Get out the throwing wine: ELLE.com is celebrating the best (and worst) of reality TV this week.
Drama is currency in the Real Housewives franchise. Turning champagne into a projectile or sticking a French manicured nail into an open emotional wound is a fast-track to airtime, which is a fast-track to fame, which is, well, what this whole thing is all about. Dorinda Medley,the four-season star of the Real Housewives of New York, has subtler methods for securing her place at the center of the show's most explosive moments. She isn’t so much a stick of dynamite as she is a willing fuse, a conductor of pyrotechnics who sparks the fire and then disintegrates into the ether.
“I said to Andy”—that’s Cohen, the creator and executive producer of Housewives— “I'm a bit of a zookeeper. You know a zookeeper—he handles the elephants different than he handles the lions, and he handles the penguins and he handles the zoo.” In between sips of an $18 Aperol spritz at the Ascent Lounge uptown in New York City, Medley says she’s good at moderating. But moderation isn’t what 1.3 million tune into Real Housewives to see. A grin forms on her not-a-day-over 56-year-old face as she continues: “I like to meddle.”
“Don’t say anything, but…” is Medley’s launch code. Her daughter was the first personwho noticed Medley tends to say it moments before information becomes conflict. “My daughter said to me one time [recalling a scene on the show], ‘You are awful. I literally watched you, mom, where the person turned to you and specifically said, ‘Don't say anything,’” Medley says. “‘And you turned around and started telling the person next to you. Like, immediately. You started off by saying, ‘Don't say anything.’”
A former real estate broker who was married to a DNC speech writer, Medley claims in our interview to be disengaged from the political realm. But it's clear from her time on the show she'sretained some tactics from that period of her life. She fosters relationships, leaks secrets, and somehow manages to stay clean while her fellow cast members jump in the mud. Medley, out of all the Real Housewives, probably has the highest approval rating. Luann de Lesseps has her die-hard cabaret fans, Bethenny Frankel is the patron saint of wine-guzzling entrepreneurs, but Medley, with her fine-tuned sense of who's predator and who's prey, stands in for the Real Housewives fan. She's coolly authoritative but drawn to the carnage, which she watches, like us, with a knowing smirk. She'll break down, occasionally, at the horror of it all. To tell someone they're a Dorinda is like saying they're a hybrid Miranda-Samantha and very high praise.
Wearing white pants paired with a colorful top, her signature short hair style and gold hoops, Medley says she’s stopped “every single day of my life” by a fan yelling one of her catchphrases back at her. (“Clip!” “Jovani!” “Not well, bitch!”) “I was just in London,” she says, “and I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one place I'll probably get away.’ And literally I came out of my hotel and a black cab went by and someone yelled out, ‘Make it nice!’” Probably the most famous Dorinda-ism, "make it nice" was born when a lovely trip to Medley's Berkshires home turned, predictably, into another setting for the Real Housewives to snipe at each other. After a long night of drinking and fighting, a teary-eyed Medley yelled, "I decorated. I cooked. I made it nice!"
Now, Medley will attempt to do the same for fans on a new Sirius radio show. Make It Nice With Dorinda Medley is an hour-long show during which Medley is free to dole out life advice to afflicted callers. (“Jessica from Fort Lauderdale,” Medley pulls out of thin air.) Medley thinks fans relate to her because of her willingness to open up be vulnerable on the show. “I wanted to make sure that my off-camera self really replicated the on-camera, too,” she says. “I wanted that to be seamless. I didn't want people to meet me and think she's nothing.” She talks glowingly about the flood of fans who reached out on Instagram after she talked about how she was depressed and didn’t want to get out of bed. “Everyone was like, ‘I feel that way, too. Oh my gosh, you get depressed?’”
She also thinks she’s qualified for the job. “'I’ve been through so much, I've been married, I grew up in Great Barrington, left, moved abroad, married, divorced, been a mother, been a single mother, got married again, widowed, had gone into the empty-nest phase. I've lived in so many different places,” she says.
Fans who ask Medley to meddle in their lives won't just be told to make it nice for others. Medley describes her her life experiences as "a building block" that, in true Housewives form, allows her be little more selfish now. “You can start looking at your life, not having to think about, ‘Who else am I going to be out with? Why else would I be with him? What else can I do for you?’ You start serving yourself and it's a wonderful feeling, I want to get that message out to people: Be self-serving.”
As for how Medley's serving herself these days, it all goes back to her Berkshires home, called Blue Stone Manor. “I was born and raised in the Berkshires and total middle class family,” explains Medley. “My Dad was a telephone man and I always had great ambitions of moving to New York City.” The funny thing about making it to New York, she says, is that when she's here she's hounded by dreams of summer getaways to the Berkshires. “I said the other day, ‘I need a facelift or the house needs a facelift. Unfortunately, the house won.”
As Dorinda and I say our goodbyes, she remembers she has a present for me: Five tee-shirts that say “Lycra and Leg Warmers: 80s Aerobics Class.” The shirts are promoting a charity event that will appear on the next RHONY episode,and then be clipped and gif-ed into internet immortality. It's a nice gift, and an opportunity for drama: Which four of my colleagues is worthy of a Dorinda Medley and John Giswold shirt? And how to prevent the unchosen from knowing about the goodies? Don't say anything, I can already hear myself saying, but Dorinda gave me these.
Chloe Hall Chloe Hall is an editor, producer, and Instagrammer who covers beauty, fashion, culture and Rihanna at ELLE.com.