Ellen Byron

What’s Martha Stewart really like?

We all have our go-to stories we like to trot out occasionally to impress people. Having spent my career in the entertainment industry, I’ve got my fair share. But here’s my real party piece. If you have this edition of Entertaining, which I came upon at a recent Friends of the Library sale…

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…Turn to page 29.

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Who’s that Downstairs-lookin’ gal? Why, me!

There you’ll find a familiar face standing next to Martha Stewart. That’s right, I worked for Martha. Like, side by side, cutting up crudité. I’m not kidding when I say this is the most interesting thing about me. There are a lot of playwrights and authors and even television writers out there. But how many people can say they stuffed snow peas and worked an omelette station next to the legendary lifestyle and entertaining queen?

I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I took the train from Manhattan up to Westport, Connecticut to do party prep for an event she was catering. A cab took me to Martha’s now-famous home on Turkey Hill Road. I stepped inside, looked into a gorgeous, antique-filled living room, and saw a woman using a crème brulee torch to assemble a gingerbread townhouse.

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This is the gingerbread house Martha was making when we first met. No joke. For real.

So what’s Martha Stewart really like, you ask? I can only speak to my personal experience with her, and I have to say… I loved her. Those pictures of the lush vegetable garden and spectacular kitchen? That was her house. Her life. Martha was authentic.

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Part of Martha’s backyard. That’s right, part of it. It was HUGE.

Yes, she could be demanding but she had an extremely demanding job, and worked harder than any of us. She had a sense of humor that would come out when the pressure was off, and a great laugh. Martha was also intensely loyal to her family, many of whom worked for her. I got to know several of her siblings, Laura and George in particular. I actually worked George’s wedding. (Sadly, both of them passed away far too early, Laura in 2014, George just this past March.)

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I wish I could remember what appetizer I was making here. I’m pretty sure it was for George’s wedding.

Gradually, my cater-waiter days waned. The social x-rays of the Upper East Side decided they only wanted men serving their hoity-toity guests, so us gals were relegated to the kitchen. I eventually took a full-time job at The Dramatists Guild, and my playwriting career began to heat up, which left little time for side gigs. And once Entertaining became a publishing juggernaut, Martha did less and less catering until she stopped entirely.

The last time I talked to Martha was in the Nineties when I was writing the My First Job column for Glamour magazine. (Sidebar: Martha’s first job was as a stockbroker, although she modeled while in college.) Martha and I chatted for a long time, and she gave me updates on many of the people we worked with back in those early catering days.

I think of Martha whenever I’m creating a recipe for my Cajun Country Mystery series. I’d love to see her again sometime. If I did, I can predict what would happen. There’d be a moment of placing me because I don’t look like I did in that Entertaining photo. Then a screech of recognition, a big hug, and a lot of catching up.

In my experience, that’s what Martha Stewart’s really like.

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Yup, even us cater-waiters got a shout-out in the Acknowledgments.

Readers, did Martha  ever make an impression on you?

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45 thoughts on “What’s Martha Stewart really like?

    • She had amazing taste. And yes, a very high bar. But I think she figured if she could do it, anyone could. She may have over-estimated some of us! But actually, a lot of the appetizers we made are super easy to make and to riff on. I do it all the time. 😉

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  1. It’s always so wonderful to hear when someone rich and famous is also super nice in person. I haven’t read/watched much of her stuff, but from the little I’ve seen, she did seem to be nice.

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  2. How fun to hear about this, Ellen! And so glad to hear that she really is nice–because as we know, celebs often aren’t. (By the way, those apps you’re making in the photo look like mini crostini with some sort of hummus or something–what you’re holding–and perhaps a sun-dried tomato slice? Just guessing.)

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  3. Without a doubt, she had an influence on me. Particularly her eye for color. She found all these subtle hues I never noticed before. Not that they worked their way into my life, but they are still there in my head and every once in a while, I hope one hits a canvas I’m working on.

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  4. Pingback: Family Feuds, Mardi Gras, and Murder with Ellen Byron | Alexandra Amor | Mystery Author

  5. How cool, Ellen! I never thought I’d like Martha Stewart because she seemed like…well, the anti-Me, but I’ve really been impressed with how she’s handled the more difficult experiences of her life, and her whole relationship with Snoop Dog just gave me a whole different view of her. I love hearing your take on her. She honestly seems as gracious as her centerpieces.

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  6. When she went to jail, I smirked. However, she came out of jail and almost reinvented herself. I watched her show and discovered a woman with a much more realistic idea of what her viewers can actually do. I discovered that her crafts and recipes were simpler and her vision much more realistic.

    I stopped smirking and paid attention. Real attention. I’m wondering how much of her jail time gave her the freedom to stop reaching for perfection and simply reach for the joy of cooking your own food or creating something fun.

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  7. Ellen, I have ENTERTAINING and love that you are in it! I saw Martha’s first Thanksgiving TV special when I was engaged, and because of it, I decided Thanksgiving would be MY holiday in the family. I bought many of her books and videos and enjoyed them with my mother-in-law. I love table prep because of her and still do the family Thanksgiving. What fun to learn you have this connection to her!

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  8. I really enjoyed your story, Ellen. I have always been a big fan of Martha’s, & still am. My brother-in-law subscribed to her magazine for the great recipes.

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  9. I was part of the group of entrepreneurs known as ‘Dreamers into Doers’ who would attend conferences each year at MSLO and who would spend the rest of the year applying the lessons she inspired into our various fields. At the time I was writing knitting books for dog lovers and now I write my Kate Killoy Mysteries of suspense for dog lovers. I would chat with Martha about her dogs, both Chows, and Frenchies as well as my Samoyeds and even knitted her a scarf with images of her two French Bulldogs on it. I found her to be very hard working, inspiring, and funny. Many of those in the Dreamer group are still friends.

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  10. Loved this, El! I do have a sort-of Martha story. I grew up in the town next to Westport and, in the 1970s (way before Entertaining), she sold sandwiches and baked goods in a very-CT clothing store named Packroads. She displayed them in baskets. My mom always brought me with her to buy stuff from “that nice girl with the sandwiches.” (She also hoped to run into Paul Newman, ho hung out there a lot.)

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    • LOL! You just reminded me that I have post about my Paul Newman experiences someday.

      I love that I know exactly what you mean when you say a very-CT clothing store. And I’m sure those sandwiches were delish!

      Liked by 1 person

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