We gave it a C+
Take one very powerful media empress — 3 bitter family members — A dozen tantrums — A heaping helping of burnt business partners — 1 very ugly divorce — Stir together, let simmer in venom, and voila, you’ve got Martha Stewart-Just Deserts.
This book was bound to happen. According to basic celebrity physics, the more flawless the facade, the more visious the inevitable backlash. (Listen to the titters over Kathie Lee Gifford’s ”perfect” marriage.) And the Diva of Domesticity does seem repulsively perfect: pretty, blond, rich, thin, able to whip up lamb medallions with mint mashed potatoes in a jiffy. Worse, Stewart displays no angst, no humility — not even of the mock variety — qualities we like in our celebs, so we can pretend they’re just regular shlubs like us.
So in jumps Jerry Oppenheimer who has made his name writing mean-spirited but thoroughly researched biographies of such powerful women as Ethel Kennedy and Barbara Walters. Oppenheimer begrudgingly praises Stewart’s determination (she rose from poor New Jersey kid to teen model to stockbroker to caterer to New Age Betty Crocker/author/magazine editor/TV star.) But the rest of the book is pure dirt. Gardens of it. Just take a whiff of these allegations:
Stewart is so greedy she demanded a bigger diamond ring from her fiance. So ambitious she plagiarized recipes from other cookbook writers, denied her Entertaining cowriter Elizabeth Hawes proper credit, served Zabar’s rolls as if they were her own!
She’s ”the PMS poster girl from hell,” ”a control freak,” ”Captain Queeg in drag,” ”Martha Dearest.” She crashed a memorial service wearing a miniskirt. According to lore, she slapped a Today show staffer because she didn’t like the set design. Refused to heat her guest suite despite the complaints of a shivering friend. Didn’t realize for a week that her daughter had a fractured arm.
Stewart sometimes treats people like ”dog s—,” other times like a ”dog turd.” She tamed her husband, publisher Andy Stewart, but alternately throwing breakfast at him and threatening suicide. When he finally divorced her, Martha literally tore a clump of hair out of her head. Then she threatened to run over his new girlfriend.
And what a sex drive! Stewart had an extramarital affair, boasted about her nude pool parties, and flirted with a sound technician, urging him to attach a microphone right near her crotch. She could ”will an orgasm” whenever she wanted. And let’s not forget about her vaguely homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic remarks. Oh, and she misspelled words in high school. And had small breasts.
The Martha-as-Ice-Queen thesis won’t exactly shock anyone who reads the gossip pages. (Last month, a neighbor’s landscaper charged that Martha pinned him against a gate control box with a car during a hissy fit about the construction of an 8-foot fence. Martha denies it.) But the sheer mountain of detail is surprising — the result of cooperation from what Oppenheimer claims are about 400 sources, including family members, some of whom seem annoyed she won’t give them a slice of her pie.
Oppenheimer lambastes Stewart so thoroughly you may wonder if maybe there are one or two good things he could have mentioned. You may also wonder how much of his sources’ venom stems from sexism. Consider one ex-friend’s claim that Stewart got a hysterectomy because ”she just didn’t want to be a woman anymore. She had many masculine characteristics.”
In the end, Just Desserts seems the perfect title. Like a thick slice of Black Forest cake, this book tastes sweet but it’s not so good for you, and when you’re done, you feel pretty guilty about having eaten it up. While reading: A Aftertaste: C+