Peter Takes on History
March 4, 2005
Martha, Martha, Martha
On this day in history, March 4, 2005, the gates of Alderson Federal Prison in WV swung open and a convicted former stock broker walked out. This felon, a Columbia grad with a degree in History, was once named by Glamour Magazine as one of America’s 10 “Best Dressed College Girls” and probably more rewarding, was also America’s first female self-made billionaire. Any guesses? Martha Stewart
Reading her bio you can see how Martha Kostyra became the Martha Stewart we know.
She began cooking as a small child, helping her mom prepare meals for her big family. Her father taught her gardening. Her grandparents taught her canning and preserving. At ten she began babysitting and planning birthday parties; notably for the children of several NY Yankees including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. As a teen she got TV, radio and print experience modeling. A stellar student, between scholarships and her modeling money, she put herself through college.
One small misstep, just before graduation from Barnard, she met Andy Stewart and it was “love at first sight.” They married and she quit school to help put Andy through Yale Law. About the same time Andy graduated, she gave birth to their daughter Alexis. After the baby came Martha quit modeling, finished her degree and broke into the brokerage business. At 32 she and Andy bought a ramshackle farmhouse in Massachusetts. She planted gardens, remodeled and found she has a flair for decorating. She decided to hone her cooking skills by executing every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She and a friend opened a catering and party planning business and through her husband’s connections worked some high profile NYC publishing parties. That led to everything from book deals to regular network TV appearances and ultimately, the creation of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia - her company that, on the day of its IPO, made her a billionaire.
But what everyone remembers; in 2004 Stewart was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to investigators over what, for her, amounts to chump change. Her Imclone insider trading netted her just under $50K. And many were convinced it would cost her everything. She was kicked off the board of her own company. Paid fines. Became the butt of jokes and got dragged off to prison for five months. But for Martha, it was just a little stumble - that seemed to prove she’s just another flawed human being. Her popularity never flagged. She’s back at the helm of her company, she continues to write cookbooks and publish magazines She’s still a big “get” for TV cameos and talk shows spots. And she’s very popular with a new generation of cooking and decorating fans who know her less for her association with Julia Child and more for her friendship with Snoop Dogg! They have a current series on VH-1 called Martha & Snoop's Potluck Party Challenge.
It’s an odd pairing for this woman who is admittedly, an odd character. In researching this piece I learned that she’s an insomniac. She sleeps four hours a night, with the lights on so she can wake up and work at any hour. Martha has “a special language” she uses only with animals. She loves animals but on her farm in Maine she’s very strict about their colors. Only grey or black. She bought a couple of expensive black Dutch draft horses but didn’t realize that their hair turns red when exposed to the sun. Now they’re only allowed out at night.