Giggle-filled parody entertains as only Martha Stewart can

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For those who just love Martha Stewart, and for those who have seen, heard and read more of this domestic queen than they can bear, there's a new publication that both will adore.

"Is Martha Stuart Living?" (Southport Beach Productions, $9.95) is a parody of her highly successful magazine, Martha Stewart LIVING, put together by two of her Connecticut neighbors, Tom Connor and Jim Downey.

The living, breathing Martha Stewart is an East Coast caterer, gardener, author, K mart representative and television spokeswoman extraordinaire who loves to show and tell others how to cook, entertain and decorate beautifully! She's a woman who apparently thinks nothing of gutting and gilding 20 pumpkins to use as soup bowls for a dinner party, or growing real grass in baskets for Easter.

"We have infinite respect for Martha," Mr. Downey says. "She even catered Tom's wedding. But she asks just too too much of women and men. Perfection is a difficult thing to achieve."

The authors found that out as they strove to make their parody as good as her legitimate publication. "We learned how hard they [the magazine staff] must work to make that thing come out. It's lovely to look at, but who has the time?" Mr. Downey asks.

Even with help from photographer J. Barry O'Rourke, it took the authors 18 months to produce a parody with the slick, glossy look of a top magazine. Mr. O'Rourke photographed one of Ms. Stewart's early coffee table books, and has also worked for Playboy.

He even makes dirt look distinctive. The gardening segment is all about dirt -- the best mixes for driveways, potted plants, etc. The accompanying photograph of six little dirt piles has the same attention to detail that Vogue might give to a feature on blusher.

Ms. Stewart doesn't seem to mind being the object of a little humor.

"She has seen it, and she said, 'My opinion of things like parody is, it's the highest form of flattery,' " said Allyn Magrino, a publicist for Ms. Stewart.

The authors included all the usual "Martha departments" from Martha's monthly calendars to "Homekeeping." On Dec. 18, there's a note to "make napkins, tablecloth, candles & toothpicks for dinner guests." On Dec. 11, she reminds herself to "change glue in all 55 glue guns."

Glue guns are important to Ms. Stewart, and the parody. The authors, for example, recommend using a glue gun when making "Handmade Condoms: A fitting gift for the '90s." Ingredients include sheep's intestines that have been soaked in virgin olive oil, and garden vegetables for molding the prophylactics.

In another photo feature, a glue gun and an electric drill work together to turn an imperfect fir into a perfect Christmas tree

The two men have been friends for 20 years. They began the project last year after running into each other in the local library. .. "It was Tom's idea to lampoon Martha Stewart. He figured I'd be a good cohort," Mr. Downey explains.

In real life, Mr. Downey is a former actor (and uncle of actor Robert Downey Jr.) and creative director for a publishing company. Mr. Connor is a literary agent.

"This is not a vicious attack -- it's a good-natured jibe," Mr. Downey says by phone from Connecticut. He adds with a laugh, "But you'll notice there are three lawyers on our masthead." Mr. Downey and Mr. Connor have made certain readers of "Is Martha Stuart Living?" get lots of laughs. The authors have included directions for starching sheets, then using a protractor, T-square and heat gun to produce four perfect corners on a bedsheet. For recipe humor, there's "90-grain bread" or "Hunter's Stew" for 600.

Add the centerfold of a Martha look-alike, clad in a bustier and leather pants with a whisk, pizza cutter and meat fork hanging from her big leather belt, and it's 64 pages of holiday giggles.

"Even if you love her, you know how ridiculous she is," Mr. Downey says.

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