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Deconstructing Byron Vol. 24
Martha Inc.: the good, the bad, the unbelievably nasty
By Andrew Ritchie

In this final edition of Save Martha’s “Deconstructing Byron” serial, we’ll take one last look at Christopher Byron’s Martha Inc. before relegating it to the dustbin.

In the following paragraphs we’ll examine how this book succeeded, how it failed and how it became a bestseller for all the wrong reasons.

The Good

It would be unfair to say that Martha Inc. is fully devoid of interesting information about how Martha got from Nutley, New Jersey to the heights of success in Manhattan. Byron does make some attempt at telling the business story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., from its inception at Time Warner to its current status as a publicly-traded company, owned and run by Martha herself.

The details of how she landed a deal with Kmart, how she published her first books and videos, how she got her TV show and how she took her company public are all fascinating and do make this book worth at least a quick skimming. Unfortunately, it is the only book out there at the moment that even attempts to analyze Martha’s rise to fame.

Byron likely realizes that his book could have been much better if he had been granted access to Omnimedia’s upper brass, like Sharon Patrick, the company’s president, Margaret Roach, the magazine’s editor in chief, and, of course, Martha herself.

If Byron’s jaded tone is any indication, he was not too impressed with Martha backing out of the initial collaboration he had thought the book would be. Martha halted his access to everyone she knew when she discovered that he intended on getting input from some of her worst enemies. Everyone Martha could reach, including all of her family members, her closest friends and everyone at Omnimedia, were asked to stay clear of Byron when it became evident he intended on writing a “tell-all” biography about her.

As such, there are likely huge chunks of the business puzzle missing from Byron’s equations. Input from the company’s founders and the people who run it, day to day, are blatantly absent from his book. But he does make some effort in piecing together a cohesive portrait of Martha’s business, even if it falls short of being a complete rendition.

For this reason, anyone interested in how Martha got started in business should likely read the book, always keeping in mind that the man who wrote it has a very bitter take on Martha’s personality and motives, and seems to have an agenda of his own.

The Bad

Byron was likely so put off by Martha’s refusal to take part in his book that he decided to wage personal warfare in the pages of his book.

The primary sources he interviews are people who seem to dislike Martha, people who would jump at any chance to tell their dirty tales of a woman they think is obsessed with money, power and being number one.

There are people like Kathy Tatlock and Norma Collier, two of Martha’s earliest business partners who say she treated them like dirt; There is Martha’s bitter ex-husband Andy, who left Martha on a whim one day after leaving her a note telling her he wanted a divorce; There are legions of unnamed sources, who were too cowardly to speak by the light of day; There are some men from Time Warner who say Martha was a pain in the ass, some people from Kmart who wish they had never laid eyes on Martha, some neighbors who think she is the devil incarnate and some ex-friends who say she’s a cold-hearted snob.

The list of people quoted in the book who detest Martha is practically endless. Byron also found it necessary to use Jerry Oppenheimer’s randy tabloid bio of Martha, Just Desserts, as a source as well, indicating the level to which Byron aspires.

Evidence of Byron’s cruel intent in the book, however, is not so much with the selection of quoted sources but with his own hyperbolic language in describing Martha’s actions.

Byron repeatedly assumes the role of a psychiatrist in a laughable attempt to get to the roots of Martha’s complex personality. His deductions often come off as ludicrous as he draws comparisons between Martha and characters from fiction and history, like the homicidal nurse in Stephen King’s “Misery” or Marie Antoinette who was fittingly beheaded.

He insists there are “two Martha’s” and makes innumerable analogies to a woman who steps on and off a public stage, with references to curtain calls, spotlights and diva-like tantrums behind closed doors. (Is it any wonder this trashy book became the #1 trashy TV movie of the year?)

In these misguided efforts to understand a woman he met on two occasions his writing becomes melodramatic and theatrical, as if attempting to create suspense or heightened drama, which are totally uncalled for in what purports to be a business bio.

The Unbelievably Nasty

Any reader should keep careful watch of how often Byron cuts below the belt in his descriptions of Martha’s personal life, from her childhood days to the relationships she has with her family and friends today. They are judgmental, speculative comments that seek to scour away at the brilliance of accomplishments.

For starters, he makes petty, personal remarks about Martha’s appearance, something that is beyond reproach for anyone who calls himself a biographer. He makes comments about Martha’s behind, about her “peering” eyeballs and about a face that contracts into a “furious rage” when she is upset. His version of Martha is a next-generation Medusa. The only things missing are the fangs, the serpent hair-do and the power to turn men to stone.

One can only speculate as to why Byron felt the need to get so nasty in his book. Is it because he is jealous of a woman who has accomplished so much in such a short time? Is it because she didn’t cooperate with him on his book? Is it because she is more powerful than he is? Whatever the reason, it is surely personal and wholly distasteful, given the acidic language he uses in describing her personality and personal life.

The reader should understand from page one that Byron doesn’t seem to like Martha and apparently never will. His version of what he calls the “truth about Martha” is a skewed, angry, bitter version that is filtered through his own dislike of a woman he could never dream of understanding.

His only recourse in getting some kind of exposure as a biographer is to ride on the coattails of her reputation and fame, like some blood-sucking tic, and continue the tiresome legacy of bringing down a woman who accomplishes more than most men are capable of dreaming about.

In closing, let it be said that this book will not stand as an example of good biographical writing, given its personal agenda and the writer’s personal intent in tearing down its subject. It makes some interesting points about the business aspects of Martha’s life but, at its core, it is a tabloid bio full of unnamed sources, hearsay and allegations that are largely based on interpretation.

Please e-mail Chris Byron at the NY Post and tell him how wrong he is about Martha:

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