The baddest blonde in show business isn’t Britney Spears or Beyoncé, but 75-year-old domestic diva Martha Stewart
Despite what MTV tells you, the baddest blonde in show business isn’t Britney Spears or Beyoncé. It’s actually a 75-year-old straight shooter with a spatula.
Domestic diva Martha Stewart is nothing short of a Hollywood anomaly. While most female screen personalities struggle to find work over age 30, Stewart clocks a net worth of $300 million U.S. and recently announced that she will be joining forces with Snoop Dogg on a new VH1 show where they’ll host a “half-baked” dinner party each week with famous friends.
How did the queen bee of suzy homemakers go from being patently uncool to reigning supreme as one of the industry’s hottest names? Against all odds, she managed to turn a highly-publicized stint in a federal correctional facility (for felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding and making false statements to federal investigators) into the ultimate redefining moment.
“At the time, I believe the majority of people thought that was the end of Martha’s career as we knew it,” says Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski, president and founder of Rock-It Promotions. “But she was convicted in 2004 and by 2006, her company was profitable again. Her team handled the situation very well and, because it was a ‘white collar crime,’ the general public were willing to forget that much easier.”
Stewart entered prison as your mother’s disgraced kitchen guru, but left with an attitude and newfound sense of humour. “Before she went to prison there was almost kind of a preciousness about her,” says Jesse Barkley, Entertainment Tonight Canada supervising producer. “She was seen as too perfect.”
When she returned to the airwaves in 2005, her new show, Martha, had a very different tone than her previous program, Martha Stewart Living. Gone were the old-school days of dump and stir segments (the industry term for when a host simply goes through the motions of demonstrating a recipe while telling a story) and in were a constant parade of unexpected guests including Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Queen Latifah, Ludacris, Lindsay Lohan and Seth Meyers.
“She suddenly partnered with lots of rap stars, athletes and big burly hipsters. It created this perfect ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that allowed Martha to shine even more because she was the expert in her field and – whoever her guests were, no matter how famous they were they were – they were in her kitchen and she could make a seven-foot basketball player seem tiny in comparison to her,” says Abbey Sharp, a Toronto-based TV and radio food personality and food blogger at AbbeysKitchen.com. “It was a perfect move from a branding perspective.”
“What she did with the new show was really smart and it was very conscious. She understood that her brand was in crisis, and she was really smart about every move and partnership she made,” says Barkley. “I don’t think for a second that anything that happens with Stewart happens by mistake or chance.”
Stewart’s new no-holds-barred persona began to infiltrate the entertainment world beyond the set of her show. In 2014, she did a tell-all “Ask Me Anything” forum on Reddit where she talked about binge-watching Netflix and dished out sex advice. In 2015, she was arguably the funniest comic in Justin Bieber’s Comedy Central roast and fellow comedian Jeff Ross claimed he got stoned with her at the show. She then interviewed Bieber for an Interview Magazine cover story that ran alongside a racy photo spread of the singer. And who could forget when she threw shade at Orange is the New Black by saying, “It’s not as good as the real thing,” or when she mocked lifestyle guru wannabe Gwenyth Paltrow for her use of the term “consciously uncoupling?”
“I think the Reddit forum could have been risky, but she turned a lot of perceptions about herself around and was endearing, classy and fun. Much like when she put up a dating profile on Match.com, it gave her a new appearance of approachability and endeared herself to a new generation of fans,” says Goldblatt-Sadowski. “During that AMA, she also planted a seed when she talked about Snoop. Perhaps that was good PR spin, or maybe that’s how this whole relationship came about with the new show.”
“We became more comfortable with her and could identify with her because she’s not just this pretty woman who does everything right and can tell you what linen to use with what salad bowl,” says Sharp. Her newfound approachability led fans to love Stewart as much as they came to hate other aspiring celebrity lifestyle experts such as the previously mentioned Paltrow and Blake Lively. “I could talk all day about how much I hate Paltrow, her approach isn’t accessible,” says Sharp. “Martha doesn’t pretend to be perfect even though she’s a perfectionist.”
Stewart’s transformation was also perfectly timed to coincide with the evolution of food entertainment. Over the last decade, The Food Network evolved from a schedule primarily centred around cooking shows to one obsessed with food competitions like Chopped and travel shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Her persona also evolved in step with society’s expectations for women inside and outside of the home. Wives are no longer trapped behind stoves, and neither is Stewart.
“The fact that she’s constantly re-inventing herself is why she’s still relevant and why people still care although she’s 75 years old,” says Barkley. “This a woman who’s very plugged in and who is relentless. The only person who will decide when Martha stops is Martha.”