Stewart's aim: to help fans 'improve their existence'

August 11, 1991|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,Knight Ridder News Service

Martha Stewart slips into the regal "we" as easily as a spoo into pudding.

"We have a real busy day. We start early in the morning," she said at a recent appearance in Medina, Ohio.

We?

"We, me. I'm not supposed to use the royal 'we' anymore," she apologized.

Ms. Stewart, 49, has been taken to task for much worse in her 16-year career as a one-woman industry. The cookbook author and television personality has been accused of every-thing from plagiarism to snobbism, and once was described as the inventor of "the art of showing off."

Still, her nine glossy cookbooks have sold 2.5 million copies. She has had two TV specials and umpteen videos and is a regular on the "Today" show. Her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, is doing well.

And, of course, there's the contract with K mart, reportedly worth $5 million. Since 1987, she has helped design linens and tableware for the chain. The opening of a new K mart Super Center is what brings her to Ohio.

Despite the chic beige suit and chunky gold jewelry, the queen of cool looked uncharacteristically frazzled as she chatted recently in an office at the store.

"This is a very typical week but no one would ever believe it," she said.

Before leaving for Cleveland the day before, she had spent the week traveling between her 11-room restored farmhouse in Connecticut, her weekend home on Long Island and her magazine offices and apartment in Manhattan.

On Tuesday, between staff meetings and a friend's party for singer Whitney Houston, she squeezed in a manicure.

"Fitting in the beauty is the hard part now. There's no time for beauty," Ms. Stewart said.

But there's still time for cooking, she contends.

Her most recent get-together was a cocktail party for 40. In just three hours, she said, she whipped up white sangria, crab cakes with papaya salsa, quesadillas (tortilla turnovers) with melted cheese and fresh guacamole, homemade corn tortilla chips topped with giant shrimp and red, yellow and orange pepper strips, and figs with Parma ham.

How she did it, in this case, was with the help of a housekeeper and two maids who shopped, served and shared the cooking chores, she admitted.

Ms. Stewart, who insists in her books that entertaining is easy, has been accused of being insensitive to women who don't have gardeners and cooks, let alone the money to make such delicacies as chocolate truffles wrapped in edible gold.

Indeed, Ms. Stewart's alliance with discounter K mart was met with incredulity in many circles.

But Ms. Stewart said her ideas are an inspiration to even those who can't put them into practice.

"The books, they leave it on their night table, they read through it and they say, 'Oh, I'll do that some day, even if I'm not going to do it in the next year.'

"I'm trying to tell people that they can improve their lives, improve their existence."

Ms. Stewart's chic books on high living cater to women's dreams, she said. In a 1987 interview, she said she knows what women want.

"I don't mean equality and I don't mean feminism. But what they really want underneath. They really like to have a beautiful home. They really like to have lovely children. They like to have a nice husband. They like to have pets and gardens and flowers and pretty dishes."

With her grown daughter, six Himalayan cats, six acres of gardens, three homes and extensive collection of antique dishes, Ms. Stewart has everything except the husband. Hers, Andrew, left in 1987.

"I have lots of nice friends. And I hope some day to probably be married again and enlarge my family," Ms. Stewart said.

Until then -- and probably after then -- she'll keep on working and ignoring the critics.

"I'm very busy, as you can see. Consulting for K mart, writing my book, creating the magazine, lecturing to thousands of people and, uh, we don't know why there is this . . . sort of backlash effect. We don't understand it."

The critics have been nicer lately, she said, except for the fellow who toted up the number of times (seven) her picture appears in the current magazine.

"I mean, we get letters every single day, 'Martha, you weren't in your summer issue enough. There's not enough of you personally in it.' . . . My fans, my readers, the people who care, can't get enough. They can't get enough of me."

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