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The Headmistress and the Diet Doctor

Herman Tarnower himself, a meager performer on talk shows and poor at public appearances, tended to play the thing down. Indeed, he probably felt ambivalent about the unexpected stardust. A friend, hearing that he was to deliver a speech in Washington, once asked what branch of cardiology he would be discussing.

“Heck no,” Tarnower said. “Nobody wants to hear me on the subject of cardiology. It’s about nutrition.”

Dr. Tarnower’s new celebrity made another change that much more conspicuous. Over the last couple of years, Hi Tarnower had begun to date another woman. She was Lynne Tryforos, 37, a comely blond employee of his Scarsdale Medical Group. She was two decades younger than the woman Tarnower had refused to marry for a dozen years.

The new affair seemed cruelly public to Jean Harris. Tarnower would take Lynne Tryforos to dinner parties like the one given by Bernard “Bunny” Lasker, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange—the sort of upper-echelon Westchester and New York functions to which he had taken Jean Struven Harris.

Jean Harris compressed her private griefs. “Integrity” was as stressed as ever in her Monday-morning talks to the girls. If anything, she was retrenching. Last fall she was applauded by parents for announcing that she was putting that insidious district, Georgetown, off limits. She seemed to be ever more vigilant that the girls not succumb to weaknesses of the flesh.

Not everyone was favorably impressed. Some parents—like a father whose daughter was suspended for quaffing a glass of beer—were irritated by her inflexibility. The girls, by and large, decided that she was a cold fish. A few sensed something else. “She was really always a nervous wreck,” announces a pupil. “Pulling at her hair, walking bowed over. She could never joke around. I’ve never seen a woman so ill-assured. One time a kid asked some critical question, a ridiculous question. She cried onstage in front of the whole school.”

Last December, Hi Tarnower shot quail at the South Carolina ranch of Christian Herter Jr., then calmly took Jean Harris to spend Christmas and the New Year with the Schultes in Palm Beach. They read, talked, fished. Tarnower worked avidly through the Manchester book on General MacArthur. Arthur Schulte, something of a power in banking circles and an old friend of these two icily self-contained people, didn’t feel that anything was other than swell.

Toward the end of January, Hi Tarnower took another trip. He went to Montego Bay, Jamaica. His companion was Lynne Tryforos. Some sort of decision was approaching. This last Tuesday, March 18, was to have been Tarnower’s seventieth birthday. A dinner party was planned. His guest was to have been Lynne Tryforos.

Lynne Tryforos was also among Tarnower’s dinner guests—they had all left a couple of hours earlier—the night Jean Harris arrived in the raging rain. When the police came, Jean Harris spoke in broken and contradictory fashion. “I shot him—I did it,” she said at one point. But she also said that she had asked him to kill her.

If Joel Aurnou, Harris’s lawyer, can prove that such was indeed her intention, the charge of murder automatically gets lowered to one of manslaughter. Jean Harris sits and waits, her pale blue eyes unreflecting as china. She laughs aloud when something funny is said, but kindness makes her weep. Mostly, though, even in the courtroom, even in the sanitarium, she has a forlornly elegant dignity. It is as though those late Victorian Madeira maxims shield her still. Function in Disaster. Finish in Style.

Perhaps all she wanted to do, as schoolchildren say, was teach Hi Tarnower a lesson. Certainly she cut Tarnower off just as an apotheosis of sorts was approaching this ambitious man. On April 19, Dr. Charles Bertrand, president of the Westchester County Medical Society, was to have presented Tarnower with an award at a very grand dinner. A cardiac center was to be named after him. The cardiac center, like the jail in which Jean Harris was held, was in a place called Valhalla.

Dr. Bertrand sighs. The Thursday before the murder, he had been chatting with Tarnower, who said he was about to start another book.

“What’s the title?” asked Bertrand.

How to Live Longer and Enjoy Life More,” said Hi Tarnower.

Lucy Madeira’s sayings have a more durable ring.


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