Being the Sister of Jill Zarin, by Lisa Wexler
What happens to a sibling dynamic when the younger sister becomes a star?
My sister is Jill Zarin, one of the “Real Housewives of New York City,” Bravo’s crew of affluent, aspiring New York women whose lives are cast to resemble an unscripted version of “Days of Our Lives,” with fashion shows. Whether you view them as famous or infamous, the “Housewives” are a riveting bunch, pulling in record ratings, outdoing each other episode by episode, season by season and city by city. Orange County, Atlanta, New Jersey and New York City are in the current rotation, soon to be followed by Washington, DC, and Beverly Hills. Is the “Real Dallas” far behind?
One of the truest Hollywood clichés is that of the overnight success whose stardom is suddenly discovered by all, after 30 years of struggling in show business. Where were you? I was here all along, only nobody noticed.
My sister did not live that Hollywood cliché. She lived the other one, the one invented, or at least retold, by Lana Turner. You remember Lana? She was sitting by herself at Schwab’s drugstore in Hollywood one day, and along came an agent, a screen test and voila! History was made, with a capital H.
|Watching my baby sister’s celebrity status rise has rocked my world, tilting it on its axis more than I would have imagined.|
So, too, with my sister Jill, except that Jill did take the trouble to send in a video audition. But all the rest happened in what seemed to be an instant.
Jill signed her contract and was told, Sweetheart, we have a deal, but no cast. Find us some other pretty, rich and ambitious women like yourself who want to be famous by having their lives filmed on camera, and we’ll make it work. Jill did that, finding two other women to add to the original cast of five. Bravo’s formula worked, too – mix together a few glamorous women, eye-candy settings, gorgeous clothes and casting chemistry. Repeat every episode until the names and faces are as familiar as the top-40 radio tunes, and you get a hit show. Suddenly my sister Jill was a star. An overnight sensation. Lana Turner, without a script.
Every sisterly relationship has its own dynamic. Until Jill became a Housewife, my role had always been very clear. I was the attorney in the family, the older sister. I was the one to provide rational counsel, clear-headed advice and, hopefully, some wisdom. Growing up, our parents had one rule when it came to the two of us: Remember, you only have each other. And if you forget: Remember, you only have each other. We probably heard this from our mother every single day for 15 years. Repetition is big in Jewish families. We got the message.
When Jill asked me if she should join the show, I told her not to do it. I was familiar with the history of the first reality show, “The Louds,” and knew that being on camera had devastated that family. I could not think of one example where being on a reality show had improved anyone’s life. But I had not reckoned with Jill’s intense desire to be famous, a desire incidentally shared by the majority of young people, according to a widely published 2007 opinion survey. Jill was going to do the show anyway. What she really wanted was my support. And since we only have each other, she got it.