Hers was the fairy tale without the happily ever after — a marriage to a real-life Prince Charming cut short by his death but not before their cousins (best friends) perished in a plane crash during their last summer together.
In “What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love” (Scribner, 2005), Carole Radziwill wrote poignantly about her husband, ABC News producer Anthony Radziwill, and their close relationship with his cousin John F. Kennedy Jr., and Kennedy’s wife, the former Carolyn Bessette — who died within three weeks of each other in 1999.
Now almost 20 years later, Radziwill has reinvented herself as the down-to-earth, humorous star of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” the proactive president of her apartment board and an aspiring marathoner who’ll be taking part in the New York City Marathon Nov. 5.
She’s also a writer, although she hasn’t always seen herself that way.
“I never thought of myself as a writer,” Radziwill says after co-hosting a fashion show at Bloomingdale’s White Plains. “I was a journalist. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in my story.”
She’s not being disingenuous. Though a Polish princess and Kennedy in-law by marriage, the frank, bird-like Radziwill is nothing if not a mensch — whether commenting on the trend to high-waisted pants at the fashion show (“It’s all about the mom jeans — love it”), chatting afterward or recalling a life of bittersweet enchantment in “Remains.” She’s quick to stress that hers is a story of humble beginnings. She grew up with a sense of fate’s cruel caprice in Suffern, bussed tables on Sundays at her father’s restaurant, DiFalcos, in Yonkers and summered at her grandparents in Kingston.
“But DiFalcos didn’t survive,” she writes, “and then there were years of unpaid bills, foreclosure notices and food stamps.”
She worked in Caldor, the now-defunct discount department store, at the customer service desk. Across the Hudson, the woman who would become her generous, protective best friend and cousin by marriage was growing up in Greenburgh, the child of a divorced mother, and working in another Caldor, in the jewelry department. The ironic coincidence — and their later shared sense of being outsiders in a fabled world — threads “Remains.” It is not lost on Radziwill, still.
“We used to joke, Carolyn and I,” she says, “that while John and Anthony were sailing on the Christina (Aristotle Onassis’ yacht), we were working in Caldor’s.”
So, “How did a girl from Suffern meet a man with Polish royal lineage going back four centuries?” — a question she poses in “Remains.” A college job fair led her to ABC News, where her future husband would also work as a producer. They “met over a murder,” the 1990 murder of José and Mary Menéndez by their sons Lyle and Erik, which Carole and Anthony were assigned to cover. She would go on to cover the Persian Gulf and Afghan wars and win a Peabody and three Emmys, including one for a piece on Cambodian land mines. He would earn two Peabodys, including one posthumously for “Cancer: Evolution to Revolution.”
Anthony Radziwill was already suffering from metastatic testicular cancer when he and Carole wed in 1994. Their marriage was a portrait of what it means to live intimately with death’s timetable, only to have the train first pull into the station for someone else. The book opens on the couple’s elegiac last summer at their cousins’ home on Martha’s Vinyard — an idyllic time of great books, long walks on the beach and margaritas at sunset — except that one member of the group was dying. And then came the night of July 16, 1999 when Kennedy piloted his plane, carrying his wife and her sister Lauren, up the coast for his cousin Rory’s wedding. And the midnight phone call that would be a harbinger of world headlines.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 10, Anthony Radziwill died.
Still, reflecting after the fashion show at Bloomingdale’s, Carole Radziwill can say, “I am the American Dream come true.” Only in America — a country that still celebrates individual differences, she says — could a girl from Suffern have a storybook career and marriage.
And create a second and third act. In 2012, she joined the cast of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” which sent “Remains” back to the best-seller list. Soon filming will resume for the 10th season, the prospect of which she calls “fun and scary.” In 2014, Henry Holt & Co. published Radziwill’s novel “The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating.” She’s now at work on a political book — “a humorous political book,” she says — and a script for a TV show about the president of an apartment board, something she knows a good deal about. (Seeing rose gold embellishments on the runway, she tells the Bloomie’s fashion show audience that as president of her apartment board, she was able to redo the elevator in rose gold.)
And as if that weren’t enough, she’s been training for the New York City marathon.
“I’m determined to finish no matter how long it takes me — if I have to run, walk or crawl.”
No doubt. But then, we already know that Radziwill was meant to go the distance.
For more, visit caroleradziwill.com.