Martha rules!

The world is her oyster stuffed with cilantro-garlic pesto.

Published October 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Those of us who adore Martha Stewart can only wonder how long it will be before she takes over the entire world. On our own little calendars (portable, presentable, a shade of minty green), we make notes on her progress. This week, of course, she became a billionaire. After Martha herself rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange, like Queen Elizabeth waving off the fleets, shares of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., jumped 95 percent.

For all her demure talk of how "the brand," more than she, mattered, investors all over the free world chanted, "Long live Martha." We who adore her said it first.

She has two new TV shows in the works. A cooking show on the Cable Food Network, featuring two hosts (neither Martha but both, with any luck, distinctly Martha-like), will instruct on the finer points of couture cuisine. And what's more exciting, a daily children's show will work to cultivate an audience that has to date been grossly underexposed to America's lifestyle queen. Enhancements to her radio show, retail outlets and "very fine Internet presence" also are continuing apace.

What's more, Martha is becoming a movie star.

I've long thought it one of fate's more terrible cruelties that in the '60s, Alfred Hitchcock didn't catch a glimpse of the young Martha Kostyra as she made the rounds at New York modeling agencies. His career, if not Hollywood itself, might have been saved some wear and tear. (She'd have needed a little help to become blond, but then, who doesn't?)

But recently we've learned that Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black," "Wild, Wild West") has been using Martha as a template for the heroine in his remake of "Another Man's Poison," the 1951 Bette Davis thriller. In the original, a mystery writer kills her estranged husband, then is blackmailed by an escaped convict into letting him pose as her new squeeze. Sonnenfeld plans to turn Davis' role into lifestyle guru à la Martha. The role doesn't seem as snug a fit as, say, a remake of "Mildred Pierce," the 1945 Joan Crawford masterpiece, which doesn't make the mistake of letting a mere man dominate the diva. But the project seems promising.

And finally, Showtime is in talks with Mare Winningham over an adaptation of "Just Desserts," the 1997 unauthorized biography by Jerry Oppenheimer (and a source of great equivocation for devoted Marthaphiles).

Our Martha will not likely be watching any of it. She was widely believed to be opposed to ABC's plans in 1996 for a sitcom, "Style and Substance," that was to have been centered around a Martha-like character (played by Kathleen Turner). She was even rumored to have influenced the network to drop the idea.

A few years ago, such a project would have had an entirely different purpose: making a clown out of a woman whose excesses seemed foolish at first. Now, with each new success, Martha's become more and more mythic, a goddess an entire culture bends to please.

"She's in a struggle with the gods!" says a friend of mine. "She fights nature and man and life and death and still finds time to plant the daffodils." And even the more practically minded realize how the word "billionaire" can dignify the silliest of people. Look at what it did for Bill Gates.

I am increasingly convinced that future women's studies majors will first be assigned "The Feminine Mystique," Betty Friedan's screed against full-time homemaking, and then be directed to read the book that reverses it point by point: "Martha Stewart's Entertaining." Tuesday night on Charlie Rose's talk show, Martha, exuberant over her company's new standing, addressed this very issue when she was asked about her mission:

"I was serving a desire -- not only mine, but every homemaker's desire, to elevate that job of homemaker," said Martha. "It was floundering, I think. And we all wanted to escape it, to get out of the house, get that high-paying job and pay somebody else to do everything that we didn't think was really worthy of our attention. And all of a sudden I realized: It was terribly worthy of our attention."


Clearly, it must be acknowledged, the implications of Martha's mission are large, and with people throwing money at her to expand her empire, she seems well positioned to forge ahead, bringing new converts to her well-appointed tent. She may even discover that the world doesn't need to be conquered after all. With the occasional hurdle, it was just waiting there for her, an oyster stuffed with garlic-cilantro pesto, all along.

By Jonathan Poletti

Jonathan Poletti is a freelance writer in Seattle.

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Martha Stewart