Inside a Real Housewives Divorce
“On some strange level, I’m regaining my power,” Camille Grammer says over the telephone, in a breathy voice, which on TV—she is on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills—appears to come from non-moving lips. “I’m becoming myself again. For a long time, I was taking care of Mr. Grammer.”
“Mr. Grammer,” of course, is TV mega-star Kelsey Grammer, Camille’s soon-to-be-ex-husband—last July, after discovering that the Frasier star was having an affair with a 29-year-old British airline attendant, Camille filed for divorce.
Since then, the Grammers’ breakup has been splashed across tabloids and online gossip sites. Attention has only increased thanks to the latest installment of Bravo’s hit reality-TV series. Indeed, the dissolution of the 13-year marriage between Kelsey and Camille, a very blond, very siliconed former Playboy model and Club MTV dancer whose maiden name is Donatacci, is one of the “highlights” of this season’s show.
Reality television has been breaking up marriages since Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey were Newlyweds. And previous editions of Real Housewives have also shown disintegrating unions. But this is the first time the show has been privy to the inner breakdown of a celebrity couple, a breed that typically remains safely guarded from public view by squadrons of handlers and the highly fortified gates of a Malibu or Bel Air compound.
“Honestly, I’m a very private person,” says Camille, who on the show wears micro-mini skirts and has been made fun by her fellow cast of for gyrating provocatively in front their husbands at a club in Las Vegas. “I’ve spent 15 years with a TV icon, and Kelsey and I have always remained very private.”
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• ‘Real Housewives’ Divorce Shakes D.C. Bravo, naturally, knows exactly how to handle these gifts from the reality TV gods, and plays up the drama not with a wink but a thunderous sledgehammer. In an early episode, when Camille is shown meeting with her interior decorator to go over a redesign of her and Kelsey’s New York apartment—the show started filming just as Kelsey was leaving L.A. for a year to appear in La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway—there is a long, pregnant pause followed by ominous music when Camille jokes that when she and the two kids join Kelsey in New York, she’ll be spending most of her time “in our home in the Hamptons.”
And this season’s preview reel has already strongly hinted at what promises to be Camille’s Waterloo, when she is forced at the Tony Awards to walk the red carpet and pose for the paparazzi with Kelsey, having just learned that he is a cheating snake. (On the Nov. 11th episode, Camille and the gals will fly to New York for the premiere of La Cage.)
For all that Bravo was able to get on tape, miraculously, some moments will still have to be left to the imagination. Camille says that cameras were not rolling when she got the call from a friend warning her about her husband’s infidelity.
But, perhaps because she is so embracing of her newfound liberation as a single woman (at one point during the interview she yells, “Girl power! It’s all about girl power!”), she is happy to fill in the blanks.
“I was blind-sided by the call,” she says. “But things were happening before. He was not returning my calls. I thought he was preoccupied with the show. And he was dropping hints, but not about a girlfriend. He would mention he was really busy, so he couldn’t call me back, or he’d text and say ‘I’m too tired to talk, just go to bed.’ Stuff like that.
“He was changing, and I could tell. But, really, I thought it was just because he was busy with the play. But as the weeks went on, it was like, ‘No, things are going on.’ I didn’t think it was another woman or that the marriage was over.”
Later in the conversation, the claws come out, and she calls Kelsey, who has been parading around New York with his new love, “the biggest child. He’s not an easy person to be married to. I’m not going to get into it, but he’s not easy…. He can be very insecure. He’s gone through a lot. And I’ve always been supportive.”
(Through his publicist, Kelsey Grammer declined to comment.)
Of all the Beverly Hills Housewives—which also include 1970s child star (and Paris Hilton’s aunt) Kim Richards and her sister Kyle; and Adrienne Maloof, whose family owns the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and the Sacramento Kings basketball team—Camille most fits the mold of the stereotypical Hollywood trophy wife. She has invisible hips and perfect Pilates arms. During the filming of the show, she had four nannies for two kids. She had a D-girl (development) job with Kelsey’s production company. She had “seven to eight houses,” one of which she describes as “basically, a small park.” And when Maloof decided to charter a private jet to fly the ladies up to Sacramento for a Kings’ game, Camille confessed to the camera, “God, this is going to sound so obnoxious, but Kelsey and I have been flying private for years. Until recently, we’re taking more commercial. So, you know. We try to be green.”
Over the phone, Camille blames any suggestion of bimbo-dom on the show’s editing, which, she says, “I haven’t been happy with—I’ve discussed it with them.”
For instance, in the scene where she shares with the ladies that she had a surrogate mother carry her two children, and the women appear to be stunned into silence, with Kyle Richards quipping about how surrogacy is one way to protect a perfect bod, Camille says: “Taylor [Armstrong, another housewife] and I were talking about surrogacy for herself… We were having a serious discussion about it, what the experience was like. And I have many friends who have gone through surrogacy for whatever reason, but I don’t think that’s something in the show that should be edited with eye-rolling.
“When I say something ridiculous, like, ‘Cover your rat!’”—Camille’s way of saying, cover your privates—“Of course. Eye-roll all you want, because that’s warranted. But the way children are brought into this world—what is the point of having eye-rolling over that?”
Yet certain aspects of the show speak for themselves. Most particularly, just how incredibly rich these Housewives are compared to ones from other installments—such as Atlanta, Orange County and New Jersey. The Real Housewives has always been uncannily in touch with the economic hardships more ordinary Americans have endured over the last few years, and has shown an unusual number of bankruptcies and foreclosures for a show so blatantly about wealth.
But Camille and the Beverly Hills Housewives are literally in a different class. In 2003, Forbes estimated that the Maloof family fortune was worth $1 billion. Kelsey Grammer is worth a reported $85 million, and Camille says she’s getting “above $40 million” in the divorce. As for Kim Richards, although her sister chides her about not being good with money, according to House of Hilton by Jerry Oppenheimer, a portrait of the Hilton family empire, when Kim divorced oil and entertainment mogul Marvin Davis’ son, Gregory Davis, “she is said to have gotten a settlement and child support from the Davises ranging from $20,000 a month that continues until the year 2009, and $23,000 a month for life, or until she remarries.” (She has not remarried.)
“They live on a really grand scale,” says Bravo Senior Vice President of Original Programming and Development Andy Cohen, who adds that his favorite scene is when “Adrienne one day walks over to Lisa’s house for coffee, and the walk over—she walks to her door, then walks out of her gate, then walks across the street, waits for the other gate to open, and has to walk up to the house. It takes a while to walk across the street.”
Going forward, Camille’s new, post-show reality, will be tweaked. Yes, Ms. Donatacci is going to have to downsize, and perhaps get rid of some of those nannies. Yet she shows at least a glimmer of an enlightened attitude about it all. A split second after saying that reports of her settlement in the tabloids have been too low, she says: “No matter how much money you have, money can not buy happiness. I can’t stress that enough."
Kelsey Grammer is “the biggest child,” says Camille Grammer. “He’s not an easy person to be married to. I’m not going to get into it, but he’s not easy…. He can be very insecure. He’s gone through a lot. And I’ve always been supportive.”
“I want a more simple life. I’m going to cut back on things that don’t hold any weight, that have no value. I mean, we have some nice cars, but you can’t love your cars. You can’t hug your cars.”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.