life magazine’s cover. 

Carole adds: 'She was elusive and in that way exuded a transcendent glamour, which was – is -- extraordinarily rare. She had one of the most exquisite faces ever photographed. Large wide set eyes, straight roman nose, and cheekbones for days.' Pictured: Lee in 1968 

Carole adds: ‘She was elusive and in that way exuded a transcendent glamour, which was – is — extraordinarily rare. She had one of the most exquisite faces ever photographed. Large wide set eyes, straight roman nose, and cheekbones for days.’ Pictured: Lee in 1968 

The journalist and former Real Housewives of New York star (pictured in 2014) describes Lee, who died on Friday aged 85, as strong-willed, playful and with razor-sharp wit

The journalist and former Real Housewives of New York star (pictured in 2014) describes Lee, who died on Friday aged 85, as strong-willed, playful and with razor-sharp wit

A woman who lived much of her life in the public sphere, amidst scandal, tragedy and endless speculation. She was elusive and in that way exuded a transcendent glamour, which was – is — extraordinarily rare. She had one of the most exquisite faces ever photographed. Large wide set eyes, straight roman nose, and cheekbones for days. 

She communicated with people the old-fashioned way — one on one, by a landline telephone from her apartment in Paris, or her bedside phone in New York. She wrote her notes and correspondence on personalized stationary with a green felt tip marker, and put them in the post. 

I set up an email account for her a few years ago, but she only read them when I was there to open them for her. She quickly abandoned it altogether. She had a child’s curiosity about everything it seemed, except the internet.

Our random dinners were special, each one of them. I brought a friend Bennett one night, because I knew she’d be entertained by his stories and charm. She was. If there was one thing Lee insisted of her guests, it was to show up with a story. It was the price of admission. 

Bennett is an Oscar-nominated director (Capote), he has a few. They had instant chemistry, their banter was contagious. Even in her later years she enjoyed the company of men, and still beguiled. 

Carole is currently working on a memoir picking up where her 2005 book What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love left off through Real Housewives of New York City and today 

Carole is currently working on a memoir picking up where her 2005 book What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love left off through Real Housewives of New York City and today 

As we left she asked in her familiar breathy voice, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ Sometime during dinner I became invisible. In that hug I saw way. I saw a glimpse of her younger self – the one pursued by some of the world’s most desirable men. Lee still had it.

I last spoke to her two weeks before she died. I hadn’t seen her in months and I was happy to make a dinner plan. ‘When can you come?’ She asked. I suggested the following night, but she had a friend coming over. 

She suggested another one, I was out of town. I had a business trip scheduled that would push it back further, but it was cancelled last-minute. I could see her on the weekend. She passed away Friday night.

The last time we had dinner, I stayed late. After we finished eating, and settled on the white sofas, we drank rose and smoked her slim Capri cigarettes, tapping the ashes into a teacup saucer. I told her she’d become a sensation on social media.

‘You know, you’re a legend, right?’ I said. ‘There are entire new generations obsessed with you on Instagram.’

‘That’s lovely.’ She replied. ‘What’s Instagram?’

I showed her photos of herself – her life in pictures, re-posted and hash-tagged. She didn’t quite grasp the impact she has had or why people would post random snapshots of food and sunsets. She was flattered but not surprised. She knew she would be remembered.

We both remarked how we barely knew each other when I was married. She was magnificent, original, and most of all loved by so many. The fascinating woman I met all those years ago was in her 80s now, and frail, but she had the same cheekbones, the same chiseled beauty, same eager curiosity and fluid ease with any subject you could dream up. It occurred to me, she was never in anyone’s shadow.

If she was ever for one moment a shadow, she was equally the sun. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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