Dorinda Medley Had to Survive Some Shit Before She Could ‘Make It Nice’
The former “Real Housewives” star—and brand-new author—opens up about how her infamous “pause” from the show shocked her system and caused her to rethink... everything.
Any time there’s a dramatic change in Dorinda Medley’s life, she finds herself back at home. That might sound silly to say. It’s home; what is it for if not sanctuary during hard times? But it’s been a profound throughline in the entrepreneur turned reality TV star and, now, author’s life.
Home for Medley is the Berkshires, the highland area of Western Massachusetts where opulence and high-end vacationing meets salt-of-the-earth. It’s where her parents, John and Diane Cinkala, raised her and where she now owns Blue Stone Manor, a colorful estate teeming with eccentricities and wallpapered with memories of drunken antics filmed there during her six seasons as a cast member on The Real Housewives of New York City.
It’s where she straddled her working-class upbringing and the unfamiliar, envy-inducing wealth of her classmates at school—talk of designer wares and tony vacation plans were a foreign language to her then—and, later, the clientele she served at the local Red Lion Inn. The establishment’s former owner, Senator Jack Fitzpatrick, wrote her college recommendation. It’s where she would retreat after she botched her first attempt at upward mobility as a young girl living in Manhattan and ran out of money.
After time spent playing housewife and hostess in London, where her first husband, Ralph Lynch, worked for Lehman Brothers, she got divorced and moved her daughter, Hannah, back to the U.S. with a stop “home” again to get back on her feet. And when her second husband, Richard Medley, died, Blue Stone Manor is where she mourned and then, eventually, rediscovered who she was, no longer attached to labels like “wife” and “mother.” It’s why she decided to join Real Housewives.
“It’s where I go back to recharge,” Medley tells The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “If I was a car, it is where I would charge my battery.”
There’s a bit of a Wizard of Oz element to all of this. In returning home, she managed to summon heart, brains, and some courage when she needed it. But if one were to mash up the iconography of Dorothy and her friends with the traumatic entertainment that has come to define The Real Housewives of New York City, then there would undeniably be a fourth element: mental and spiritual wellness. After a dramatic year full of change outside of her control, that’s what, through home, Medley unexpectedly found, too.
In her new book Make It Nice, a memoir released this week, Medley characterized being on Real Housewives as an unusual experience, even for someone who, as she did, enjoys the intensity of it all: “If you aren’t on a reality show, you’re probably not thinking about how to play a dramatic game of chess with your friends, but when you’re on reality television that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re like a military general in high heels, strategizing and attacking, perpetually reevaluating your situation and thinking about how to win.”
Those calculations, however, don’t always work out. She had enjoyed years-long status as a fan favorite for her quotable quips—the book’s title is inspired by her famous, “I cooked; I decorated; I made it nice,” speech to ungrateful castmates at a Blue Stone Manor party—and ability to hold her co-stars accountable without taking herself too seriously. She was almost like a viewer’s stand-in for what they’d imagine the perfect Housewives filming experience to be. But those viewers were decidedly turned off by a darker version of Medley in the sixth season, whose excessive drinking started to draw concern and whose unrelenting attacks on certain cast members seemed vicious and unfair.
Above all that, however, she seemed to just be... a little blue. She had cracked a rib. Blue Stone Manor flooded, which meant carting out most of the late Richard Medley’s belongings—memories of an entire marriage—in waterlogged boxes. Her father got sick. She broke up with her then-boyfriend, John Mahdessian. Fans of the show were shocked by Medley’s seemingly unsubstantiated anger, but they weren’t always seeing where it was coming from.
Before production began on what would have been her seventh season, Medley got a call from Bravo that she was being put on “pause,” language that had never been used before with the network. She wasn’t fired, per se. But she would not be back for the new year of filming.
In Make It Nice, Medley writes that, while she had “some regrets” and “definitely wasn’t shining my brightest” in that last season, she never imagined that it would result in not being asked to return. “I was shocked. Then I was sad. Then I was humiliated and angry and confused. I was all over the place. I felt left out. Watching the other women go back to work felt like the first year I was out of college. People around me were going back to campus, but I was done.”
Once again, she found herself at home. “Whenever I get into situations where you have to light a fire under me, I do very well in that,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I remember my friend texted me after Andy Cohen said you're being put on pause, and she said you should take off a month and just relax. I was like, no, I'm not doing that.” Instead, she wrote a book.
Make It Nice is peppered with the juicy tidbits about Medley’s time on Real Housewives that Bravo fans will likely crave. She dissects the politics of the cast’s friendship dynamics and pulls back the curtain, so to speak, on what production on a season entails.
There’s emotional context given to some of the more famous scenes featuring Medley, particularly the ones that were filmed at the Berkshires. She explains that the notorious “fish room” that Luann de Lesseps threw a fit over having to sleep in, because of her distaste for its aquatic-themed decor, was actually designed for Medley’s stepson, who was 12 at the time and loved to go deep-sea fishing with Richard.
And the iconic “I made it nice” meltdown? Each year since Medley was a little girl, her mother made her a homemade vanilla cake with buttercream icing at Christmastime. She was excited and proud to serve it to her castmates, but, after a day of drunken bickering, they all started to ridicule it. Medley was crushed and, rightfully, unloaded on them.
But more than just Housewives tea, Make It Nice finds Medley looking back at her life from a new perspective: at age 56 and coming to terms with a dramatic end to a chapter. She wrote the book from the Berkshires largely during the pandemic and while spending more time with her parents, who live down the road from Blue Stone Manor, than she had in years.
“It's caused me to revisit my whole life with my parents for the first time,” she says. “After 26 years, I was laying on my twin bed watching TV, because I had the time. There was nothing else to do, but it was such a great time to stop. The world had stopped. To really, really take on this full circle moment... I was like, wait a second, I'm home again.”
There’s a bit of “This is your life, Dorinda Medley...” to Make It Nice. Yet it’s not fair to generalize it as a sweeping trip down memory lane. Medley shrewdly explores the different identities she’s adopted over the years, from childhood to Housewives, with emotional insight into what it must have been like for the Dorinda of then to weather certain storms. Finally, it offers some clarity on how it all contributed to the Dorinda of now.
She came from an immigrant family—her mother was Italian and her father was Polish—and grew up in a Catholic household, a devotion that, to this day, Medley says keeps her grounded. “My mother goes to church every day. I grew up with life-size statues everywhere. I couldn’t get out of my house without kneeling in front of some statue 300 times. I said to my mother once, it’s a wonder anyone ever had sex in this house with all these statues around.”
There are tales of her struggle as a young adult in New York City, living in shared apartments and hustling for jobs so that she “could hopefully afford an Ann Taylor dress one day.” She eventually became a wholesaler for Liz Claiborne, before blowing her bonus on drinks for friends and having to move back home again. But she found her bearings and went on to meet Ralph Lynch, who whisked her off to a life of international travel and hobnobbing with the rich and famous; when she started her own business selling sweaters in London, Princess Diana was one of her clients.
Her voice breaks remembering a time years ago when she was talking to her grandmother, a Polish immigrant who worked as a housecleaner in Manhattan. She used to take pantyhose that women had discarded in waste baskets and fashion dolls out of them that she would sell on the Brooklyn Bridge. After Medley’s success, her grandmother told her, “You are the woman I used to work for.” She chokes back tears. “I was so proud and humbled by it.”
“These are all things that kind of collectively make me this colorful quilt,” she says. “You know all those different patches are very interesting to me. Sometimes they're not as pretty as other ones but overall the quilt is good, you know what I mean?”
Love stories provide the backbone to Make It Nice. Chiefly, that comes in the form of her relationship with her daughter, Hannah, whom she raised as a single mom after divorcing Lynch and before Richard Medley entered the picture years later.
There’s a wistful grin to her voice as she recounts one of her first dates with Richard, at a “down and dirty Irish bar” on 86th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues. When the song “The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers started playing over the loudspeakers, Medley jumped on the bar and started flapping her arms and dancing the goofy choreography while she and the other patrons belted out about “green alligators and long-necked geese.” She sighs a bit as she remembers, “He said that he fell in love with me that night...”
This year marks 10 years since Richard died. There used to be an apple orchard on the Blue Stone Manor property that was planted in 1902, but now there are only two trees left. Two years ago, the groundskeeper broke the news to Medley that even those last remaining trees had become unsavable. Not realizing how poignant it would end up being, she told him to try one last time. “Fertilize them like crazy and let’s see if they come back.”
One of them didn’t make it, but the other is producing fruit again. Medley plans to string lights, baubles, and trinkets on it as a gift to the memory of Richard on the anniversary of his death, as a thank-you for the house and the time spent together.
“I started out the other day thinking that sometimes you need a good shock to prosper again,” she says. “Sometimes it may look like you're not going to bear any more fruit, and before you know it, you're prospering again.”
A common assumption—if not general wisdom—is that a person tends to lose who they are when they join reality television. Maybe it’s the intensity of the filming experience, the pressure to deliver drama, or insecurity over audience feedback, feeling like you need to change yourself to satisfy who viewers may want you to be.
Medley had been approached over the years about joining The Real Housewives of New York City because of her social friendship with cast members like Ramona Singer and Luann de Lesseps, and Richard had encouraged her to do it. But it wasn’t until after his death and facing an understandable existential crisis that she decided to sign on. Given reality TV’s reputation for toxicity, it’s a surprise to hear that she actually found the experience healing from the start. It gave her, finally, a sense of independence.
“I've always had a tendency to answer to people,” she says. Answer to her parents, to the business world, to expectations for women, to her husbands, to motherhood. “Then Richard passed and Hannah went to college, and I was like, wait a second, this is not how I wrote my story. When that rug was pulled from under me, I was like I'm done. I’m out. I'm gonna do me now. I'm gonna really just do what makes me happy. Being a Housewife was a therapeutic journey.”
When the “pause” happened and that was taken away, those close to her were concerned. Hannah even asked her if she was still going to decorate for Christmas now that Bravo wouldn’t be filming at Blue Stone Manor last winter. “I was like, Hannah, you were born with decorations. You were born on December 27 with a houseful of decorations. Then she was like, ‘You know other people don't have four Christmas trees. You know that's weird, right?’”
But what she found, both through the “pause” and through writing the book, is possibility. She’s started partnerships with Airbnb and Nutrisystem and is developing a bourbon. It was announced earlier this month that she would take part in an “all-stars” version of Real Housewives with other past cast members that will air on Peacock. In February, she took a trip to Puerto Rico. While getting ready to board the plane, she realized she had never been alone at an airport taking herself on vacation.
“It's an amazing feeling to be 56 years old and think that I'm in a position where I have a lot of options to do a lot of different things.” That’s why, no matter how many times she’s forced to revisit the pain of the “pause,” she’ll never say she has regrets from her experience on Real Housewives.
“Is it hard sometimes? Yes. Is it painful sometimes? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But my God, is it a learning experience. And the opportunities that have been presented to me because of the platform it gave me—certainly, the good has certainly outweighed any negative.”
And would she do it again?
“Hell yes. Would I change a couple things? Sure! But that's part of being reality TV. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful.” The audience is forgiving, she says. “They will love you one day, hate you the next, but then they’ll love you again two days later.”
After an unexpected pause, for example, you can always still make it nice.