Martha Stewart Pal Recalls Shrieking, Stalking, Bedding: Review

Mariana Pasternak
Mariana Pasternak. "The Best of Friends: Martha and Me" is by Martha Stewart's former friend and confident. Source: Harper Collins via Bloomberg

Martha Stewart shrieked at her husband, stalked a rich man in the Hamptons after her divorce and has been known to stick friends with the dinner tab.

These tidbits come not from a sleazy tell-all biography but from “The Best of Friends,” a spiky, entertaining memoir by Stewart’s former pal Mariana Pasternak.

Single best line: When newly divorced, Stewart “had a surprising flexibility when it came to bedding down with a just-met mate.”

Pasternak and her fiance, now ex-husband, became close to Stewart and her then-husband, Andy, when they were neighbors in Westport, Connecticut, in the early 1980s.

She was there as Stewart metamorphosed from well-connected caterer and cookbook writer to billionaire businesswoman and lifestyle icon. She watched Andy Stewart talk his wife into a merchandising deal with Kmart, which Martha didn’t think fit her upscale image.

“‘Have you ever been to a Kmart store?’ Martha said, her voice tinged with offense, her eyes filled with reproach,” Pasternak writes.

Pasternak liked Andy Stewart better than his wife, but when the Stewarts divorced, she somehow got custody of Martha.

The two women hung out in each other’s kitchens, went to movies and flea markets together. Pasternak was Stewart’s perpetual plus-one at intimate dinners and fancy benefits, her companion on trips to the Galapagos, Egypt, Machu Picchu and Newfoundland.

Encounters With Fame

Pasternak enjoyed the pizzazz Stewart brought into her life. In the Hamptons, she visited Calvin Klein’s house and cruised on Tommy Mottola’s boat.

“Barbra Streisand prepared fresh lobster and her favorite angel food cake with Cool Whip and hosted us for lunch on her terrace overlooking the dunes and the ocean,” she writes.

Of course, it wasn’t all good times. There were huge expenses involved in having a billionaire for a best friend, and Pasternak, a single mother who worked as a real estate broker, couldn’t really afford them.

Then there was Stewart’s famous temper. While the women were traveling in Egypt, a cabdriver booted them out of his car in the desert, “surrounded only by huge hills of sand,” after Stewart started arguing with him.

Twenty years of friendship ended in 2004, when Pasternak had to testify at Stewart’s trial for lying about her sale of stock in ImClone Systems, a biomedical company owned by her friend Samuel D. Waksal, just before the price tanked.

Pasternak’s testimony, in which she recalled Stewart saying, “Isn’t it nice to have brokers who tell you those things?” supported the charge that Stewart lied about trading on inside information.

Stewart’s IPO

Pasternak portrays herself as a financial naif who saw owning stock in a friend’s company as a test of personal loyalty rather than financial acumen. She hung onto her own shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia on the day of its initial public offering because she thought Stewart would be insulted if she sold them -- though it turned out that all their other friends, and even Stewart herself, sold plenty of stock and took the windfall.

As for what Stewart told Pasternak about her sale of ImClone, Pasternak is hazy on the details: “To avoid getting upset with Martha when she was rude, arrogant, impatient, critical, I had allowed myself the luxury of inattention around her,” she writes.

That doesn’t quite jibe with the 398-page memoir she’s just written, so take it with a grain of salt. This is an observant, dishy look at a world of luxury and privilege from the perspective of a woman who’s trying to justify -- if only to herself -- her years as a hanger-on.

“The Best of Friends: Martha and Me” is published by Harper (398 pages, $25.99). To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Laurie Muchnick is an editor at Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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