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Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎11-08-2014

"Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

It's spring, so I am about to start my umpteenth re-reading of this quite brilliant true-crime book about Jean Harris, headmistress of the Madeira School, and her killing of her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower.  He, of course, was a well-known Scarsdale physician who had penned the "Scarsdale Diet" books.

 

Everyone at the time (early 80's) was fascinated by this case;  it spawned many books and even a play at one point.

 

I can only say that this is, by far, the best analysis I've read.  Diana Trilling was a highly respected writer, wife of the legendary literary critic and long-time Columbia English professor, Lionel Trilling.

 

Diana Trilling was a sharply observant and indomitably honest and quirky social critic.  She dissects the social milieu in which Tarnower and Harris swam.  The slights, the calculating social climbing, the hard-won "arrival" at ever higher social plateaus.  At the time of the murder, Tarnower was still in the ascendant, and Jean Harris was on a downswing.  Her career seemed stalled and Tarnower was increasingly seeking the company of his younger secretary, while keeping Jean dangling.  Harris was reiying on pills and increasingly frantic.

 

Trilling attended the lengthy trial, and wrote a white-hot book that reads like a novel.  Can't wait to read it yet again! 

Esteemed Contributor
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Registered: ‎01-13-2013

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

@oznell  That sounds fascinating - I was just looking online for a copy and saw this book, have you read it? "When She Was Bad," it's about Bess Myerson and her various shocking antics. It's probably out of print now...

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Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎07-26-2014

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

@oznell

 

I can still remember the tv movie called Mrs Harris.

"Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎10-04-2010

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

I read a book many years ago on this too. Happened in my lifetime too. It was something else. I saw the t.v. movie on it too. 

Honored Contributor
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Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

Yorkieonmypillow, I've not read that bio of Bess Myerson, but can well imagine her colorful life makes for a great story!  Looks good.

 

Interestingly, the author of the Bess Myerson book, Shana Alexander, also wrote about Jean Harris.  I found her analysis not to be as objective as Diana Trilling's.  Shana Alexander took the standard line of the time, that this was a feminist parable and I think maybe she even thought the killing was somehow justifiable?

 

I may be doing her a disservice in that, but do seem to remember her approach was more doctrinaire and not as nuanced and uniquely perceptive as Trilling's.

 

Now I'd like to read all three books--  the Bess Myerson one, Shana Alexander's treatment of Jean Harris, and Trilling's book, and compare!   Grrr-- so little time, so many great books!

 

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,692
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

Mz iMac and QualityGal, I saw the TV movie too!  Actually I think there were ultimately two of them, but I saw the first one with Ellen Burstyn.  She was absolutely fantastic as Jean Harris.  I think Martin Balsam played her attorney Joel Aurnou and he was great as well. I'd love to see that again, wouldn't you?

Honored Contributor
Posts: 10,276
Registered: ‎07-26-2014

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

@oznell

 

I would love to see the movie again.  It's an oldie but goodie.

I need to check the books that were previously mentioned.

 

The tv movie I saw, Annette Bening played Jean Harris & Ben Kingsley played the Dr.

Ellen Burstyn played either the new or old girlfriend.  Then again, maybe I am getting the actressess mixed up on who played who. Smiley Tongue

"Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,692
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

No, I think you are right, Mz iMac, if I'm remembering right, I do believe Annette Bening was in one of the versions.  That would be great casting too.  If it was the young Annette Bening, she'd be perfect for the younger girlfriend;  if it was the more mature Annette Bening, she has the exact sort of brittle quality that Jean Harris had and would be right to play her...

 

The real Jean Harris, who I've seen interviewed, was a very complex character, which was why I guess everyone wanted to write about her.  At 56, she seemed smart, had a dry sense of humor, was possibly narcississtic (just my armchair diagnosis, ha) and seemed to have a vast reservoir of low self-esteem.

 

And even though he of course didn't deserve to be murdered, Dr. Tarnower, as Diana Trilling writes about him, seems to have been extradordinarily callous and may have actually enjoyed toying with the feelings of the women in his life.....  not a nice person.

 

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 10,570
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

HMMMM. I love to read, but haven't read this book-will have to look for it, I am sure it is great reading! 

60 YRS OLD, MED GOLDEN BROWN HAIR, MED TAN SKINTONE.......
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Registered: ‎05-04-2010

Re: "Mrs. Harris-- The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor", by Diana Trilling

Another book written about this time and very intense is Nutcracker , also by Shana Alexander.  I can remember reading several books about this case and the Jean Harris case.