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It’s a Good Thing She’s Entertaining

September 27, 2010

True story:  my freshman year of college, my mom would write me letters and send them in envelopes with clippings from the paper that made her think of me, and in one of the first packages was a profile from Parade “magazine” (found in the Sunday paper) on Martha Stewart.  I pinned it on the wall over my desk (next to a photo of Emma Thompson and whoever else I had crushes on in the early 90s).  I have no idea how it happened, but I’d somehow gotten addicted to her weekday morning show Martha Stewart Living the summer before I left home, the one where she coined and spread her signature phrase: “it’s a good thing.”  Why does that retired catchphrase seem so long ago?  Well, it was 20 years ago that her magazine of the same title began, that’s why.

Last week I was trying to explain Martha Stewart to a Danish friend, and there’s a reason why I always pick her when playing 20 Questions — she’s hard to describe exactly.  Essentially she is a MacGyver of the WASPy home.  Her first book, Entertaining, was ghostwritten by someone else, and once I read her “advice column” in the paper and when someone asked about the risk of salmonella in making homemade egg nog with real eggs, and her answer was essentially, ‘well, I raise my own chickens so I know they’re safe and I don’t worry about it.”  Thanks for the information!  So, it’s hard to call her a writer.  She’s not exactly a cook, or a decorator, or baker, or a designer, but she has a little of it all.  She has alienated a lot of people along the way, but now she’s mellowed out a bit to become a staple of American morning shows.   I’m always a little fascinated and entertained by her no matter what, so in honor of nearly 20 years of Martha, I present my favorite Martha moments.  (She only participated in some of them.)

1.  Her first Christmas special was a prime time event — I remember setting the VCR to record so I could watch it later.  The best segment features a very special guest, who gives her guff.  What I’ve always loved about Martha is that she doesn’t mind people dishing it out to her!

2.  For a few years I worked in a feminist bookstore, and so on slow nights with no customers, sometimes I would put in the  lesbian stand-up comedy albums (I was in charge of ordering for the music department, so it counted as work).  Suzanne Westenhofer’s album “I’m Not Cindy Brady” had two bits I still repeat.  First, about a cocaine epidemic in Amish communities — “look at Ephraim, he raised that barn all by himself!!” — and second, the ponders the question about whether Martha is family.  She decided not only is Martha a big dyke, but she’s also “a big ole tramp in from the garden”.  I never looked at Martha in muddy boots ever the same again.

3.  Even for someone who can laugh at herself, I know Martha hated the Cybill Shepherd movie “Martha, Inc.”.  But it is a modern day Mommie Dearest and I have to love any movie that contains the line:  Hey slut, I’m gonna write a letter to your parents and tell them you’re a whore!

4.  After prison, Martha came back, started a new show, and she’s been teflon sprayed with scotch-guard ever since:  people love to tease her, and she takes it and even throws some of her own jabs.  My two favorite guests on her show for me have been:

Snoop “a WHOLE stick of butter??” Dogg

Amy “don’t judge me” Sedaris

5.  My final favorite memory of Martha is from an episode of David Letterman, sometime in the mid- to late- 90s when she was brought on to demonstrate ice sculpture carving.  Watching her wield a chainsaw in Times Square was pretty hot.  In that same episode, some other guest showing David how to breathe fire by holding some gasoline in your mouth and spitting it out onto a small torch.  When Martha came out for her segment, she had been watching backstage and very seriously suggested that they should use cognac instead, “it will work just as well and taste much better.”  I couldn’t find this on youtube, but I did find her very first appearance on Letterman, all the way back in 1989.  Look at that hair and suit!   And I like that she defends Kmart to the snobbish David Letterman.

Her old-fashioned moneyed Connecticut ways make her a bit of dinosaur, but at least the meteor crash will happen after she lived her prime:  she’s already survived divorce, fame, prison, and building an empire twice.  I’m not mad at you, Martha.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 10:35 am

    Amazing how she’s managed to stay relevant while at the same time becoming her own caricature!

  2. September 27, 2010 11:08 am

    Oh Martha.

    For my money, nothing will ever beat Ana Gasteyer’s Martha impression. Or anytime Martha went on Conan.

  3. September 27, 2010 11:12 am

    Yes! I love Ana Gasteyer as Martha!!! I need to find some of those clips. Do you remember any particularly good ones?

  4. September 27, 2010 11:16 am

    @redlami: that is so true. perhaps that is somewhat the nature of ambition — being malleable and making yourself into whatever is required to achieve the goal of being where you want.

  5. September 27, 2010 11:18 am

    oh, I forget that all SNL clips get taken off youtube. damn!

  6. September 27, 2010 11:47 am

    I love this post and I love Martha Stewart! A great read and gread motivation for me to pretend to be here while I clean my house today.

  7. September 27, 2010 11:48 am

    Have you seen her daughter’s show ‘Whatever, Martha’?

  8. September 27, 2010 11:48 am

    *great

  9. evmaroon permalink
    September 27, 2010 12:08 pm

    I love that you had a crush on Martha Stewart! I had a poster of Greg Louganis up in my freshman dorm. But we shared a love of Emma Thompson, I’m happy to say.

    I love what she makes but damn, the woman comes up with some tough, picky recipes!

  10. September 27, 2010 12:28 pm

    For my money, nothing will ever beat Ana Gasteyer’s Martha impression. Or anytime Martha went on Conan.

    Oh my god, yes! Oh Martha!

    Essentially she is a MacGyver of the WASPy home. Her first book, Entertaining, was ghostwritten by someone else, and once I read her “advice column” in the paper and when someone asked about the risk of salmonella in making homemade egg nog with real eggs, and her answer was essentially, ‘well, I raise my own chickens so I know they’re safe and I don’t worry about it.” Thanks for the information!

    This is so perfect. I don’t know how to explain Martha Stewart to people who aren’t familiar with her.

    She seems pretty calm for someone using spray paint.

  11. angie permalink
    September 27, 2010 1:22 pm

    i subscribed to her magazine her first year or two. i love this post. i love her i guess, even when she is not her, meaning i love things about her that are the work of other people. and god i remember watching her make a blueberry pie, she made a lattice top and it went on and on because every time she wove one line she’d put it back in the freezer to chill. i thought if i worked that hard there would have to be some real love expressed with every delicious bite. you write good.

  12. September 27, 2010 1:23 pm

    @Snarky: I really wish you could see her wielding a chainsaw on Letterman to carve ice. She was calm then!

    @Krista: I have to say, I’m kinda disappointed in that show. I wanted it to be funnier.

  13. September 27, 2010 1:26 pm

    @meganwhitney: thanks! thinking about her bossing me around has been very, um, useful to me in the past, I recommend it!

    @angie: my favorite line from miss piggy with that gingerbread house is “and it only took 15,000 man hours of labor!” she loves the laboring. and being a bossy top.

  14. September 27, 2010 1:41 pm

    I wish I could find the Discover commercial featuring Martha using her old credit cards to mosaic her pool. That was my introduction to Ms. Stewart.

  15. September 27, 2010 1:44 pm

    oh snap! YES. i forgot about that until just now, but i loved that one too.

  16. September 27, 2010 3:24 pm

    Oh, Martha! I just have to share the Martha love, although I was late on the Martha Stewart Love Train; as I recall, my introduction to her was in college with one of the Halloween issues of her magazine, complete with suggestions about renting a horse to complete the perfect Ichabod Crane costume.

    Gotta love that woman.

  17. September 27, 2010 3:31 pm

    s.e.s., I’m currently in Ichabod Crane land in upstate NY, so that outfit sounds even better to me! that would be kinda awesome to ride around out here doing. but, probably not on the streets of Chicago, where i’ll actually be on halloween.

  18. September 27, 2010 3:46 pm

    Aw, now you’ve got me wondering if I can borrow a horse from someone to do Ichabod for Halloween this year…

  19. evmaroon permalink
    September 27, 2010 4:12 pm

    MacGyver of WASPs!!!! That is brilliant!

  20. IrishUp permalink
    September 27, 2010 4:28 pm

    My mom’s got me a MS Living subscription when I first bought my house. Either she renews it and doesn’t tell me, or they just keep sending it. I love how her stuff ranges from the totally practical, once you do it that way you wonder how you *possibly*managed before- like her paper-folder for crafts, to OMFG less manpower hours were involved in the building of Notre Dame (yes, I am looking at YOU cranberry wreath on the 24″ mould calling for 70lbs of berries and 7million toothpicks!).

    Snoop+Martha = very very happy!

  21. September 27, 2010 4:54 pm

    Ray: my favorite Ana Gasteyer bit was the MS Topless Christmas Special. It makes me chortle just thinking about it.

    My boyfriend’s mom listens to her radio show on her way to work in the morning, and will call and tell me recipes she hears on it so that I can make them. She also will buy the ingredients, show up at my house, say “I got these because I heard the recipe for _____ on Martha Stewart today” but she won’t remember any of the steps to make the actual product.

  22. September 28, 2010 2:30 am

    Ultimately, the best Martha Stewart was, is, and always will be Betty White in her portrayal of “The Happy Homemaker,” Sue Ann Nivens from “Mary Tyler Moore.” In fact, I sincerely believe that Martha simply aped Betty’s actions from that program to develop her on screen persona.

    Betty White wins again!

  23. September 28, 2010 12:04 pm

    Nope, she’s disgusting. No one ought to make that much money putting a frilly kind of OCD homemaking on television. And let’s remember, her crime was of the same sort of behavior that led to the economic calamities of the last few years–insiders making deals, while telling the rest of us to follow the rules.

  24. September 28, 2010 1:10 pm

    as I recall, my introduction to her was in college with one of the Halloween issues of her magazine, complete with suggestions about renting a horse to complete the perfect Ichabod Crane costume

    LOL.

  25. September 28, 2010 2:10 pm

    @Greg: but unlike most folks, Martha served her time!

  26. September 28, 2010 2:31 pm

    True that, Raymond.

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