Martha Stewart: Past And Present

<B>Morley Safer</B> Look Back At Interviews With Martha Stewart

If you think that Martha Stewart's ignominious fall from grace is the last we'll hear from this remarkable woman, then you don't know Martha Stewart.

She seems to thrive on adversity, often leaving a wake of battered enemies and friends behind.

For nine years, on both 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II, Correspondent Morley Safer has been keeping tabs on her, following the arc from so-called domestic diva to corporate billionaire.

In the light of her disgrace -- the guilty verdict last Friday -- some of those conversations now reveal a certain irony.
In 1995, at Stewart's estate in Connecticut, Safer asked her about the importance of material wealth.

"To tell you the truth, I could leave this place tomorrow. Except for my animals, and my family, I could leave this place tomorrow and not feel any sense of loss whatsoever," says Stewart. "Because I know, with my knowledge, I could go anywhere and create a life for myself and create a feeling that I feel comfortable with, without having what I already have … I wouldn't miss a thing."

Last Friday may have been her darkest day. But her finest hour came in the fall of 1999 on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, when the private Martha Stewart went public, leaving no doubt that she was not just living -- she was reaching for the sun.

The occasion was the public offering of 7.2 million shares in her company. They opened that day at $18, soared to $52 and settled at $36. With Stewart's personal 70 percent stake in the company, she was $l.2 billion richer by the end of that day.

"No other woman has created this kind of business in such a short time, from scratch, from baking cookies in the basement," says Stewart. "If you can find that person, let me know, who took a company public and in the first day made over $1 billion."

And all of it done without an ounce of humility. Nine years ago, she had already become Martha Stewart the brand: a walking, talking multi-million dollar, one-person corporation. There was only one direction – up.

"You have now entered the culture whether you like it or not as – as well a kind of icon. You have. You're everywhere," Safer tells Stewart.

"Well, icons are either believed or not believed. Icons are reviled or admired. I know all about icons from history," says Stewart. "And if that's what it takes to be an icon then, you know, and if it's my kind of work that is encouraging these sentiments, then I either sort of ignore it or feel sorrier for it. Or just, you know, don't pay any attention."
Martha Stewart was a name and face revered by millions, and what she was selling was that most indefinable and ambiguous of all products: taste.

In books, her magazine, and on her television series, Stewart became the American goddess of the kitchen, living room, garden and boudoir.

But when you peel away all the hype, the perfection in every department, what you get is what you started with. Stewart, someone once said, is "as focused as a bullet in flight."

She's the image of impeccable taste of ingenuity, gastronomy, botany, agronomy, and animal husbandry. What can't she do?

"I can't concentrate on games. I lose my concentration really fast," says Stewart, who admits she's not really good at frivolous things or activities.

It all started as a small, home based catering business in 1976, and became Martha Stewart Living Enterprises. It's probably the only one-woman, one-person conglomerate ever.

Parody of the domestic diva, however, was irresistible. Her magazine, "Martha Stewart Living" led to "Is Martha Stuart Living," a funny, sometimes cruel version of Stewart that offered handy tips such as making your own condoms and how to sweep.

Said Stewart: "They're having me make dirt. They're having me make water. They're having me make air. You know, guess who makes those things. I don't make those things. There's somebody else out there that made those things."

This study of middle-aged American elegance started life as Martha Kostyra of Nutley, N.J., one of six children in a working-class family.

Stewart does not believe in the work ethic; she is the work ethic. She was also a favorite of fashion photographers, earning her way through Barnard College in New York, where she was a star student, and then headed toward marriage, the suburbs and family.

"I did have the perfect baby and the perfect young child, and I did have the perfect house, and I've done all that already," says Stewart.

However, she neglects to mention the perfect husband -- Andy Stewart, a publisher, who became imperfect and left her after 29 years of marriage. That was just about the time Stewart became Martha Stewart the corporation.

"I can't think of another example where an entire corporation, which is what you are is really one person. That's it," Safer tells Stewart.

"I know. It's a real, it is a peculiar situation. And because it's a single person kind of corporation," says Stewart. "But I have a name that's on the magazine, that's on the television show, that's on the books."

But is there a difference between that person we see on the television broadcasts, the magazine and books, and the real Martha Stewart?

"Yeah," says Stewart. "Well, there's not really much of a difference. I am Martha Stewart. And my business has also become Martha Stewart. That's the complicated thing for people who work with me."

And it was complicated because there was no separation in Stewart's life. All work was fun, and all fun was work.

Does she ever wake up in the middle of the night screaming, terrified? "Oh, I'm not terrified at all. I'm very happy," says Stewart.
Back then, the Stewart empire occupied five floors in New York's highest rent district, and 400 employees. Her magazines had 9 million subscribers, and 8.5 million books were sold.

It's estimated that Stewart has now lost nearly $400 million on legal fees and lost business opportunities –- and she now may lose millions more when fines are imposed.

The losses are stunning, and it seems unlikely she'll be able to remain on the board of the company she founded. The New York Times Syndicate removed her name from her columns. And her television career may also be coming to an end. For years, her program was broadcast on various CBS stations. After the guilty verdict, those stations immediately dropped her program.

And what about Martha Stewart the brand? Kmart has remained silent about continuing their relationship with Stewart. But when we talked to her in 1999, her sales through Kmart alone were $1 billion.

As we said then, Stewart wanted to fill every casual, practical and romantic need that Americans might have, and she hoped to create a few along the way.

The Martha Stewart weddings division was only the beginning. Stewart said: "Once we get you married with weddings, then we, of course, have to, you know, have the babies, of course."

And then at Kmart came Martha Stewart's Everyday Baby. But, can there be a Martha Stewart without Martha Stewart?

It's too soon to tell, but back in those pre-felony days, five years ago, she and Safer were full of optimism.

Safer: Tell me something, when I come back five years from now, to do the second update...How big will you be?

Stewart: Well, I think, without making any financial predictions…I think it will be astonishing.
Her life may now be astonishing, but not the kind of astonishing she meant.

The federal accusations against her had already emerged when she was doing her stint on CBS' The Early Show. And she made it clear that it was something she did not want to talk about.

"I have nothing to say on the matter. I'm really not at liberty to say," responded Stewart. "And, as I said, I think this will all be resolved in the very near future, and I will be exonerated of any ridiculousness."
Alas, poor Martha, it was not to be. Stewart is clearly devastated by the likelihood of serving prison time. But still, her steely nature would not allow her critics the satisfaction of tears.

Not so long ago, she was immune to even the cruelest parody.

"I have been quietly plodding along like the poor old tortoise all these years, building something that is of great worth and value," says Stewart. "I think that that finally shook people to an awareness that, you know, I'm not a parody. I shouldn't be parodied. I shouldn't be sort of fooled around with like that. It's serious business."

But in the end, it may have been sheer hubris, a belief in her own infallibility, which led to her undoing.

"I always thought about taking the company public. I always wanted to do an IPO for several reasons. After having been on Wall Street as a broker, you remember, way, way back," recalls Stewart.

"I like the public markets. I understand them. And I think that it's one way to get people to understand, like you, that this is a serious company, a contender for prominence in the world of business."
As the Bible says: "Pride goeth before a fall and a haughty spirit, before destruction."

Stewart's boast that she knew so much about business was not lost on the jurors when they found her guilty of deliberately lying to federal investigators.

Back in 1995, Stewart gave us her thoughts on the question of sin that seemed so pedestrian, we didn't include them in our story.

Safer: What are the one or two sins that you just cannot abide in people?

Stewart: Well, one thing is dishonesty. That bothers me a lot. And I'm always amazed at how many people are dishonest. And I think another maybe amorality.

Safer: Amorality?

Stewart: Yes.

Safer: As opposed to immorality?

Stewart: Oh immorality. Well, amorality is just lack of morals. I think that that is another thing that bothers me a lot. I know it is.

Safer: I mean what.

Stewart: So they're serious – I mean very serious.

Safer: What about sloth and laziness and idleness and sloppiness?

Stewart: All that can be corrected. That can be corrected. You know, dishonesty seems to be something once you get into it, people just seem not to be able to get out of it.


  • Rebecca Leung

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