Homemaker, caretaker, master baker, lifestyle dictator, back breaker, music curator, stock trader -- these are just a few of the many labels that could accurately describe multi-tasking, multimedia diva Martha Stewart, but none are as accurate as just defining her as a plain old American pop cultural icon and businesswoman to which few of her caliber could aspire. Martha Helen Kostyra (or "M. Diddy" as her inmates liked to call her) was born on August 3, 1941, in Jersey City, NJ, a place she no longer calls home today. She began her professional career as a model and married Andrew Stewart. This is how she ended up with the last name she still retains today. Shortly after they married, Martha became pregnant and gave up modeling for stock trading, a normal career switch for expectant mothers during the '60s and '70s.
After the grand recession of 1973, Martha left Wall Street for Mulberry Street, purchasing an antique farmhouse in New England and starting a catering business. It was also around this time that she also began to write columns on a wide variety of subjects, including cooking, decorating, and interior design. This fame led to positions at magazines and a contract with Kmart, a relationship doubtlessly just as tumultuous as her marriage. As the '90s arrived, so did Martha's acceleration to the top of the happy housewife pile. Her syndicated program was so successful it spawned several spinoff shows, her own Kmart product line, and earned her a spot next to Busta Rhymes at the MTV Music Awards.
But it was her appearance on Conan O'Brien sipping a 40-ounce of Old English that earned her a spot in the hearts of millions, proving that she was equally adept at self-mockery and making a mean plate of spaghetti. She became a predictable target for jealous late-night talk-show hosts, but it was Stewart who would have the last laugh: she went public with her company Martha Stewart Omnimedia and raked in more money than the GNP of many small third-world nations combined. But the shining light of success wasn't to last for long.
In 2002, Stewart was investigated for insider trading and was found guilty, even though no concrete evidence was ever found. This led to a massive fallout of support from many of her colleagues and led to the inevitable cancellation of her television shows. This eventually turned into a three-year paper chase of endless trials and lawsuits, ending in Stewart being sentenced to five months in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Prison life was a bit of a change for Martha, but like the hardest of hip-hop artists, M. Diddy couldn't be held back for long.
After her release from prison in March 2005, her relationship with Kmart improved, no doubt in small part to the merger of Kmart with Sears, ensuring her products greater exposure to millions of mall shoppers worldwide. She also made a triumphant return to television with a daytime talk show and her own edition of the wildly successful The Apprentice. Once again redefining the line between reality and television, Stewart berates and humiliates potential employees while they take on tasks in order to please her and win a spot at one of her coveted companies. In 2005, she launched her own station on the Sirius radio network, released a line of DVDs from some of her favorite television episodes, and curated a series of compact discs designed to serve as background music for all occasions. ~ Rob Theakston