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Deconstructing Byron – Vol. 10
How to Negotiate a Contract

Greed. One of the seven deadly sins. According to Chris Byron it was greed that spurred Martha ever forward in her business pursuits. It was not ambition or an inner yearning to accomplish something worthwhile. It was not a desire to create a product and share ideas that would be inspiring to millions of people. No, it was greed.

In chapter 9 of “Martha Inc.” – How to Negotiate a Contract (a title dripping with sarcasm) – it is Martha’s greed that takes center stage in Byron’s ludicrous drama. Using repetitive hyperbole, he insinuates that Martha’s sole reason for entering into her contract with Kmart was to make money, and lots of it. He alleges that Martha was not interested in what she could do for Kmart but what Kmart could do for her. He even seems to put words in her mouth with nary a hint of a footnote or source:

‘“How much publicity will I get, and will it be favorable?” she asked, over and over again.’ Byron writes.

He also says that Martha insisted that Kmart announce the cumulative total of her yearly salaries so that it would appear that the retail company was paying her millions, which in effect, it was: five years at $200,000 a year plus $3,000 for each of her public appearances in the company’s name.

In truth, this was a brilliant marketing scheme for both Martha and Kmart. It made Martha appear worth the cost and it made Kmart look financially secure enough to hire such a quality name. But instead, Byron labels Martha greedy and calls Kmart “squanderlust fools” for agreeing to pay her so much.

The union between Kmart and Martha Stewart made Martha a household name to millions of Americans and simultaneously raised the bar on Kmart’s target demographic. In short, Barbara Loren-Snyder, Kmart’s marketing consultant, should be given a gold medal for making the partnership happen and for making both Martha and Kmart an awful lot of money.

With the ball now rolling down the isles at Kmart, ads began running in magazines like Family Circle, Better Homes & Gardens and House Beautiful with photographs of Martha looking radiant, surrounded by gorgeous flower arrangements and perfectly prepared food. One of the ads read: “Last year Martha Stewart had 42,596 people for dinner!”

In order to promote Martha within the Kmart corporation, Barbara Loren-Snyder made arrangements for Martha to appear in an in-house “how-to-cook” video alongside Kmart’s man in charge, Joe Antonini, to give Martha maximum exposure to Kmart employees.

While she happily agreed to appear in the promotional clip, Martha already had bigger plans: a series of instructional videos on cooking and entertaining called “Martha Stewart’s Secrets for Entertaining.” To produce the films, Martha would enlist the help of her old friend Kathy Tatlock, who had assisted in the production of Martha’s WGBH Thanksgiving special.

Martha was also eager to purchase an old house five minutes from her home on Turkey Hill, which she planned to renovate for yet another film series about renovation projects. The home, which was owned by an elderly woman named Ruth Adams, was a run-down Federal style home quite similar to Martha’s. It had lots of potential and Martha recognized the business opportunities inherent in its purchase instantly: She could purchase the home as an additional investment, employ local tradesmen to fix up the home, film the transformation process and recoup all or most of the costs with the sale of the video series on the shelves at Kmart, which would simultaneously expose her to a wider public audience. It was brilliant.

Again, Kathy was more than eager to get involved with Martha, her personal hero, and get back to what she loved doing most – filmmaking. Kathy was overjoyed to have the work. Having recently divorced and feeling a mid-life crisis coming on, Martha’s avid interest in her work seemed electrifying.

Behind the scenes, however, Martha and Andy were on the verge of divorce. Tensions were so thick that the two could barely have a civil conversation, if they spoke to each other at all. Martha had her growing business deals to attend to and Andy, presumably, had his mistresses to keep him occupied.

It was amid this tension and difficulty that Kathy resided, in Alexis’s old suite at Turkey Hill. Kathy would film segments for the videos on Martha’s property and then drive back to Boston to make the final edits. Kathy hired the crew, wrote, produced and directed the video series with local Connecticut director Dick Roberts acting as assistant director on the
project.

The pair and their crew filmed Martha cooking, setting tables, arranging flowers and giving tips on how to entertain a large group of people. It was the prelude to the Martha Stewart Living television program, years later, all neatly bundled into three VHS tapes.

The problem, however, was that Martha and Kathy had never agreed on the final terms of their contract. Kathy claims that Martha initially promised her a 50/50 share of the profits, which would have amounted to approximately $125,000 each, courtesy of Crown Publishing. Martha claims she never agreed
to such terms.

So the pancetta finally hit the fan when Andy announced he was leaving Martha. Just as Martha’s book “Weddings” was scheduled to be released Andy was hitting the highway. As Byron tells it, this forced Martha to get all of her finances in order, including her contract with Kathy and Dick. After more than six months of working without a formalized contract, Kathy was asked to come to Turkey Hill with Dick to discuss the final terms.

Byron, through interviews with Kathy, says the deal was appalling and paints Kathy as the naïve victim of Martha’s treachery. Kathy was to receive $30,000 for each video she produced. Kathy was apparently outraged and hurt by this revelation.

Byron describes the scene with cinematic effect and injects his usual trite element of drama. In this instance Kathy is the innocent and slovenly maiden and Martha is the devious Queen who treats her subjects like trash.

In the following passage from the chapter, he goes on at length to prove how
cruel Martha is:

“Kathy became the whipping boy for [Martha’s] ire. Soon after Andy left, Kathy found her fluffy pillows had been taken away. The baskets of soft towels became a single washcloth. Her in-room refrigerator, where Kathy kept her coffee, juice, leftovers and snacks, was unplugged. ‘I’m spending too much on electricity,’ Martha announced as she yanked the plug from the wall. Next, Martha began heaping household chores on her: Water the garden, let the dogs out.”

The fact that he removes all responsibility for the sour deal from Kathy and places it entirely on Martha demonstrates his skewed intent in this book. His aim is to vilify Martha and make those around her seem like helpless fodder for an egomaniacal monster of a woman who has no feelings: Martha the Menace Strikes Again!

In actual fact, Kathy should probably have never have agreed to work without a contract or should have at least halted production until one was finalized. Kathy evidently agreed to work for a friend, which is always risky given the combination of personal and business-related affairs. To say that Kathy had nothing to do with the final terms of the deal seems both unfair and inaccurate.

And so in chapter 9 of Byron’s magnum opus, the downtrodden Prince Andy exits at stage left and is never seen again as the evil Queen Martha becomes ever more powerful, with the shadows of her growing empire looming larger and larger over the cowering hearts of men! The poor young damsel in distress, the Maiden Kathy, has been enchanted by Queen Martha’s wicked spell and is thus absolved of any responsibility and intelligence – she has been morphed into one of Martha’s Minions! And the thunder drums and the lightening forks across the bleeding sky over the dark palace on Turkey Hill! What will happen next in this dramatic tale of greed and power?

Perhaps Byron should consider a name change: J.R.R. Byron and Christopher Lloyd Webber both have a rather charming ring to them.

One may be surprised he isn’t in the process of adapting “Martha Inc.” into a stage production musical: surely tickets to “Martha Mia” would sell in droves?

But eager Martha bashers, fear not! You have the tacky TV film to look forward to instead, with the misguided Cybil Shepherd in the leading role. Besides, Byron is far too busy fighting a libel suit waged against him for allegedly slandering a Canadian company. Tsk-tsk, Chrissie – we expect so much more from you! Not.



Also, visit The Pantry each month for a closer look at the cover subject of Martha Stewart Living Magazine with insightful articles that broaden the scope of the cover topic, written by Andrew Ritchie

Comments? Write to Andrew

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