Being the Sister of Jill Zarin, by Lisa Wexler

What happens to a sibling dynamic when the younger sister becomes a star?

Jill Zarin, on left, with Lisa Wexler © Claudia Marinesco

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.


9 thoughts on “

  1. Lana Turner? You have got to be kidding! Please do not compare people who are famous by having a camera follow them around and get into petty fights with other women to a legends such as Lana Turner. I think Jerry Seinfeld summed it up perfectly….”faux fame”
    Listen all of the housewives 15 minutes will be up as soon as the show jumps shark. by the way, what was the name of the girl who was on “who wants to marry a millionaire”? She was so famous and she was all we heard about for months and months. See you dont remember either.

    1. Perhaps you missed the point here. Reality show stars are today’s celebrities, whether you think they should measure up to that standard or not. Just look at today’s People Magazine cover- whereas at one time, People devoted itself to stage actors, royalty, and politicians, today’s cover is about the break-up of a reality show “bachelor” and “bachelorette”- two people, incidentally, of whom I have never heard either. Whether or not you realize it , or want to realize it, being on a reality show today confers the kind of fame and celebrity that years ago was accorded to film stars. Such is the state of America, circa 2010.

  2. Lisa,

    I am not really questioning the fame of reality celebrities. They are famous. You are correct and I completely agree with you. They are who we are interested in today. Myself included. But my point is they are famous just for being famous. They should not be compared with legends or film stars. When I watch some of these shows, it seems that these reality stars put themselves in a category way above where they belong. I think one of the reasons reality shows are so popular is that they are people we can identify with. I think when Kate Gosselin became “too famous” people started to dislike her and I think eventually she will be forgotten.

    No doubt they are stars, but we all must remember, that they are not legends. I do particularly enjoy the housewives=All of them, and they certainly live interesting lives but they should remember that yes today they are famous, but they will not be infamous.

    sorry so long…..

  3. Poor Lana Turner….For those readers that are not of that decade, Lana’s daughter killed a boyfriend in front of Lana. It was such a sad story. It happened in the 50’s.

    I also watched the “Loud” show; the first reality show. It was a long time ago too, but their son was gay, and at that time, no one came out.

    It’s too bad that your sister doesn’t listen to you, Lisa. You’re the one that has made a difference in life for many people. I am very proud of you. Today’s so-called celebrity star is yesterday’s ashes.

    1. Jill listens to me when she thinks she ought to- it’s hard sometimes to listen to other people’s advice. Some people need to make their own mistakes- they learn better that way. I think Jill has been way over-villified in this last season anyway.

  4. Lisa, since Jill is your sister, I am not going to say anything negative because family is family.

    I would like to know the answer to this question if you know:

    Years ago, stars were called either actors or actresses Why is it now that all are considered Actors whether female or male? My friends have no idea either.

    Lisa, thank you

  5. Iris, calling them all actors seems like a pretentious use of language to me, but maybe it’s a case of trying to even out the gender inequities of some English words, like chairman. If it’s a woman, is it chairperson, or chairwoman (or maybe charwoman, but I digress…) . On the other hand, we still use human for everyone, even though most of us know that most dogs are superior in character to most humans. Now I’m really digressing.

    I say actress, not actor, when I’m introducing a female role-player. But if the female prefers to be called Actor, I’m not going to argue. Like doctors, lawyers and accountants, maybe some actresses simply prefer that people do not introduce them by their gender.

    Thanks for writing to the blog- Lisa

  6. Lisa, thank you so much for responding. I also remember when we only had Miss or Mrs. I gather divorced women wanted something also, thus: Ms. When planning an event, then one must wonder if this person is a widow or Ms. This world has become confusion.

    The problem I have is when an actor’s name is said, I have no idea what gender they are. In fact, I don’t know who they are.

    As an animal lover, I feel dogs are superior in character to most humans.
    “I hope I’m as good a person that my dog thinks I am.”

    Life is a learning experience, but a lot of people may hear words but don’t put the knowledge to use. I can only give advice if asked, but in the end, it’s the person’s choice and consequences. I’m referring to my own family. They must think of life as a chess game or any game. One must think not of the current move but way past that.

    Lisa, what are your feelings of the new DC Housewives? I am not watching it, but I did hear Whoopi tell her side of the story regarding the woman and husband. (The wife and husband that went to the White House uninvited). How embarrassing it is for our Country.

    I feel it was totally inappropriate for Bravo to display them. Since Andy Cohen said it happened near the end, they should have taken the entire
    episode out completely and add discarded footage.

    I know personally that the FBI checks on all invited people. An invitation is also a must so I gather there was a tremendous mistake. Terrorists come in all shapes, forms, race and age. They are being “home grown.”

    On the view, the woman thought is was funny and said, “Read my book.”

    (She is also accusing Whoopi of hitting her)

    Lisa, thank you for reading and responding.

    1. I agree with you re: the Salahis and I have said this on my radio show several times. I cannot understand how NBC condoned these cast members after that scandal, but there are now so many scandals among various cast members. I think it speaks ,unfortunately, to where we are right now as a culture. Our so-called leaders, in media and elsewhere, will do anything for a buck. And they wonder why there are no heroes anymore…

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