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Martha Stewart

In her time, Martha Stewart (1941-) was the epitome of the American Dream, an entrepreneur who turned a flair for gracious living and an insatiable appetite for perfection into a highly successful career as a lifestyle expert: teaching the arts of cooking, gardening, crafts and home decoration, to millions of American women. Stewart, however, was also the epitome of the American Dream gone bad, demonstrating the immense pride and separation from reality that inevitably comes before a long, hard fall.

Martha Stewart, born Martha Kostyra, was the second of six children in a Polish-American family. She grew up in a working class neighborhood in the small town of Nutley, New Jersey. Her father was strict, demanding, temperamental, and disappointed with life; her mother (also named Martha) was a cold, unhappy, resentful housewife. This volatile combination of parental forces, along with the constant threat of poverty, imbued Stewart with a permanent yearning for power and comfort, desires that would manifest themselves as an endless devotion to perfection and a chronic, insatiable ambition for material success.

Stewart reinvented her childhood for public consumption, fantasizing about the happy, loving family life she never had. In later years, she would do the same thing with her adult life

In an attempt to fulfill these needs, Stewart consciously developed herself in three ways. First, she learned to how to achieve her goals with the single-mindedness of a charging rhinoceros. Second, she became enormously skillful in the domestic arts, developing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (and women). Finally, she turned herself into the public authority on Gracious Living, Along the way, Stewart reinvented her childhood for public consumption, fantasizing about the happy, loving family life she never had. In later years, Stewart would do the same thing with her adult life, portraying her husband, daughter Alexis, and herself as living an ever-so-happy and perfect domestic existence, an image that was far from the truth. In 1987, for example, her husband of 26 years, Andy Stewart, moved out to live with Martha's former assistant. (The actual divorce came three years later.)

However, as much as her public image and private demons may have conflicted with reality, there is no gainsaying that Stewart was a highly innovative businesswoman, boldly going where no man (or woman) had gone before. In 1982, she burst into the American consciousness with her first book "Martha Stewart Entertaining" (which was published by her husband's company). In 1987, she signed a lucrative deal with the giant retailer Kmart to develop an exclusive line of low-cost, but tasteful, merchandise. In 1991, she published her first magazine, "Martha Stewart Living", and in 1993, debuted her first TV show, also called "Martha Stewart Living". In 1997, Stewart established her own company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

Within a short time, she expanded her eponymous and seemingly ubiquitous business far beyond the traditional boundaries of domestic merchandising. The Martha Stewart brand name was attached, not only to books, magazines and TV shows, but to radio spots, a newspaper column, a large mail-order/Internet business, as well as the thriving Kmart product lines. In 1999, Stewart took her company public making her, on paper, a freshly minted, yet tasteful, billionaire, the reigning queen of domestic consumption. However, it was not to last.

On June 4, 2003, Stewart and her stock broker, Peter Bacanovic, were indicted on federal securities charges. (The indictment stemmed from lies that Stewart had told during an investigation of insider trading.) On the same day, Stewart resigned as Chairman and CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. On March 5, 2004, Stewart and Bacanovic were convicted of several charges: conspiracy, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. Stewart's personal empire began to crumble, forcing her to resign as an officer and board member of her own company.

On July 16, 2004, Stewart was sentenced to 5 months in prison, followed by 5 months home arrest and 2 years probation (to be served concurrently). She was also fined $30,000. Bacanovic received the same sentence, but with a smaller fine. Barely four months later, on October 8, 2004, an unrepentant Stewart — newly rechristened as U.S. federal prisoner #55170054 — surrendered to officials at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia to begin serving her sentence.

So what does the story of Martha Stewart have to teach us? With respect to homemaking, Stewart inspired millions of women to cultivate a desire for quality and to pay attention to details. In a real sense, the time-consuming, but satisfying, activities she offered her followers were a marvelous antidote to the plague of instant living that infects our modern culture. Stewart was, without a doubt, not only a domestic goddess, but a very smart, talented, and competent businesswoman. However, she was also a disorganized, short-tempered, pathologically demanding tyrant and, when the legal and business dust had settled, it was clear that Stewart was nothing less than a tragic victim of her own hubris, demonstrating fatal flaws that would make even Sophocles sit up and take notice.



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The essay above is taken from Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages. You'll find it in the section entitled "People: Famous and Interesting".

Over the years, I have written about a great many people, some famous, some not, all of them interesting. You'll find many of these essays in the Yellow Pages. along with related Internet resources: Web sites, mailing lists and Usenet discussion groups. (See the full list below.)

If you are a member of The Harley Hahn Experience, my premium Web site, you can access the entire Yellow Pages online:

Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages

To check out the section in which I write about Martha Stewart, just click on the following link:

People: Famous and Interesting   The Harley Hahn Experience

If you are not a member of The Harley Hahn Experience, here's where you can find information about joining:

The Harley Hahn Experience

Here is the list of all the people you can read about in Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages:

Adler, Alfred
Aguilera, Christina
Allen, Woody
Allen, Woody (Quotations)
Angelou, Maya
Armstrong, Louis
Asimov, Isaac
Atwood, Margaret
Austen, Jane
Baker, Chet
Beethoven, Ludwig van
Berry, Chuck
Blake, William
British Royal Family
Brontė, Charlotte and Emily and Anne
Brooks, Gwendolyn
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, Robert
Bukowski, Charles
Byron, Lord (George Gordon)
Carey, Mariah
Cather, Willa
Cayce, Edgar
Chomsky, Noam
Cisneros, Sandra
Conrad, Joseph
Crosby, Bing
Cummings, E.E.
Descartes, Rene
Dickens, Charles
Dickinson, Emily
Dix, Dorothy
Dylan, Bob
Edison, Thomas
Einstein, Albert
Eliot, George
Eliot, T.S.
Elizabeth I, Queen
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Faulkner, William
Fields, W.C. (Quotations)
Fitzgerald, Ella
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
Franklin, Aretha
Freud, Sigmund
Frost, Robert
Fuller, Buckminster
Gandhi, Mohandas
Gates, Bill
Gershwin, George
Goldman, Emma
Goldwyn, Samuel (Quotations)
Goodman, Benny
Guthrie, Woody
Hahn, Harley (Quotations)
Hardy, Thomas
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
Hemingway, Ernest
Hendrix, Jimi
Hesse, Hermann
Hitler, Adolf
Holiday, Billie
Hughes, Langston
Huxley, Aldous
Jackson, Janet
Jackson, Michael
Jefferson, Thomas
Joyce, James
Jung, Carl
Kant, Immanuel
Keats, John
Khan, Genghis
King Jr., Martin Luther
Kravitz, Lenny
Leary, Timothy
Lincoln, Abraham
Lopez, Jennifer
Lovecraft, H.P.
Machiavelli, Niccolo
Mailer, Norman
Marx Brothers
Marx, Groucho (Quotations)
Marx, Karl
McKenna, Terence
Mencken, H.L. (Quotations)
Miller, Glenn
Mitchell, Joni
Morissette, Alanis
Morrison, Toni
Nader, Ralph
Neruda, Pablo
Newton, Isaac
Nietzsche, Friedrich
Orwell, George
Parker, Dorothy
Pascal, Blaise
Plath, Sylvia
Poe, Edgar Allan
Pope John Paul II
Presley, Elvis
Pushkin, Aleksandr
Randi, James
Rocker, Rudolf
Rogers, Will (Quotations)
Russell, Bertrand
Salinger, J.D.
Shakespeare, William
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Shore, Dinah
Silko, Leslie Marmon
Sinatra, Frank
Socrates and Plato
Spears, Britney
Star Wars Kid
Stein, Gertrude
Steinbeck, John
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Stewart, Martha
Sullivan, Louis Henry
Swift, Jonathan
Tan, Amy
Tennyson, Alfred
Thompson, Hunter S.
Thoreau, Henry David
Three Stooges
Tolkien, J.R.R.
Turing, Alan
Twain, Mark
Vonnegut, Kurt
Wells, H.G.
Wharton, Edith
Whitman, Walt
Wilde, Oscar
William the Conqueror
Wodehouse, P.G.
Woolf, Virginia
Wordsworth, William
Wright, Frank Lloyd
Wright, Richard