Be-Marthas, Do-Marthas And Beyond Martha

Because larry kennedy has been driving Martha Stewart wherever she wants to go for 14 years, he has a few thoughts on the secrets of her success. Besides the fanatical thoroughness, and the insomniac work habits, he says, "she's got a photographic memory-which I don't have." Damn. If only he had that photographic memory, Martha would be driving Larry from the "Today" show to his Fifth Avenue pied-a-terre. He'd be spending the weekend at the White House and running an estimated $200 million lifestyle empire, with his own magazine, TV show and crazed following. He'd know how to caramelize napkin rings.

We all think this way, lovers and haters of Martha alike. Her detractors say, Sure, I could have made millions teaching people how to make marzipan kumquats--but I'm too busy thinking about world peace. Her fans just want the kumquats. They divide into Do-Marthas and Be-Marthas, says Susan Wy-land, editor of Martha Stewart Living. The "Dos" follow the recipes, maybe re-cover a chair. The "Bes" covet. They'll obsess over "Martha Stewart's Home for the Holidays" (CBS, Dec. 12), glue guns in hand. In Kennebunkport, Maine, a group called Beyond Martha gathers regularly to watch its idol's syndicated TV show. "Some women make fun of her," says founder Carol Phillips, a 51-year-old specialed teacher. "But we're all glued to the channel."

Behold Stewart's true secret. Ralph Lauren got rich peddling a lifestyle: fashions, towels, sheets. But even ff you want to buy his stuff, you don't want to be Ralph. "AskMartha" will show you how to be. A new column syndicated by The New York Times, "Ask" will mutate into cyberMartha: a Web site that'll go up in the next year or so. "'AskMartha' is an organizer. 'AskMartha' will organize your day," promises the hyperorganized Martha herself, sitting in her white, airy office at the magazine. In a brown Armani suit, she looks a little older (at 54) than she does on TV and, unlike most celebrities, taller. A former model, she still has a professionally radiant smile, which turns conspiratorial as she explains that the November "home office" cover of the magazine was conceived to prep readers (women in their late 30s and early 40s) on home computers. When Martha comes online, her audience will be sitting at their keyboards, credit cards in hand.

"Omnimedia" is Stewart's somewhat terrifying goal. "I always saw the business as encompassing as many different media as possible," she says, in that husky, no-non-sense voice that hypnotizes 5 million TV viewers a week. Her magazine has a circulation of l.5 million. Her new cookbook is a best seller. There's the Martha by Mail catalog. Even Mother Nature is a media outlet. When the araucana chickens at Martha's Westport, Conn., house lay eggs, the shells inspire color chips ($15 for a set). From the chaps you can choose a Martha paint ($75 for 2.5 liters). The whole process is plugged in the magazine and on TV, from egg to perfectly painted wall.

Martha, Inc., marches on. "Hurry! Finish it!" she yells at the construction guys who are expanding the magazine's offices. It's no accident that the logo for her mail-order service is a beehive: everybody knows who the queen is. On a typical morning, she's already fed the chickens, built a toolshed and launched a new business by the time the rest of us are stumbling into the shower.

Being "perfectly perfect"--another big Marthaism--has one drawback: people make fun of you. The hilariously nasty "Is Martha Stuart Living?" parody calendar for 1996 features entries like "Dec. 10: Neuter pets and barnyard animals" and "March 7: Meet with publicist to plan counter-parody campaign." Ironically, that last one has already happened. Besides doing "Letterman," Stewart made a shrewdly self-deprecating appearance last month on "Ellen." In the Christmas special she allows Miss Piggy to mock her during the creation of a gingerbread house. "I've always had a sense of humor," she insists. We're at her new Fifth Avenue pad now: no furniture yet, just the basics: Italian marble floors, Swedish-putty walls, tiger-maple doors, gleaming steel kitchen. Her line on the parody is classic Martha: "I wish I had done it. I could have done a much better job." She's not kidding.