One could tell it would be no ordinary trial when the three authors showed up. There was the venerable Diana Trilling, who's been covering trials since Alger Hiss. Lally Weymouth was covering for Esquire, with an eye on a book. Shana Alexander whiled away the tedious hours of pretrial hearings with needlepoint and crossword puzzles.
"Shana!" one of the old daily pros hollered when she heard. "I haven't seen Shana since Patty Hearst!"
Stories and screenplays and books? Oh yes. The trial in Westchester County, N.Y. of Jean Harris, once of Madeira School, and now accused of second-degree murder in the death of Dr. Herman Tarnower, once cardiologist and author, is valuable property.
The attorney for the defense Joel Aurnou, a loquacious and balding man with a lawyer's gift for drama, says he's had requests for interviews from two dozen writers, "exclusive of movies and articles," and a call from an eager and important producer who had, for the role of Jean Harris, "a very, very famous actress who in my day was a sex symbol." No names, please. Suffice it to say that the producer was talking six figures.
No, the defendant, "a very private person," was not interested, her lawyer said, though the money for her defense, raised from family, friends and savings, has just about run out.
Neither have writers been the only ones to take an interest. According to Aurnou, Harris has received hundreds of letters from women who identify with her.
"The women look at this case and say, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' Men look and say, 'My God, am I doing this to someone? Am I an insensitive clod?'" Arnou said in an interview with Ms. magazine in which he stressed the feminist angle.
But it is not merely feminism that has attracted the writers and letters. Trilling, with a contact to deliver her book one month after the verdict is in, said she would be interested in the case even if Harris had been a man. She said it is "the psychology and social context," the area of "respectability and its contradictions in our society," that drew her to the story.
Her book originally was to have been called A Respectable Murder, but then the lawyers told her that, legally, it would have to be title An Alleged Respectable Murder.
Now she will title her book, Love, Here Is My Heart after an old World War I London Music Hall song her mother used to sing to her as a child: "Love here is my heart," it goes " . . . Something to kiss or kill./ As you will./ Love, here is my heart."
So much has been written about the Jean Harris case that the phrases seem to have become new words, the peculiar hybrids that are born out of daily journalism. She is the HeadmistressofthePrestigiousMadeiraSchool. Tarnower is the ScarsdaleDietDoctor, though he was known locally as a cardiologist and was reportedly somewhat ambivalent about the fame accorded him by his best-selling diet.
Theirs was the ClassicLoveTriangle involving the YoungerWoman; a nurse who worked in Tarnower's Scarsdale Medical Group. Harris was -- in the words of her attorney, who repeats them often -- a woman with AMagnificentObsession. AHighStrung woman, the papers say. She was a woman so strict that on the Madeira School campus she earned the nickname "Integrity Jean." And she was a woman so compulsive she forbade oranges on campus -- the peels left on the grounds made too much mess.
Less has been written about Tarnower, and his family, like Harris', has been shy of reporters. But there are a few tabloid words that pop up over and over again beside and about his named "Wealthy." "Well-traveled." "Womanizer."
Wealthy he was. His modern, multilevel home in Purchase, N.Y., with its six acres and game room, had cost $500,000. The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet had grossed $11 million in retail sales. He belonged to one of Westchester County's more exclusive country clubs, the Century. His friends included bankers and nationally known doctors. He traveled extensively, taking fishing trips to Mexico and safaris to Africa.
He was also a devotee of the good life. He had a live-in Belgian couple to cook and garden.He was a gourmet.
"My cravings are not for Big Macs, but, fortunately, for low-calorie Italian white truffles," he told People magazine in 1974, the year his book made the best-seller lists. Dinner party invitations at his home were sought after.
"He adored good food and wine, he had an extraordinary wine cellar . . . eating at his home was a fantastic enological experience," said Mrs. Arthur Schulte, a friend of Tarnower for 25 years. "He had a very rare collection of old fine wines, and he would produce them for people he knew would appreciate them . . . . Everyone would sniff and taste and twirl . . . and there would be a great gasp when you found out that you were drinking, oh, an 1893 Haut-Brion . . . when you realized what he was treating you to."
He was not, outside his circle of friends, a universally popular man. Five feet eleven and 174 pounds, dressed correctly in expensive English clothes, he was a formal, and to many a forbidding, man. He did not care for small talk. He did not care for fiction. He was capable of mean behavior -- of keeping a fellow doctor out of his country club for a number of years in an episode well known in his circle.
At dinner parties, he steered conversations to politics and science. The doctors who liked him admitted he was "sort of austere," those coworkers who did not spoke of his "arrogance," "aloofness" and "coldness." They labeled him, with his wealthy clientele, a social climber.
"He may have been very charming in the privacy of his home," said one doctor who has worked in the Westchester area for 35 years, "but then, maybe, so was Dracula."
If he was not popular with some of his coworkers, however, he was extremely popular with women. Never publicly demonstrative, he still might give women expensive presents, and not be averse to accepting expensive presents in return. One women, whom he dated for over 10 years, gave him 20-karat gold buttons for his blazers.
His treatment of women overall, however, is a matter of some dispute. Harris' defense attorney has floated stories to the press of Tarnower's alleged mistreatment of women, claiming that he roughed one up when he tired of her. A neighbor of the doctor confirms this, saying that Tarnower did beat up one wealthy woman friend on a trip around the world, in Fiji.
Other women who dated the doctor recall him as sensitive and considerate. But even the women who recall him fondly admit that he was never a warm man, or one who could commit himself completely to a relationship.
"He was walled emotionally, there was an inner core that had a little steel barrier around it," one woman said. "He had the capacity to be tender and quite gentle, but he was a very controlled person, and also, he was not the marrying kind. And anybody who went out with Hy Tarnower knew that -- he told you up front. So any woman knew what she was getting into."
Dr. Herman Tarnower, according to friends, was not born to the wealthy circles he would travel in as an adult. He was born in Brooklyn, the son of a New York hat manufacturer. He studied medicine at Syracuse University. Most reports have it that his family was well to do, but this might have not been the case.
One old friend says Tarnower started out "a poor boy in Brooklyn," and became a doctor, she believes, because "that was his ticket out of Brooklyn." After college, he studied in England and Holland, and began his practice in Scarsdale during the Depression, at first working out of a smill office, later forming the Scarsdale Medical Center with four other doctors.
His early attempts at the good life did not always go smoothly -- he was blackballed when he tried to get into one non-Jewish country club. But even the doctors who dislike him concede that he was a good doctor. They credit him with being the moving force behind the Westchester Heart Association. They also speak often of his drive. "Ambitious," they say.
Jean Harris -- born Jean Struven -- was of another background. Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the daughter of a career military officer, she attended private schools and later graduated magna cum laude from Smith College. Her memories of her home life, at least her parents' marriage, were not good.
"She felt her father was a very domineering man and that her mother was too cowed by him," says a friend of 12 years. "She used to say that he was a difficult man, and she hated the way he treated her mother."
After college, she married James Harris, the son of a Detroit industrialist, and settled with him in Grosse Pointe, Mich. She taught history at the Grosse Pointe Country Day School. James Harris worked as a supervisor at the Holly Carburetor Co. She had two sons (one is now a Westchester banker, one a lieutenant in the Marines).
In 1964, after 18 years of marriage, the Harrises were divorced. Some reports have it that James Harris was not ambitious enough to suit his wife. A longtime friend of Harris credits the breakup of the marriage to ennui.
"He was a childhood boyfriend, their families knew each other, but she found it sheer dullsville -- she always says he couldn't have been nicer or duller," the friend said.
After the divorce, Harris took a job with the Springside School for Girls, in Chestnut Hill, Pa., as the director of the middle school. At about this time she also started dating Tarnower. Later she moved on professionally, taking over the Thomas School in Connecticut. At neither school was she popular. At Springside she was recalled as a tough discipliniarian. At the Thomas School there were reports of emotional outbursts as well.
When the Thomas School closed in 1975 Harris took a job with the Allied Maintenance Corp. A year and a half later she won a position at the Madeira School. The job obviously weighed heavily upon her. Vivian Schulte, who has known Harris for as long as Harris dated Tarnower (Harris and Tarnower spent every New Year's Eve for 12 years at the Schulte home in Palm Beach), recalls one quiet afternoon in Florida when both women were on the beach reading, and Harris suddenly started to sob.
"I asked her what was the matter, and she said, 'How can you bring women up in a world like this to know what's right and wrong, when you have thing like [a student's] father bringing home his girlfriend when he isn't even yet divorced?'" said Schulte. "She felt so intensely about the young."
She also felt intensely about Tarnower, although, friends say, he had made it clear that he would not marry her and though he openly dated other women. Occasionally, she made a comment about it, trying to appear casual.
"I remember one day in Sak's beauty shop she said, 'Have you met Hy's new girlfriend? She's very good-looking, like all his girls, but she's not very smart,'" one woman friend said.
Another woman friend, who very much admires Harris, remembered long conversations with Harris in which she tried to convince her to keep her friendship with Tarnower but look for a life with someone else.She also remembers that Harris refused, saying that she would have whatever relationship with Tarnower she could, declining to see other men.
This past winter, the pressure of the affair with Tarnower, who was increasingly seen in the company of another woman, as well as the pressures of unpopular disciplinary measures Harris had administered at school, may have become too much.
In March, carrying a bouquet of flowers and a gun, Harris drove from her home in Virginia to Tarnower's Westchester home, six hours away. By the time the police arrived, Tarnower lay dying.
Her trial began last Tuesday with an excruciatingly painstaking jury selection process expected to last weeks. The prosecution's version of the events is that Harris shot the doctor in a jealous rage. The defense version is that Harris, in a state of depression and self-loathing, went to the doctor's home to ask him to shoot her, and in the struggle over the gun, the doctor was killed.
This was the version Jean Harris reportedly gave to a close friend a few months ago -- a woman who was close to both her and Tarnower.
"She said she had wanted to kill herself," said the friend, admittedly embittered by Tarnower's death. "I said, Well, why didn't you then? You didn't have to drive six hours in the rain to kill yourself.' She said, 'Hy was my best friend, and he was so wonderful to talk to and I wanted to just have one last word or comfort.'"
The thought ocurred to her, the friend says, that there was probably more to it than that, that in all likelihood what Harris really wanted may have been to have been talked out of suicide, or to somehow make the doctor love her. But it seemed, said the friend, that little could be gained by that sort of discussion. Either she'd simply get a stock answer, or she would cause additional pain, which she did not care to do.
"She was really an extraordinary woman," the friend said of Harris. "Good-looking, chic, a great mind, a dedicated educator. She just had this one obsession, this one weakness where she could not walk away from the intense love she had for this man . . . this grand passion . . . the nearest thing to Anna Karenina I've ever seen in real life."