You usually don’t get these little moments,” Bethenny Frankel says, as her 21-month-old daughter, Bryn, nestles her head sleepily into her mother’s surgically enhanced cleavage. “She’s a real mommy’s girl,” she says. “Aren’t you, my little pumpkin poodle pie?” Witnessing this intimate scene feels a little intrusive, since we just met five minutes ago, but then again, most of the precious moments in Frankel’s recent life have been observed by strangers.
Frankel made her name on The Real Housewives of New York City, where she distinguished herself with her witty ripostes and by remaining composed on a show—and in a genre—where adults usually act like overgrown children. Her reality-TV debut was actually in 2005, on the forgettable Martha Stewart version of The Apprentice. Since then, she’s managed to savvily spin real-life gold out of reality-show fame, turning her SkinnyGirl diet-food-and-drinks product line into a major brand, selling its cocktail component for a reported $100 million, and writing three best-selling books. And she’s rarely away from the cameras, honing her ice-skating skills on Skating With the Stars and marrying mild-mannered pharmaceutical salesman Jason Hoppy in a Bravo series: Bethenny Getting Married? The question mark suggested Frankel might not go through with it, but she did, and now the marriage is nearly two years old, and Bethenny Ever After will return for its third season next month.
It’s easy to see why the cameras love her. Dark-haired and petite, she’s like a modern-day Rosalind Russell, though Russell would probably never say things like “Jason’s penis has cobwebs on it,” which Frankel has said while promoting the upcoming season. Even off-camera, she feels edited for people with short attention spans. At her Tribeca apartment, visitors bustle in and out unannounced, the dog barks, the baby cries, the jokes fly.
“If we’re going to have another baby, we have to do it now,” says Frankel, who is 41, juggling Bryn with one hand while pouring a SkinnyGirl White Cranberry Cosmo with the other. “Right, Jason?”
“Give me a second,” he calls from the other room.
“I’ll give you twenty minutes,” she shoots back.
“I don’t need that long.” Zing!
Jackie Lagratta, Frankel’s new but already beleaguered-looking assistant, appears, buttoning her coat. “So we have to leave here at 6:30 tomorrow morning,” she warns.
“Oh my God!” Frankel says, lifting a well-manicured hand to her mouth. “I have an appearance in Boston.” She pauses, and you can imagine how the camera might zoom in on her widening, perfectly smoky eyes. “It’s going to be brutal.”
Lagratta nods wearily. “Jackie’s going to tie a case of SkinnyGirl Margaritas around her neck and jump out the window,” Frankel stage-whispers.
“And your book is coming,” Lagratta adds, as an assistant from the publishing company appears with a fat envelope of galleys: It’s a novel, Skinnydipping, which Frankel wrote in installments on her BlackBerry.
“Oooh, it’s warm! Hot off the presses!” Frankel exclaims. “It’s about a girl who struggles to have it all and what she gives up to get it.”
Frankel’s own success has not come without sacrifice. “I’m tired of camera crews being here,” she says.“This has been the longest season. It’s been six months. I’m going to kill someone. I’m going to be on a killing spree soon. Jackie has probably sealed the windows in her apartment and turned on the gas.”
It’s not just the cameras that bother her. Much of the season they have just wrapped is devoted to Frankel’s struggles with “haters,” mostly in the media, which has gleefully reported rumors “that we’re getting a divorce, that I’m pregnant. Every day it’s something.” Then there was Whole Foods, which discontinued Frankel’s SkinnyGirl Margarita “after discovering that it contains a preservative that does not meet our quality standards.” “Once you’ve achieved some success, financial success, people want to tear you down,” she says. “Not so much with fame, but money makes people crazy.”
Now that she has other projects in the pipeline, Frankel and her husband are discussing giving reality a rest. “We’re just tired,” she says. “I’m a little over myself, to be honest.”
Holding the baby, she faces the mirror. “Your hair is so messy,” she coos. “You look like Donald Trump. You have a comb-over.” It’s another adorable moment, but it is odd that she’s facing the mirror, like she is used to seeing herself from the outside, and I wonder aloud what life would be like if people ever stopped looking. “Yeah, we talked about that a little bit,” says Hoppy. “I think we would miss it a little.”
“Even now, when we’re not filming,” says Frankel. “Sometimes crazy things will happen, and we’ll be like, ‘Where are those cameras?’”