Her Life Was The Ultimate Lifetime Movie

Jean Harris

Jean Harris

Is it just me, or have we lost an unusual number of cultural icons in 2012? When someone who has affected you dies, it can bring back a wave of nostalgia for an earlier time.

Some of the deaths that had that effect on me this year were those of Etta James, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Dick Clark, Dave Brubeck, Gore Vidal, Johnny Pesky, George McGovern, Ravi Shankar, Henry Hill, and Norah Ephron.

Recently I learned of the death of one of those cultural icons: Jean Harris. She was the headmistress of an exclusive girls’ school who was convicted of killing her famous lover Herman Tarnower, creator of the popular “Scarsdale Medical Diet.”

From the LA Times:

The March 10, 1980, shooting of Tarnower — which she claimed throughout her life was her own suicide gone awry — was one of the most sensational crimes of its era.

It riveted the nation, not only because of its titillating combination of sex and violence. It raised what many experts said were important sociological issues, with some feminists rallying to Harris as a symbol of society’s disregard for the plight of older women and others arguing that her case had nothing at all to do with feminism.

Women’s movement icon Betty Friedan dismissed Harris as a “pathetic masochist” for staying with a man who mistreated her. But author Shana Alexander, who wrote a book on the case, described Harris as the “psychological victim of a domineering person.”

Whether morality play or soap opera, the case inspired two TV movies: “The People vs. Jean Harris” (1981), in which Harris was portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, and “Mrs. Harris” (2005), which starred Annette Bening.

In 1980, Harris was the 56-year-old headmistress of the fancy, private Madeira School overlooking the Potomac River in McLean, Va. Tarnower was a 69-year-old cardiologist and best-selling author of a book on a high-protein, low-fat diet that he developed for heart patients at his medical center in well-to-do Scarsdale, N.Y.

While she was in prison, Harris managed to accomplish quite a bit.

Mrs. Harris was sentenced to 15 years to life, and spent 12 of those years at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, N.Y. But she managed to salvage that seemingly wasted period through a remarkable prison life. She counseled fellow female prisoners on how to take care of their children, and she set up a center where infants born to inmates can spend a year near their mothers. Then, after her release in 1993 following a grant of clemency by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, she set up a foundation that raised millions of dollars for scholarships for children of women in prison in New York State.

She also lectured about her often incongruous experiences with inmates.

“They looked at me as a rich white woman, even though some of the call girls earned six times what I did as a headmistress,” she told an interviewer.

She also wrote two books in longhand on legal pads while she was incarcerated, Stranger in Two Worlds, the earnings from which she used to start her foundation and They Always Call Us Ladies: Stories From Prison. There’s a lengthy piece about Harris’ good works at The Daily Beast, and here’s another long read about the case written for NY Magazine in 1980 by Anthony Haden-Guest.

The best thing I read about Harris was this short article by Norah Ephron who also died in 2012:

…on March 12, 1980, when all of New York awoke to the news, this was what we knew: that Jean Harris, 57, the headmistress of the Madeira School, had driven from Virginia to Scarsdale, New York, and killed her former boyfriend, a best-selling diet doctor named Herman Tarnower, 69, by shooting him four times.

There it was: socialite held in doc slaying. It was a tabloid dream. The doctor lived in an “exclusive” Westchester home, the socialite headed a “posh” girls’ school.

We were thrilled. When I say we, I mean me, but I also mean every woman who has ever wanted to kill a bad boyfriend.

There was a kind of giddy exhilaration that passed through the city. I’m not just projecting. Everyone called everyone up. The day was completely blown discussing it. We were all thinking, You go, girl, even though that expression had not yet been invented.

It was clear there would turn out to be another woman (there was), and that she would be younger, prettier, blonde, and probably his receptionist (all true). But as it turned out, Jean Harris did not want to be a celebrity murderess like Roxie Hart, or even a poster child for women whose antidepressant supplies run low. She was a proud, prickly woman, a classic headmistress. The night of the murder, she’d worn a headband. She insisted to police that she hadn’t meant to kill Tarnower; she’d brought the gun to Scarsdale only to kill herself. She claimed that Tarnower had tried to take the gun away from her, and she’d accidentally shot him.

Yes, that was how so many of us reacted the the news–secretly cheering Harris on for getting revenge on a manipulative, cheating lover.  And, truthfully, it was a better story if she shot him deliberately.

Here are a few links to lists of people we lost in 2012.

Chicago Tribune photo gallery

LA Times photo gallery

U.S. News list of notable deaths

TV Guide photo gallery of celebrity deaths

Which ones affected you most?


Sunday Reads: The phrase “brain-eating” never makes a good headline…

French Chocolate Poster, 1898

Good Sunday Morning!

Ah, hope everyone is having a magnificent weekend.  Yesterday, Wonk the Vote served up two awesome posts…here and here, if you missed them. Also, Boston Boomer wrote a quick post about the Obama bullshit remark that 60 Minutes cut from their interview with, “the 4th best American president…evah.”

Well, here is my offering this morning, just one more week until the 25th of December, and like something out of a Dickens’ nightmare…the powers that be are once again sticking it to the poor.  Congress Cuts Winter Heating Aid For The Poor While Boosting The Defense Budget

Congress reached a deal Thursday to avert a shutdown that would have begun at midnight tonight, and in doing so, Republicans found another low-income program to target, cutting funding for subsidies that help the poor stay warm during the winter by nearly 25 percent. At the same time, however, the Pentagon’s budget is getting a 1 percent boost, as the Associated Press noted:

Highlights of the $1 trillion-plus 2012 spending legislation in Congress:

—$518 billion for the Pentagon’s core budget, a 1 percent boost, excluding military operations overseas. [...]

—$3.5 billion for low-income heating and utility subsidies, a cut of about 25 percent.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has become increasingly vital for American families affected by the recession, and it is utilized more and more by military families. One of every five families using LIHEAP is a military family, a 156 percent increase from 2008. Congress, however, decided to cut that program to give a boost to a budget that already makes up 20 percent of the country’s total budget and has been spared in multiple spending agreements this year (the super committee trigger a notable exception).

Plenty of evidence exists that Congress should be focused on investing into programs that boost economic growth and job creation, rather than chasing fiscal austerity toward another recession. If it insists on cutting spending to deal with the deficit now, however, the least it could do is not take the knife to each and every program that helps the poor.

Can you hear these rich congress critters, telling people like Mr. Cratchit what a waistcoat and jacket are used for… “Garments, used for protection against cold.” It is really a sad situation, at least some folks are doing good this holiday season, good as in good deeds.  Saturday, at the Walmart where my husband works, someone came in and paid off some lay-aways, then they went just up the road to another Walmart in Ellijay and did the same, $5000 worth at the Ellijay store alone!

In Louisiana, another person has falling victim to a “Brain Eating” amoeba from using a Neti Pot.

Louisiana state health officials are warning patients about potential dangers of using tap water in the sinus-irrigating neti pot after two patients died of Naegleria fowleri infection.

N. fowleri is known as a “brain-eating” amoeba because it can enter a patient’s nose, infect the brain, and cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain-tissue destroying condition.

The first Louisiana patient died of neti pot-induced infection in June.

[…]

Patients that irrigate their noses with a neti pot should use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water, Raoult Ratard, MD, a Louisiana state epidemiologist, said in the statement. He noted that tap water was safe to drink, but may not be safe for nasal cleansing.

Uh, safe to drink? Makes me wonder how safe it is period…the CDC is working with Louisiana officials on an investigation as to how these N.fowleri are getting into the municipal water supply.

In other US news, some may have missed this article from Mother Jones, No Country for Innocent Men:

“Dear Mr. Cole,” the letter began. “My name is Jerry Wayne Johnson. I’m presently a Texas prisoner. You may recall my name from your 1986 rape trial in Lubbock.”

Ruby Session was shaking as she read on. The year was 2007, and the letter was addressed to her son Timothy Cole. “I have been trying to locate you since 1995 to tell you I wish to confess I did in fact commit the rape Lubbock wrongly convicted you of.”

Ruby sat down, stood up. A picture of Tim in a tuxedo, taken at his junior prom, smiled from the mantle. Before his trial the prosecutor had offered him a deal to plead to lesser charges. “Mother,” Tim had said, “I am not pleading guilty to something I didn’t do.” He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Thirteen years later, he died behind bars.

All I can do is give you these first opening paragraphs, you need to read the entire article…words cannot express the sadness and injustice…Rick Perry must be an evil person to be able to sleep so soundly at night.

I’m going to turn to global news for a bit, the latest numbers of missing and dead from the typhoon that struck the Philippines is over 500.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) estimated 497 were killed in eight provinces in the southern Mindanao region, with more than 100 still missing.

“It’s difficult to be certain on those missing,” Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the PNRC, told Reuters. “The floods washed out whole houses and families inside. It’s possible entire families are dead and no one is reporting them missing.”

The latest report by the state disaster agency said 327 people had been killed and 274 were missing.

Stories of a wall of water washing away everything are now being reported. Philippines floods: victims tell of panic as wall of water hit cities

Devastating flash floods have drowned hundreds of people in their beds in two southern Philippine cities. Twelve hours of heavy rain from a tropical storm swelled rivers and sent walls of water crashing into homes in the Mindanao region late on Friday night, wiping out whole families, many of whom had been at Christmas parties.

I wanted to write about this next link which was published on Friday, but could not bring myself to do it.  It is still too disturbing, so I will just give you the title and the heading, you can read it if you want…or skip it until later.

Tens of thousands of children abused in Dutch Catholic institutions, report says

Eight hundred Catholic clergy and church employees were guilty of abusing children over 40 years, a commission reports

An 1,100-page report from a commission led by a former education minister and Christian Democrat leader said it could identify 800 Catholic clergy and other church employees guilty of sexually abusing children in the 40 years from 1945 and that more than 100 perpetrators were still alive.

Okay, here are a couple of links about the mistreatment of women…no surprises here:

 

Female prisoners around the world are being subjected to body cavity searches, beatings and force-feeding, are held in padded cells, shackled during childbirth, and made to work in chain gangs. Some of the worst conditions are in developing countries, but there are also serious abuses and overcrowding in Europe and North America. These are the major findings of a survey by The Independent on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of United Nations rules governing the treatment of women in prison.

 

In a scene that could have been lifted from Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s, a public bus was halted in Israel on Friday when an ultra-Orthodox man boarded and demanded that Tanya Rosenblit, commuting to Jerusalem for work, get up and move to the rear.

She refused, at which point the offending man told the bus driver that “it was his right to have her sit in the back and that he had paid to be able to do so.” He then pried open the doors, refusing to allow the bus to continue, at which point the driver called police.

When an officer arrived and approached Rosenblit, his first words weren’t empathic notes of comfort, nor were they chagrined articulations of an apology. Instead, the officer asked if she might, you know, respect the man’s wishes and move to the back.

In a Facebook post chronicling the ordeal, Rosenblit responded unequivocally:

I answered that I respected them enough by wearing modest cloths, because I knew I was going to an Orthodox neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be humiliated by those who can’t even respect their own mothers and wives.

Love that comment about respect, or lack thereof, for the wives and mothers.
This past week academia and women everywhere lost a powerful voice for women’s equality within the Jewish faith, Paula E. Hyman, Who Sought Rights for Women in Judaism, Dies at 65

Paula E. Hyman, a social historian who pioneered the study of women in Jewish life and became an influential advocate for women’s equality in Jewish religious practice, including their ordination as rabbis, died on Thursday at her home in New Haven. She was 65.

Michael Marsland/Yale University

Paula E. Hyman was an author and a social historian at Yale.

The cause was breast cancer, said her husband, Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum.

Dr. Hyman, a professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University, wrote 10 books about the Jewish experience in Europe and the United States, many of them focused on women’s roles in various communities before and after the immense Jewish migrations of the 19th and 20th centuries.

She spotlighted the special stresses confronting married Jewish women from Eastern Europe when they arrived in the United States, for instance: although they were used to working outside the home, even as primary breadwinners in some ultrareligious families, they were initially housebound in America, where custom placed married women in the home.

In her books Dr. Hyman chronicled how married Jewish women from Eastern and Western Europe overcame such customs to become full partners in family businesses, a major part of the New York garment work force and leaders of successful community protests like the Lower East Side kosher meat boycott of 1902 and the New York rent strike of 1907.

Her works are considered seminal in creating a new field of historical study — part women’s history, part Jewish history, part history of immigration in America.

I thought the story about Tanya Rosenblit connected in some sad way to the death of Paula E. Hyman, in that the conflicted cultural/religious standards which Rosenblit experienced by refusing to sit in the back of the bus are the same kind of conservative customs Hyman wrote about and studied…women having to overcome this “exclusion” of women in the Orthodox and Conservative branches of the Jewish denominations.

Influenced by the feminist movement of the 1960s, Dr. Hyman sought to apply “consciousness raising” principles to Jewish traditions that, in her view, made women second-class members of their own cultural communities, said Martha Ackelsberg, a fellow Columbia graduate student and now a professor of government at Smith College. Dr. Hyman organized discussion groups that evolved into the organization Ezrat Nashim (“Women’s Help”), which conceived and presented the “Call for Change.”

We all remember the images of Hillary Clinton that had been wiped out by an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published in NYC…the struggle is ongoing, and it seems like whether it is Jewish, Christian or Muslim…there are many religions out there that treat women as second class citizens.

I just mention the three big ones…but it goes without saying there are many, many religions that demean, degrade and disparage the status of women. And no matter what advances we make in this world, I don’t see these insulting “exclusions” of women fading at all. It may sound disheartening, but I feel that we will never get the true respect and admiration women deserve, there will always be an underlying thread of sexism masked in religious and cultural beliefs.

All right, now I’m going to move on to some lighter “stuff.”

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  You may have heard that Roger Ebert’s show is no longer being produced. However, he is very active in his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times and this post, from December 15th  is his list of The Best Films of 2011.

Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.

My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won’t be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.

One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.

Take a look at his obligating list of favorite 2011 flicks…I’ll be honest, I haven’t even seen many of them.  (In fact the only one I sat through was the Harry Potter, and that was because I took the kids to see it.) We don’t really get these other kind of films shown here in Banjoville…but I am looking forward to seeing Hugo and The Artist at some point.

And now for your Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  With such a downer of a post, I have to bring it up and end it with something funny.   On The Fourth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me: The Twelve Days Of Conservative Movement Christmas

There is a video at the link but I prefer reading the lyrics to this time honored classic Christmas song:

On the first day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
A Kenyan in the Presidency.

On the second day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Two squawking Bachmanns.
And a Muslim in the Presidency.

On the third day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Three Fox News Hosts,
Two squawking Bachmanns ,
And a racist in the Presidency

On the Fourth Day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox News Hosts,
Two Sausage Munchers,
And a liberal in the Presidency.

On the fifth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Five Tea Parties,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Nudes,
Twenty Three Bachmann kids,
And the most radical president in our history.

On the sixth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Six Newts a Laying,
Five Golden Boehners,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Nuts,
Two more years of Bachmann,
And a gangster in the Presidency.

On the seventh Day of Christmas those dummies gave to me
Seven puppets thinking,
Six Cains a Laying,
Five prayers for Rain,
Four Egyptian caliphates,
Three Fox Frauds,
Two Doctor Pauls,
And a Hussein in the presidency.

On the eighth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Eight Malkins clucking,
Seven Puppets writing,
Six Newts a laying,
Five Death Panels ,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox & Friends,
Two Suckers Koch,
And a secular socialist presidency.

On the ninth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight Coulters Braying,
Seven Puppets Marching,
Six Newts a lying,
Five Santorum smears,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Chicken Littles,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And an elite in the presidency.

On the tenth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Ten Becks a weeping,
Nine Sarah’s Tweeting,
Eight Breiberts Baaaing,
Seven Palins drowning,
Six Newts a lobbying,
Five Months No Rain,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Fox Freakouts,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And a liberation theologist ushering in the secular socialist agenda presidency.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Eleven Government takeovers,
Ten Becks turrets,
Nine Palin coining,
Eight Cows a Mooin’,
Seven puppet staring,
Six Newts a laughing,
Five Nuts on Stage,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three Dummy Hosts,
Two Squawking Bachmanns,
And a Kind of a dick in the Presidency.

On the twelfth day of Christmas the dummies gave to me
Twelve dummies dumbing down down down down down down down down the electorate.
Eleven Pipelines piping,
Ten Becks a Weeping,
Nine Rogues a goin’,
Eight Armageddons,
Seven wasteful spending,
Six Newts advising,
One Donald Trump,
Four Blackboard Truths,
Three f**ing dolts,
Two squawking Bachmanns,
And a Freedom hater who will take your guns and put you in FEMA camps (unless you buy gold right now) in the Presidency.

Have a wonderful day, and please let us know what things you are reading and thinking about today.