Eileen Davidson may be one of the more mature and seasoned television personalities of the Real Housewives franchise. She was, after all, born at the end of the Baby Boom and at age 57 has a commanding presence and a voice that does not belie her sophistication as a veteran soap star (She can be seen on The Young and The Restless). Despite what life has afforded her as a successful actress in her own right and the wife of Vince Van Patten (son of the late actor Dick Van Patten) she has shown through reality television that she doesn’t get bogged down by material things in the same way her co-stars do. One example is when her pocketbooks didn’t pass muster with former cast member Kathryn Edwards in season 6 of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. At the time, she laughed heartily and took it all in stride when Edwards suggested she upgrade to more deluxe handbags. Davidson, as Vulture recap writer Brian Moylan often suggests in his articles, is like a fan who gets to be on the show. Most of us adored her adulation of fellow Housewife Erika Girardi and the sexed-up music that has helped “Erika Jane” (Girardi’s alter ego) achieve gay icon status. When Eileen cheered, we cheered as well, loving this dynamic between the two cast mates on a show where the players are often catty and conniving. The duo ended up bonding and seeming like really good friends. Eileen tell me that in fact, they are. Over the phone, we discuss what it’s like to be a soap queen come Real Housewife and still come across as the most practical woman in the group.
This season Davidson was “completely blindsided” by newcomer Dorit Kelmsley’s response to her conflict- resolution skills. Davidson tells me that she doesn’t like to let sleeping dogs lie, that if there is a problem that needs to be fixed “I want to get it out of the way, that’s just the way I am.” She found herself in the hot seat after getting the heads-up from RH cast mate, longtime friend and former soap actor Lisa Rinna.
“Lisa called me to let me know that somehow the conversation had gotten out of hand and my private family losses (several relatives of her have passed away in a short period of time) had become a topic of conversation at the (Dorit and PK Kelmsley hosted) dinner. She felt terrible that somehow what she said had been misconstrued and the way I had dealt with things was in question.” Davidson is specifically referring to the fact that she is “a very private person” despite being on such a public show and had to draw a line for herself and not make the last RHOBH reunion about her losses and the fact that her mother had just passed away prior to the season 6 reunion. “I didn’t want the reunion to be about my personal loss. Period!” emphasizes Davidson, and now, despite criticism from the overt trolls on social media, she is fielding the same question, repeating the same answer while dealing with those losses as well as a recent one that has not been talked about on TV.
Of ridiculous claims that her need to quiet conflicts and address others’ snarky comments about her personal life is driven by wanting to be relevant on the show: “I’ve heard that ‘story line’ comment before. That’s definitely not what I’m doing. You see me being raw and you see me trying to shut things down in an effort to get them out of the way. Unfortunately, you also see that it backfires and with Dorit, it immediately makes her suspicious of me when my motivations were to quickly resolve things so we could go on with our friendship. You don’t even really get to see the extent of this on camera, but I really liked her a lot upon meeting her. I say this at the beginning of our uncomfortable conversation in the last episode that aired.”
I ask Davidson what her husband Vince thinks of the drama and the baiting that goes on between the ladies and note that some fans have said that Vince is more of a stereotypical machismo male character who doesn’t want to get bogged down by the terribly fraught, nuanced and highly dramatic female interactions. Eileen says this isn’t so. “Vinny and I have that dynamic where we always bounce things off each other and discuss things. The thing that we both do – that we both get annoyed by! - is play devil’s advocate.” She says that in this instance (last episode) she set Vinny straight on exactly what was going down. One would think that a woman who acts on a soap opera would want to put the script away at the end of the day and take a breather, but Eileen has her fair share of drama when filming RHOBH and asserts that there are more twists and turns than she ever could have imagined. She chose to do the show because she wanted to convey that despite being an actor, she wasn’t a “diva.” She does show viewers that she’s a down to earth person in real life, but admits to never expecting some of the convoluted directions that Housewives’ misunderstandings take, that she thought somehow she would have avoided being subjected to the drama and resulting scrutiny. Evidence of her realness includes how she was wearing two different earrings during a discussion with Vince. “I didn’t even notice that until later,” she laughs. She’s a mom and a stepmom to all boys and that very human non-diva mom side is inadvertently highlighted when Jessie (her 13 year old son with Vince) pops out of a suitcase, positively startling her mid- scene.
I tell her that I find Jesse hilarious and seeing him tell his mother that it’s time to stop grieving already has been some relief amidst the more weighty matter on the show (as well as the incessant ongoing discussion of Erika Girardi wearing a dress sans underpants). She tells me that there was one day when the crew showed up that Jesse declared he wasn’t in the mood to be on camera. “But he’s so funny. He said he didn’t want to be involved and then he suddenly pops out of a hamper.” While she’s not sure if that scene will air, I tell her that as a mother of all boys including a hilarious 10 year old who reminds me of Jesse, I hope that footage is included this season. He is my personal favorite of the Real Housewives’ kids.
When it comes to the rest of season 7, currently airing, I tell Davidson that I’m hopeful the cool new chick Eden Sassoon will become everyone’s buddy and bring some hilarity. Although, who am I really kidding? It is the fighting, the biting comments (see: Lisa Vanderpump) and the awkward tensions that keep us on the edge of our seats watching the show. “Eden gets herself into some trouble. You’ll see,” she assures me, echoing what Erika Girardi once told me about the “new girl” typically not being able to avoid causing a stir. But if it seems to you as a viewer that these reality stars have forced friendships for the sake of a show, Girardi (the pop star) Rinna (the entrepreneur with a successful QVC clothing line) and Davidson (the soap opera pro) have a musketeer kinship off camera. Laments Davidson wholeheartedly: “I just wish we had more time to get together and we weren’t all SO busy!”
You can catch Eileen Davidson on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, 9 pm/8c on Bravo.
Thank you to Dee A., Niya C. and Allison M. for their contributed interview questions.