Since 2010, Kyle Richards has been starring in Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but recently, the former child star has made her way behind the camera as co-executive producer of Paramount Network’s newest series, American Woman.
It’s inspired by Kyle’s life in the ’70s, growing up with her two sisters and their mother, Kathleen Richards. The half-hour series stars Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) as Bonnie, Mena Suvari (American Beauty) as Kathleen and Jennifer Bartels (Friends of the People) as Diana.
The official description: “American Woman follows Bonnie, an unconventional mother struggling to raise her two daughters after leaving her husband amid the rise of second-wave feminism in the ’70s. With the help of her two best friends, Kathleen and Diana, these three women each discover their own brand of independence in a glamorous and ever-changing world reluctant to give it.”
If you’re planning on tuning in to the series, you may be wondering how much of the scripted drama is inspired by Kyle’s life. From the beginning, the Housewife has made it clear that American Woman isn’t based on her life; it’s simply inspired by her childhood.
During the RHOBH Season 8 reunion, which aired in May, she chatted with Andy Cohen about how her creation has caused tension with her sisters, Kathy Hilton and Kim Richards. She also clarified how many real-life events will be seen in the project. “American Woman is inspired by my life growing up with my mom in the ’70s,” she explained. “When I’m with my sisters, American Woman doesn’t usually come up. I feel like, since the beginning, they didn’t really understand what the project was. It’s not exactly our life at all.”
Cohen asked Kyle, “Is their issue that they feel it’s their story to tell and not just yours?” She replied, “No, because it’s not exactly like our life. There’s two sisters in the show, not three. And the writers take creative license. That’s why I kept saying, ‘inspired by, inspired by,’ not ‘based on.’ I think they thought it was more literal. I would never take the liberty to take someone else’s story, ever.”
The show has caused serious friction between Kyle and her sisters, especially Hilton. The RHOBH star confessed to Cohen that she hadn’t spoken with Hilton in six months and described their relationship as “not great.” She also admitted, “Honestly, that’s why I’m looking forward to her seeing American Woman, because I think she’s gonna look and say, ‘I read the situation wrong,’ and then we’ll go from there.”
Kyle also explained to Cohen that she told Hilton “all the time” that American Woman isn’t what she thinks it is. “I said, ‘I’m not sharing your stories or Kim‘s — these are my own stories.’ And not only that, it’s a fictionalized version of our life, and our mom being a single mom in the ’70s is the jumping-off point.”
Later, during a May 23 Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen appearance, Kyle said she and Kim are fine now and she also sent her younger sister a DVD of the series to watch. However, Kyle said HIlton had yet to see it.
Despite all of the family drama, Kyle seems excited to tell her story, which viewers should remember is loosely inspired by what she remembers as a child. However, there are a few details that probably come from Kyle’s experiences. For example, in the Season 1 premiere, there’s a scene with Bonnie driving fast and her two daughters sliding around in the back seat without seat belts. This actually happened, according to Kyle.
In January 2017, she told Bravo’s The Daily Dish, “I think about growing up as a kid and my mom would be smoking a cigarette with all the windows up [in the car] and I was flopping around in the back seat with no seatbelt on — I mean, that would never happen today. At least, we hope that would never happen today.”
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Today marks 15 years since we lost our Mom to breast cancer. We love & miss her everyday ❤#Repost @kimrichards11 It's taken me all day to put this up❤ My mom was the most amazing person.. she loved her girls and grandchildren more than anything in the world 🌎She was strong …& yet most loving & caring woman. Always taking people under her wing. There is not a day that I don't think of my mom and wish she was still here. But I do know she is watching over all of us … and gives me peace knowing she can see all the good that is happening in our lives 🙏🏻 ❤ our new babys!! 💗💙
Kyle and Kim did have a father growing up. After divorcing Hilton’s father, Laurence Avanzino, Kathleen married Ken Richards, a retail businessman. He and Kathleen split in 1972, and both later remarried. Ken died in 1998, and Kathleen died in 2002 of breast cancer.
Scenes in the first episode of American Woman showcase Bonnie’s husband, Steve (James Tupper), in a bad light. He cheats on Bonnie, and Bonnie becomes determined to make it by herself after their divorce. But, as Richards discussed with The Los Angeles Times, while there are details specific to her life in the show, not everything should be taken to heart — including Steve’s character.
“It is a fictionalized version, it’s inspired by childhood, but this is not autobiographical,” she made clear. “The show has two sisters. It’s not three. My dad’s a jerk in the show; in my real life my dad was not. Yes, he cheated on my mom. That part of the story’s true. The other stuff, the way he talked to my mom, no. My dad was a good guy. But you know, that’s what happens when you make a TV show. It’s inspired by, not based on.”
Silverstone even said that her character is a combination of different women, not just Kyle’s mom. “A lot of the stories that you’ll see are things that happened to Kyle Richards and her mother, but a lot of it isn’t; it’s taking dramatic license, but the storytelling is so good,” she told Entertainment Weekly in October 2017. “My character is inspired by Kyle Richards’ mother, but she’s also inspired by our creator John Riggi’s mom. Like any art form, it then became about everybody’s mom. John Wells, the producer, it’s about his mom, and I used my mom as inspiration. Bonnie is this collective [mother].”
As for the other characters in the series, Cheyenne Jackson stars as Greg, a “boy toy” for Suvari’s character, Kathleen (one of Bonnie’s closest friends). According to Deadline, Jackson’s character is described as follows: “A charmer who works in casting at a major studio, Greg persuades Kathleen to invest a bundle in his new casting company — leaving her friends understandably leery.” Per Variety, Kathleen is also someone who “yearns for love and marriage, but her habit of picking up so-called ‘boy toys’ who exploit her for her looks and her money stands in the way of her happiness.”
Then there is Bartels’ character, Diana, who is Bonnie’s best friend and has been a working professional for the past 10 years. “Diana has had to endure harassment and inappropriate sexual comments from her sexist boss throughout her tenure, but she masks her misery through a positive resilient manner,” according to Deadline. “When Bonnie splits from her husband, Diana confides just how challenging the real world can be for a woman, no matter how smart and capable she may be.”
The series definitely sounds relevant today, and it also seems to serve as a powerful tribute to Kyle’s mom. She has said she can’t wait for her four daughters to watch.
The one thing Kyle hopes they take away from the drama is “to be strong and independent and not have to need a man for anything,” she told Variety in January. “I enjoy the role of being a wife and a mom, but I want my kids to know you don’t need a man for anything, and like my mom says in the show, ‘Never allow yourself to be intimidated by a man.’ You always have to stand up for yourself.”
American Woman premieres Thursday at 10/9c on Paramount Network.