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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Martha Stewart, Lifestyle Impresario

"People were shocked to see real chickens."

Stewart outside her chicken coop, 1976.  

The first time I actually created a book it was 1982. I was 41 years old. I was catering at the time, and I hired a photographer who would work with me at parties, because that was part of it, to capture an actual event you had to get the permission of your customers, you had to bring a photographer to a job and it complicated matters a lot. Setting up beforehand without ruining the food ... it was all complicated and so it took a lot of work. But it worked. Remember, in those days it was film, there was no digital, there were no computers to write on, even though in 1982 I actually bought my first computer but it was after I published my first book. Everything was typed on a typewriter with carbon paper, and you could always say the dog ate the carbon paper; you could always make an excuse for a late delivery. My editor was Carolyn Hart, who was very strict, she was like an old schoolmarm even though she was a young woman. And delivering chapter after chapter was painful. My daughter was a teenager, and she and my husband went skiing that year for Christmas and left me home all alone on my favorite holiday to work on the book. I was so miserable I didn’t do a thing during the whole two weeks. I was miserable, I read novels. I read everything in those days. Whatever was the big novel of 1982 I was reading. It was so weird. And the minute they got home I finished the book and delivered it on time for publication.

There was one party in New York for the Folk Art Museum they had an antique show at the Armory. And I brought in the food and decorations. That armory is a giant place, and they allowed me to bring in my beautiful chickens a rare breed. I brought them in poultry cages and people were shocked to see real chickens alive and well. I brought in giant baskets of apples and bales of hay brought in the harvest, basically. This is at the same time, by the way, that Studio 54 is doing walls of ice and all kinds of crazy stuff. People went nuts over that. They loved it. They wanted the country brought to the city and the city brought to the country.