The Last Word

The Last WordEncountering MarthaOne Self-professed Martha Fan Meets the Real Deal 

By Elizabeth Goldsmith

‘You’re invited!”

That is how the e-mail began, announcing that my request for tickets to “The Martha Stewart Show” had been accepted.

I admit it, I’m a Martha fan. I got her first book, “Entertaining,” in the early ’80s before she was famous and just loved it. No doubt about it, she’s over the top, which could be off-putting to some people, but I think she’s authentic and original – and a survivor.

In a very Martha way, the invitation also included instructions about what to wear to the program. “Dress your best!,” it instructed. “Cute jeans, chic dress, or a fun outfit.” 

Already I was in trouble. Somehow, I didn’t think my jeans with a drawstring waist were what they had in mind. Reading further, I discovered that bright colors also were suggested apparel. That I could do. I packed a red blazer and was off to New York.

As instructed, my friend and I showed up at the Chelsea Television Studio at 8:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. taping after being warned that arriving at 8:45 might be too late. A long line – mostly women, of course – had formed by the time we arrived. We were ushered in and had our coats checked, then we were shown into two white waiting rooms with posters of Martha and her dogs. Tables at the front were loaded with currant scones and bottles of water.

I was excited – and everyone around me was too. About half the audience was from New York and New Jersey, but the rest were from Canada, Australia and locations scattered around the United States. Production assistants, mostly college interns, marshaled the crowd. When I asked, one told me it takes a crew of about 100 to pull off the daily show.

At 9:02, a warm-up comedian named Joey ran in and told us to turn off the electronics because we were going live. We complied, but only after a wave of phone calls home instructing relatives to watch or tape. We rehearsed the different sounds we would make, from “Hmm” for cooking segments to “Ooh” for craft segments to light to wild clapping. Joey ran down what would happen, from the opening phone call from a viewer to the last segment on making artificial flowers.

By 9:35 we were in the studio, clapping in time to loud music. Set designers put last-minute sprays of fennel on the counter. Men on their knees were cleaning the set floors to immaculate perfection. A prep kitchen was to our left, then the filmed kitchen, a desk area, craft center and greenhouse to our right.

At 10, Martha came out wearing dark blue jeans, a collared pink shirt and gray sweater, and the show began. She is thinner in person and looked tired because she had arrived from China the day before. She used the word “beautiful” – a lot. And I really do think she enjoyed doing the crafts (making flowers out of coffee filters) and the cooking.

Was she intimidating? No. Was she a perfectionist? Yes. You could tell by the timing and by the way she chopped cabbage for the Carrot Cumin Slaw. During commercial breaks, she sipped Pellegrino water and moved to the next place to stand. A makeup lady ran out to powder her.

The show moved very quickly, and the audience participated the whole time. I found myself flashing back and forth between the real Martha and the monitors. It was hard to believe she was right there, she wasn’t yelling, and everything was under control.

After the show, we got to ask questions.

One, from an earnest male college student who wanted to be a writer, was about her writing style. Another was about crate-training puppies. Mine was about kitchen design in the future. I stood up and introduced myself, asked the question and had an actual conversation with Martha. She said she liked my question and answered that there will be more industrial-style appliances that really work (not just look industrial); more men cooking; more surface and pantry space; and “no more couches in the kitchen.” She said we went through a phase where we put couches and all sorts of things in kitchens that don’t belong. Those days, she decreed, are gone.

After another couple of questions, she ended by saying her favorite people “do things, not just own things.” Then she waved goodbye.

On the way out, we were given the cookbook featured on the show and picked up a list of suggested restaurants. My friend and I chose an Italian eatery nearby. We had a hard time coming down.

She is real. She is authentic. She is … Martha.

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