Growing up in Bethesda, Giuliana Rancic thought there was nothing more glamorous than the news women she saw on TV. First at the University of Maryland, College Park, then at graduate school in Washington, she trained to join their ranks, heading with mike and camera to the White House, Pentagon and Capitol Hill.
But there was a problem.
"I couldn't bring myself to report the news straight," Rancic remembers. "I liked asking senators not just, what do you think of a policy, but what do you do for fun, what's your favorite movie."
A day after getting her master's degree at American University, she traded the marble hallways of Washington for the red carpets of Hollywood, a much more natural habitat for the lighthearted Rancic. Now 37, she is one of the most recognizable correspondents in the ever-growing world of celebrity news, anchoring E! network programs and nabbing celebrities as they swan into awards shows, quizzing them about their designers, diets and dates.
And somewhere along the way, Rancic herself has become as famous as some of the stars she interviews, covering celebrities but also getting covered herself. Nowhere have her dual roles been more in the forefront than this past year, as she publicly battled breast cancer.
"There's still a temptation to stay home and not face the world. But it's just not my personality," she says of her much-chronicled treatment, double mastectomy and continuing recovery.
"Sure, I did it to help people," she says of her public advocacy on the disease. "But I also did it for myself. I couldn't have kept it a secret. I'm not that person. I'm a very open person."
Indeed, a big part of what makes her so watchable is the blunt and plain-spoken approach she takes whether she is interviewing celebrities or talking about her illness. She has been quoted saying she doesn't give "two [bleeps]" about losing her breasts, for example, and refuses to sugar coat "the hell" of recovering from surgery.
But she leavens it with good-natured humor, tweeting about how her husband Bill, or rather, #HotMaleNurse as she hashtagged him, helped her through the misery.
By now, she is entirely comfortable living out loud, online and on air. She is almost as ubiquitous as her frequent co-host, Ryan Seacrest, popping up not just on seemingly every red carpet, but also on the ultimate guilty TV pleasure, the E! show "Fashion Police," where she joins Joan Rivers and others picking apart celebrities' stylistic triumphs and pratfalls.
You'll also see her on regular segments on NBC's "Today" show, and on the Style Network series "Giuliana & Bill," now entering a fifth season of showcasing a match that truly was made in reality heaven.
The couple met when the then-Giuliana DePandi interviewed him after he won the first season, 2004, of Donald Trump's "Apprentice." As duly reported on People magazine's website, she asked him during another interview a couple years later if he was dating anyone. No, he said, proceeding to ask her out.
They married in a lavish ceremony on Capri in 2007 — filmed, of course, for a Style Network special. She wore Monique Lhiullier; he wore Eduardo DePandi. His new father-in-law is a master tailor with a shop at White Flint Mall, where the TV is often tuned to E! to catch her broadcasts and the commercials feature Giuliana, Bill and her older siblings, Pasquale and Monica.
That the couple would be pitched a reality show of their own was all but inevitable, even if they initially hesitated. More than most, they knew about "the reality show curse," as Giuliana calls it, that very 21st-century malady in which the supposedly loving couples on screen end up in Splitsville off it.
Besides, the relentlessly cheery Rancic noted, she and Bill were never wanted to do a typical reality show, with all the contrived hysteria and petty backbiting.
"The only way we would do it is if we could make it a real reality show," she says. "There are so many fake reality shows, all this drama, people having affairs. We're not flipping over tables. There's no scandal in this show."
Now entering its fifth season, "Giuliana and Bill" indeed began as a largely sunny depiction of the apparently happy commuter marriage of the entertainment correspondent in L.A. and the rising entrepreneur in Chicago. (Bill has since moved to L.A.) But then, real-life plot twists emerged.
"We're going to buy this house and have kids, and it will be perfect," Giuliana says. "But lo and behold, reality set in, no pun intended."
The couple had trouble conceiving, which led to in vitro fertilization treatments and, sadly, a miscarriage after the second round. It was tempting to shut the cameras off on that part of their lives, she says.
"But we always made a deal, we would be truthful," she says. "We could have made up a story, 'Bill and I just don't want kids at this time.' "
Her commitment to openness was tested "times 100" when, as part of the IVF treatments, a doctor sent Giuliana for a mammogram and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went public in October, announcing it on the "Today" show.
After a double mastectomy in December, she made it back to four weeks later in time to cover the kickoff of the year's awards season, the Golden Globes.
"That was a goal," she said. "If I made my goal, I knew I would be in a much better place. I remember waking up that morning of the Golden Globes and telling my husband, it really is four weeks. By having a goal, it helped me recover better and more quickly. It helps accelerate it."
Rancic was her usual glam self on the red carpet, even switching from a black lace gown to a paler confection at one point. Stylist-dream thin, with huge, expressive eyes and a wide smile, she was entirely in her element bantering with the arriving celebs like her admitted favorite man in Hollywood, George Clooney, and his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler.
Both on the air and in an interview with The Sun, she lavished praise on Keibler, a Baltimore native whom she's met at several events in Los Angeles.
"She sent me flowers and a nice note," Rancic said, touched by Keibler's kind gesture during her recovery. "Girls need to stick together, no matter if it's in high school or Hollywood."
Although her recovery was "difficult and pretty horrendous at times," Rancic says she is on the mend. "Every day I turn a corner. So far, so good. I'm very lucky," she said. "Time heals all wounds. For me, it was all about taking it day by day."
At a time when celebrity coverage is about 10 percent reporting and 90 percent snark, there is still the vestige of a starry-eyed girl in Rancic, who says she grew up loving "all things Hollywood." Not that everyone loves being asked about their gowns and gems — some are Very Serious Actors, dontcha know — but Rancic takes it in stride.
"There are two kinds of people in Hollywood," she said. "There are those still on Planet Earth, and those that have checked out. I won't say who they are, but you can't even get across to them. Their egos have taken over."
But on air, her affect is generally more fond than mean; she celebrates rather than sneers. Maybe it's part of some sort of celebrity golden rule, mock not lest you be mocked yourself.
"Being on 'Fashion Police,' you have to watch your step," she says of her own wardrobe. "Kelly Osbourne and I were talking the other day," she said, referring to her fellow style cop, "since we're fashion critics, they're not as forgiving."
Rancic is not one to bemoan loss of privacy, not when she so eagerly has embraced the world of celebrity. She considers it a "platform," from which she can convey messages about infertility and cancer — a platform, incidentally, that she was denied after a couple of failed shots at the Miss Maryland title during her younger days.
"I did awful," she says with a laugh about a time when she flubbed a question. "I was trying to say I wanted access to reach out to young women, and instead I said something like I wanted a key to the city. I completely bumbled, and everyone was like, what?"
The DePandis moved from Naples to the Washington area in 1980, having previously enjoyed visits with a relative there, and Giuliana was the first of the clan to pick up English, her father said.
"When we would go to the grocery, she would translate for her," said DePandi, whose custom clients at his shop, Bruno Cipriani, range from Placido Domingo to the Washington Capitals' play-by-play man, Joe Beninati. "She has always been very friendly, very open. She has a good heart."
Rancic said she is heartened by the warm response she's received since going public with her struggles, from friends and strangers alike. She has a full year ahead, with a restaurant, RPM, that she and Bill have been planning to open in Chicago, as well as their usual full complement of TV shows and appearance.
In sickness and in health, they are a true partnership, she says.
"It's very easy after a few years in a marriage to check out," she says. "The key is to be together as much as possible. I love hiking, so he hikes with me. More than anything you have to always remember year after year: we're a team
"Our goal is to be together when we're old and gray, maybe in rocking chairs," she said. "Maybe it'll be here, or Chicago, or maybe Maryland."
Giuliana Rancic on Maryland's leading ladies
Stacy Keibler: "She's a sweetheart. She's such a nice girl. She leads her life in a very respectful way, she's a nice, honorable woman." (On whether she'll be the one who finally gets George Clooney to settle down:) "Who knows? I hope the best for them."
Julie Bowen: "I'm obsessed with Julie Bowen! Julie Bowen is still a regular, cool girl. She's that funny girl you want to hang out with, get a drink, go shopping. Hollywood has not changed her at all. She is so nice."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun