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[UPDATED] New Jersey 'Real Housewife' Danielle Staub on crime and Botox on 'Today'

June 16, 2009 | 12:02 pm


What do you do if you have a reality star with a newly revealed scandalous past on your show? Well, if you’re “Today,” you laughingly mention those pesky little issues like kidnapping and extortion and then get her to share beauty tips!

Real Housewife of New Jersey Danielle Staub joined the folks at “Today” this morning, marking, one imagines, the first time a former-stripper-charged-with-kidnapping-and-extortion-turned-hateful-reality-star has co-hosted this, or any, morning show.  It was all part of “Housewife” week, and it provided an excellent teaser for the finale of the Jersey branch of Bravo’s "Real Housewives" franchise, which airs tonight (NBC being the parent company of Bravo and all). 

“You kind of light the place up,” said an admiring Hoda Kotb, apparently referring to recent episodes in which it was revealed that Staub has a past that would make Jacqueline Susann sit up and take notice. Under the name Beverly Merrill, she figures heavily in the book “Cop Without a Badge,” written by a con man turned FBI informant who was Merrill/Staub’s first husband. According to the book, when he first met her, she was on probation for charges that had included kidnapping, extortion and drug possession.

The book, which is 20 years old and hardly a bestseller, somehow made it into the hands of Dina Manzo on “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” where it has dominated the story line for the second half of the season, with Staub spending much more time cursing Dina than actually addressing the charges.

It was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she explained to her one friend, Jacqueline Laurita. She had gone to visit her boyfriend and walked in just as the FBI was busting him for drug dealing, kidnapping and torture. (Her boyfriend lived in a big house, she later said rather hilariously, she couldn’t know what was going on in all the rooms.) “But did he do the things they said he did?” Jacqueline asked. “I’m really not going to answer that,” Staub replied, her tone quickly switching from strained girlfriend confidential to courtroom pragmatism.

So when it was announced last week that she would be co-hosting the fourth hour of “Today,” many were a bit shocked. But leave it to “Today” to keep things in perspective. Kotb presented the book to Staub on a silver platter. After listing the charges, with a winning smile and a tiny laugh, she finally, as if it were really just matter of passing curiousity, asked if Staub had been, you know, convicted of any of the crimes.

Well, yes and no.  Staub answered by giving a big “shout out” to the district attorney who gave her a plea bargain that resulted in probation rather than jail time. “So this was wrong place wrong time,” Kotb said sympathetically, as if such a thing could happen to anyone, before showing the mug shot from the book with a reassuring “This doesn’t look like you.”

Then she got down to business. “I’m just going to ask you what people are going to ask you,” she said. “You can ask me anything, honey,” said Staub. “They ask, ‘Has she done anything to enhance herself with plastic surgery and stuff?' ”

Really, someone should take this moment and put it in a time capsule somewhere. No questions about Staub’s alleged stripper past and drug use, the subsequent less-than-flattering publicity or even how the book made its way onto the show. Nope, moving right on to the things that matter — how the woman manages to look "so good." Even Staub seemed taken aback.

She rallied however, denying any surgery beyond breast enhancement and Botox, and then walking a fascinated Kotb through her beauty regimen. She’s a size 0, in case anyone was wondering, and she eats whatever she wants, including lots of sugar, and exercises only three times a week. There was some minor discussion about Staub’s role on the show — she believes she has been portrayed pretty much as herself — and the real-life relationship among the women. “Acquaintances” is the word Staub used.

By the time Kathy Bates appeared to tout her upcoming film “Cheri,” the sight of that great talent being "interviewed" by Staub was simply too much and I had to leave the room.

— Mary McNamara

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post stated that the finale of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” aired on Monday night. It airs tonight.]

Credit: Bravo