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Happy Birthday, Martha Stewart, Entrepreneur and Icon of Home Entertaining

August 03, 2010
by Shannon Firth
The name Martha Stewart conjures visions of spotless kitchens and meticulous flower arrangements. Her unflagging ambition, savvy business skills and good taste catapulted her to fame. Though an insider trading scandal may have humbled her and delighted some critics, she appears ready to rebuild her empire, one soufflé at a time.

Martha Stewart’s Early Days

Martha Helen Kostyra was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on August 3, 1941, to Martha and Edward Kostyra, a teacher and salesman. Her father taught her gardening, carpentry and the art of public speaking, while her mother taught her cooking, baking and sewing. Her neighbors, a couple of former bakers, advanced Martha’s knowledge of pies and cakes. An entertainer from an early age, she organized children’s birthday parties for neighborhood families.

Martha began a modeling career at the age of 13. She attended Barnard, during which time she met and married her husband Andy Stewart, a Yale law student. She graduated from Barnard with an undergraduate degree in architecture and history. In 1965, she gave birth to a baby girl, Alexis, and quit modeling.

Stewart’s Notable Achievements

Stewart’s first experience of the high life came at her own engagement party, thrown by her sister-in-law. In her first book, “Entertaining,” she wrote, “I remember white damask cloths, silver candlesticks and a tiny crystal bell that tinkled after each course and whenever I dropped my napkin.”

But before Martha could experience the glamorous life of an entertainer she worked as a stockbroker from 1967 until 1972. Afterwards, she and her family moved to Connecticut to renovate an old farmhouse. She started a catering business with a college friend, but the partnership quickly collapsed. Still, Martha continued running the business, building it into a $1 million venture in 10 years.

In 1988, Time dubbed her “the guru of good taste.” She became K-mart’s “life-style” consultant, with her own line of linens and dishware. In 1990, Stewart launched the magazine Martha Stewart Living, which was developed into a show three years later.

The Rest of the Story

In 2001, Stewart sold her shares of ImClone stock just before the price plummeted, a decision which led to a March 2004 guilty conviction for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.

Stewart was released after spending five months in jail. She returned to her home and her business. An “Entertainment Tonight Canada” interviewer asked her, “Is life a lot sweeter now?” Steward, who kept her eyes on the cappuccino she was making, coyly responded, “Then when? Life was always sweet. It had a slight interruption and that’s the only way you can look at such a thing.”

Two and a half years after she left prison, Good Housekeeping wrote, “Stewart has jump-started her stalled company and moved forward full-throttle into a rich, packed, larger-than-life life. ‘I was ready to go the moment I stepped out of Alderson [Federal Prison Camp],’ she says.”

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