News Article

The Princess and the Plea

Mercy for Martha? An ex-insider defends his boss. After watching her wrestle a screeching cat in the bath, this writer's admiration won't be shaken easily

CURTAINS FOR MARTHA? Maybe the SEC is just looking for someone with taste to decorate the big house
Image credit: Martha Stewart Illustration by Eric Palma
CURTAINS FOR MARTHA? Maybe the SEC is just looking for someone with taste to decorate the big house

Mercy for Martha? An ex-insider defends his boss

YOU may turn on her -- toss her panettone recipe, find your own way to scrapbook -- but I will not. Martha Stewart was my first boss and, despite what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims, I don't believe she did anything wrong. Oh, she may have traded stocks using insider knowledge, but in the world of Martha, this wouldn't be breaking the law -- it would merely be considered gossip. Her success has been based on the ability to network with the elite, and to suddenly punish her for this is hypocritical. Martha didn't commit any of the normal trespasses we forgive celebrities for, like getting caught with a minor or running down an L.A. street waving a gun, because if she did, I would have seen the footage on the Internet by now.

All she did was try to get out of losing about $46,000. But since my lawyer friends tell me that my not-as-bad-as-R. Kelly defense won't hold up, I'm going to plead, for Martha's sake, insanity. After all, she is the only person I've ever met who, when she's not making an effort to be sweet, kind, and social, doesn't seem to concern herself with the feelings of other people.

I first heard of Martha in 1991, when a woman at Newsweek, where I was interning, quit to edit her magazine, Martha Stewart Living. Since the ex-Newsweek editor was hot, I included Living among the hundreds of magazines I sent my résumé to when I graduated. I was recommended to the hot editor by her Newsweek friends and, since she needed to fill a recently vacated spot on the cheap, she hired me, who can neither wrap a present nor keep a cactus alive, to be the sole writer for Martha's new TV show.

At our introductory lunch, Martha told me that she wanted to make her show hip and funny, like David Letterman's. I misunderstood this to mean that she wanted her show to be hip and funny, like David Letterman's. Assigned a segment about three-inch Christmas trees, I wrote about the money you could save with tiny presents. My first clue to Martha's ''condition'' was that she did not send this back for rewrite.

She did, however, ignore everything I wrote, choosing to ad-lib instead. But, as I got to know her better, I realized that this was part of her incredible ability to ignore everybody. After talking to her regularly for weeks, she referred to me during a large meeting as Chevy, which is a car manufacturer, not a name, despite what Mr. Chase might say.

Shortly after that, the executive producer showed me a segment about cat washing. This was a difficult scene to film since, apparently, you're not supposed to wash cats. Nevertheless, Martha was able to smoothly deliver instructions while maintaining a two-handed death grip on the screeching, writhing kitty who was being submerged in water like a Salem witch. The producer had to convince Martha that this wasn't airable, due to technical problems. Most likely, those problems involved potential assassination threats by Cat Fancy subscribers.

Week 6 into what would turn out to be my two-month stint on the TV show, I got fired. The producer who lowered the ax told me Martha planned to give my job to a friend. Twelve hours later, I got a call offering me my job back. You see, according to the producer, Martha never asked her friend if she did, in fact, want the job.

So yes, Martha's ''unique,'' but other than the firing and the Chevying, she was always nice and fair. They even paid me well after the TV gig ended. For a year or so, I wrote for the magazine, mangling recipes and putting gardening instructions in the wrong order, and no one ever complained -- until they dumped me for the second and final time for mangling recipes and putting gardening instructions in the wrong order. So, while all y'all are doyenne hating, I'm hoping that Martha, who is aggressively defending herself, gives America, which bloated itself on pumpkin crème brulée and day-trading in the '90s, the ultimate recipe for good living: Remember that short-term stock trading is a fool's game where someone always knows more than you. If you can't figure that out, don't even attempt the gingerbread house.

Originally posted Jun 20, 2003 Published in issue #715 Jun 20, 2003 Order article reprints
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