Also Credited As:Martha Kostyra
|Martha Kostyra on August 3, 1941 in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA|
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Born Martha Kostyra on Aug. 3, 1941 in Jersey City, NJ, Stewart was raised in a typical Polish-Catholic middle class home by her father, Eddie, a pharmaceutical salesman, and her mother, Martha, a sixth-grade school teacher. She later credited her father as the one who taught her all she knew about carpentry, gardening and public speaking, even if it came with the threat of a beating. While still in grade school, Stewart embarked on her catering career by organizing birthday parties for neighborhood children, while later at Nultey High School, she prepared a large breakfast for the football team. Always an excellent student, Stewart won a scholarship to New York University, but turned it down to work her way through the more prestigious Barnard College. In order to pay for school, she began using her striking good looks by working as a model and soon discovered that work came easily to her. Stewart appeared in television ads for Clairol hair products and Lifeboy soap; even showing up in a print ad for Tareyton cigarettes.
It was around this time that Stewart met her future husband, Andy Stewart, then a law student at Yale University. While she supported both with her modeling, the couple struggled for a time to make ends meet. But their picture brightened considerably when Stewart landed a job as a stockbroker. She had been investing in the market with money from her wedding and over time became intrigued with the securities business. Then in 1968, she contacted Andy Monness of Monness, Williams and Sidel at the behest of a mutual friend. Impressed with her aggressiveness and drive for success, Monness hired Stewart on the spot. She passed the exam and quickly became a successful broker, earning at one point, an annual salary of $135,000, which was a fortune for the time. But the 1973 recession prompted Stewart to leave the securities industry. By this time, her husband was a high-powered corporate attorney, which afforded her the opportunity to concentrate on catering.
The couple bought a rundown 19th century farmhouse on Turkey Hill Road in Westport, CT, which Stewart dubbed the Turkey Hill Farm. The fixer-upper took five years to complete, with Stewart lamenting years later that they should have lived elsewhere while restoring the house. Drawing on the lessons learned from her family while growing up, Stewart formed the catering company, Uncatered Affair, with friend Norma Collier, and began catering parties while teaching cooking classes around town. The working relationship, however, was doomed to fail because of Stewart's fanatic control over the business, which forced the two friends to split. Stewart moved on to work for the Westport Common Market, an upscale mall and food court, where she was granted the opportunity to sell freshly prepared goods and run the day-to-day operations. But when a New York Times reporter conducted an interview, Stewart made the mistake of saying she was the proprietor of the shop, something that understandably angered the owners. She was immediately fired after the incident.
Throughout the 1970s, Stewart turned her catering into a million dollar business. Attracting the attention of major newspapers and magazines, she received prominent attention from Bon Appetit, Country Living and Good Housekeeping, while becoming food editor and columnist for House Beautiful. Her widest recognition came with the publication of her first book, Entertaining (1982), a deal that was negotiated by her husband, who had left the law business to enter publishing. The coffee table book went on to sell over 500,000 copies. In the 1980s, Stewart released several more tomes on homemaking that earned wide praise. But she received her share of criticism by some who claimed that her homemaking suggestions were beyond the financial reach of her fans. Stewart backhanded such critiques by saying that she gave something people could dream about and strive to attain whether it was within their means to do so or not. She also began appearing on television, making appearances with Willard Scott on "Today" (NBC, 1951- ) and on "Holiday Entertaining With Martha Stewart (PBS, 1986), on which she offered Yuletide advice for food preparation, home decorations and seating arrangements.
In 1987, Stewart signed with Kmart to be their lifestyle consultant, through which she was able to promote her line of bed and bath products. Two years later, she and husband Andrew divorced after almost three decades of marriage, which had produced daughter Alexis in 1965. She soon started her own magazine Martha Stewart's Living, which hit the shelves in 1990, and by 1997, claimed a circulation of more than two million. Taking her success to the small screen, she started her own television show, "Martha Stewart Living" (1993-2004). Starting as a weekly syndicated series, the show was expanded to a daily half-hour show in 1997 and finally to an hour-long format in 1999. By the mid-1990s - thanks to the show, magazine and books - Stewart had become a multi-million dollar industry. Meanwhile, she commanded further control over her career, splitting from Time Warner in 1997 to form Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, from which she exercised exclusive control over her publishing, television and merchandising enterprises. She also revamped her languishing Kmart line and spawned her successful Everyday products.
Labeled the world's number one mega-brand by Fortune magazine, Stewart was in command of a $200 million empire by the end of the 1990s. Though routinely derided by the media throughout her career, her growing wealth and stature only stoked the fires of criticism. The long-running "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) routinely parodied the housekeeping maven via cast member Ana Gastyer's memorable impression, cementing her status as a pop cultural icon. Meanwhile, she earned high praise and several television awards, including six Daytime Emmy's for "Martha Stewart Living." Riding high on the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, Stewart crashed into a brick wall in 2003 when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges when she allegedly dumped stock in the biopharmaceutical company, ImClone Systems, after an unlawful tip from broker Peter Bacanovic. The insider trading charges were later dismissed, but she faced charges of obstructing justice and lying to investigators. Convicted on all four counts and sentenced to five months in a minimum security prison, Stewart faced a media firestorm that bordered on obsession, while being roundly criticized for invoking the name of Nelson Mandela in her post-sentencing interviews.
After spending her sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, WV, where she served as an unofficial liaison between prisoners and the administration, Stewart was released in March 2005. She began the second phase of her sentence, which consisted of five months of house arrest in Bedford, NY, complete with electronic monitoring and a 48-hour per-week leave for work purposes. Wasting no time getting her life and career back together, Stewart produced more television shows, including "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" (NBC, 2005), a reality series spin-off of Donald Trump's popular show. Despite the show's high profile, Stewart's "Apprentice" failed to earn good ratings. Later that year, she launched a 24-hour satellite radio channel with Sirius radio and was featured as the host of a weekly call-in show. Following a guest starring appearance as herself on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010), she offered craft items under the names "Martha Stewart Celebrate" and "Martha Stewart Create" at Wal-Mart stores. Then in 2010, Stewart signed a deal that moved her daily program, "The Martha Stewart Show," to the Hallmark Channel, while also preparing a series of television specials for the popular cable network.