According to Martha Stewart, here’s how it all started.
“I woke up one day, and this is true,” says Stewart. It was 1981, and she was running a thriving catering business in Westport, Connecticut. “And it occurred to me that my grandchildren, if I had any one day, wouldn’t have a clue who their grandma was. I made gorgeous food and threw gorgeous parties, and it was all eaten and disassembled when it was finished. So I thought, I should do a book and preserve the memories and recipes. That’s when I had the idea.”
The idea in question was small, by today’s Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia multimillion-dollar-empire standards. She wanted to write a book called Entertaining. It would explain how to throw those beautiful parties.
“I cooked every single one of those chickens,” she says while perusing a picture of herself surrounded by beautiful, meticulously prepared dishes in the kitchen of Turkey Hill, her 1805 farmhouse in Westport. Since 2002 she’s been primarily in Bedford, but until this year she maintained Turkey Hill as well. “I grew those cabbages in my garden!” she says—in fact, there’s a picture in Entertaining of Martha in denim hot pants going at the vegetables with a hoe.
“I had no idea how to do it, I just did it,” Stewart says now. “Which is a good way to do something, since you have no preconceived notions.” She sat down and wrote an outline. Since her then-husband, Andy, was the president of Harry N. Abrams, Stewart had already met Alan Mirken, the head of Crown Publishing. Mirken bought the idea for Crown’s Clarkson Potter imprint. Stewart found a photographer and a writer to help her, but she did the lion’s share of the work for Entertaining herself. She posed for the cover in a nineteenth-century French nightgown.
Turkey Hill just sold for $6.7 million. One suspects it will end up on a historic-house tour, with its own little blue plaque: THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE LEGEND OF MARTHA STEWART.
About those detractors: “The feminists hated it!” says Stewart of Entertaining. “I’m not sure I ever really knew what the feminist movement was about. I never, ever heard the term glass ceiling until a few years ago—isn’t that embarrassing?”
It’s hard to imagine the insanely sharp Stewart naïve about anything. After the success of that first book, she wrote seven more books in that decade. In her recollection, she did almost everything for those as well. “I never felt like I was in over my head—ever,” she says. “I just don’t feel that way. I never feel that the bridge is too high to jump off of.”
There’s a promotional video she made for Aga, the very low-tech cult British stoves, circa 1985, now on YouTube. It’s charmingly low budget and an exemplar of her energy and DIY extremism—she pulls an entire Thanksgiving dinner out of the Aga. “They paid me with a stove,” she recalls.
“Daunted” is not in Stewart’s vocabulary, nor is “tired.” After serving her five-month jail sentence for obstruction of justice, her stock plummeted. In a rare misstep, her version of The Apprentice didn’t take. But no matter. Currently, her magazines are briskly gaining ad pages, and her NBC daytime show is a hit, with celebrities like Russell Crowe and Valentino as guests. And she comes home to this 150-acre Bedford estate, with its myriad outbuildings, including a huge greenhouse and stone stables that should make new neighbor Ralph Lauren jealous, and a host of employees (the newest is her personal French chef, Pierre Schaedelin). Stewart is furiously launching, launching, launching. There’s her book on homemaking, and she’s toying with the idea of updating Entertaining. She designs co-branded communities with KB Home, a home-construction company. She’s got a range of wines, a line of food products at Costco, and a mammoth 2,000-item series of housewares for Macy’s that at least matches the 1997 launch of her Kmart line. You might want to hang on to those back issues of Martha Stewart Living: When the revolution comes, they’re going to come in handy.