Martha Stewart at 80: A Half-Century of Teaching America How to Live

by Elysian Magazine

AMERICAN LIFESTYLE DOYENNE, TV personality, businesswoman, and author Martha Stewart turned 80 on August 3rd.  The woman who taught America how to entertain, decorate, garden, and cook is a well-known animal lover who, over the years, has owned “at least 20 cats, 25 dogs, 10 chinchillas, and scores of canaries and parakeets have lived happily in my homes,” along with ten horses, two ponies, three donkeys, and countless farm animals.  Recently she was photographed sitting in the stands on June 13th at the 145th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—and, at 80, looks amazing.  

Whether it’s how to decorate for your lifestyle, how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg or last-minute appetizers, such as  “parmesan-and-pepper-sticks,” or stylish outdoor entertaining essentials, such as an all-weather outdoor bar cart, Martha has instructed countless millions of enthusiasts on the art of fine living.  Indeed, her unique brand—and talent for self-marketing—has inspired women the world over to bring her vision into their own homes with a multitude of Martha Stewart licensed products sold worldwide.  Her dozens of bestselling books on cooking, entertaining, gardening, weddings, and decorating and her eponymous magazine set the bar for elegance and simplicity.  She has hosted two syndicated television programs, Martha Stewart Living, which aired from 1993 to 2004, and Martha, which ran from 2005 to 2012.  According to Forbes Magazine, she is worth over $1 billion.

Her life reads like a novel: heroine comes from humble beginnings; heroine works hard no matter what the cost; heroine becomes one of the most famous women in the world.  Born August 3, 1941, the second of six children of Polish Catholic parents, Martha Grace Kostyra was three years old when her family moved to Nutley, New Jersey.  Her mother taught her how to cook and sew, and her father taught her to garden—skills that would later serve her so well.  She was babysitting for neighbors Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra’s children when she was ten.  She began earning money as a model when she was 15 and continued through college to supplement scholarships she was awarded to Barnard and Columbia University, where she studied art and architecture.  In July 1961, at the age of 20, she left college to marry Andrew Stewart, a law student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Martha Stewart at the Metropolitan Opera

The Stewarts bought an 1805 farmhouse in Westport, Connecticut, which they lovingly restored.  Soon after, she started her own catering business and gave cooking classes at The Silo in New Milford, Connecticut, at the farm owned by the late Tonight Show with Johnny Carson bandleader and conductor of the New York Pops Orchestra, Skitch Henderson, and his wife, Ruth, where cooking greats such as James Beard and Jacque Pepin also conducted culinary classes.  Martha threw herself into her work with all her energy and enthusiasm and established a unique, upscale “farm and country brand” which would define her popular style,  In 1997, her multiple businesses came under the umbrella of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Her otherwise fairytale story was interrupted by her conviction of three felony charges in 2004 for conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators, for which she served five months in a federal correctional institution.  After her release, she pulled herself up by her bootstraps in true Marth Stewart fashion as adoring fans rallied ‘round her.  She did just as the Dowager Duchess of Downton Abbey suggested: “Never complain, never explain,” to become more successful than ever before.

Martha and Andrew Stewart have one child together, a daughter.  In 1990, the couple divorced.  Though she has been linked with several well-known men, Martha remains unmarried and spends her time between her homes in Bedford, New York and northern Maine.

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