The Scarsdale Diet is a very strict eating plan that allows for just 1,000 calories per day, regardless of your body size, gender, or activity level. No substitutions of any kind are allowed and each meal is specifically defined for each of the 14-days of the diet.
It was created by Dr. Herman Tarnower in 1979. Basically, it is keto before keto was a thing. Essentially just eliminating carbs for a slow and painful death (ha!).
First, I want to tell you about Dr. Herman Tarnower. He was born in 1910 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrant parents Harry and Dora Tarnower. Herman was always a driven man from a young age. His father had a prosperous hat-manufacturing business (it was the 30’s so there was a lot of hat wearing), but he instead decided to study medicine. He attended Syracuse and graduated in 1933. He then began his residency in Bellevue and went on to fellowships in studying cardiology abroad in London and Amsterdam. In 1939, he returned stateside and got a job as an attending cardiologist at White Plains Hospital. Then WW2 came and the end of the war found him a lieutenant colonel stationed in Japan. He was a member of the Casualty Survey Commission, the casualties in question coming from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The experience really affected him and he would often speak about this experience (understandably).
In due course, Herman returned to White Plains Hospital. He moved to Scarsdale, New York. He was the founder of the Scarsdale Medical Group and a lifelong bachelor and was a known ladies’ man and eternal bachelor. His career progress and he eventually met a woman named Jean Harris.
Jean Witte Struven was born in 1924 and grew up in the fashionable Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. Her family was well off and she was educated at a private school, the Laurel School. She was ambitious, organized, and personable. She graduated magna cum laude. Shortly thereafter, she married the son of a Detroit industrialist, James Harris. However, Her father openly disapproved of James, not believing he was good enough. He even cried at their wedding! They settled in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
The Harris’ moved into a “colonial” style house on Hillcrest, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. It was a middle-class picturesque neighbourhood. In 1946, four months after her marriage, Jean began teaching history and current events at Grosse Pointe Country Day School teaching elementary school. Jean’s father did not approve of this either.
She took some time off to raise her sons, David, born in 1950, and James, born 24 months later, but remained at the school for the next several years. A colleague at the school said that Harris was “very ambitious and wanted to be much more than a first-grade teacher”.
James Harris, meantime, had also taken a job as supervisor at the Holly Carburetor Company. It was a decent job but he simply wasn’t that ambitious. A neighbour said “James Harris wasn’t as forceful as she was, but a lot more fun to be with. I liked him a lot.” “All I’m saying is that everyone loved him,” the neighbour said. “She was very pretty and very brilliant, but everyone loved him. He was a nice, quiet man”.
Jean spent the next few years getting her master’s degree, but by 1964 she is tired of her life and marriage in Michigan. Especially after she meets an old friend, Marge Jacobson. Marge is married to a lawyer in New York City. They have an apartment on Park Ave and a home in Scarsdale. She decides she no longer wants to be married to James. She files for divorce and wants to get out of the Midwest and change her life completely. She decides she wants to be with someone who is ambitious and wealthy.
She and her sons move to a suburb of Philadelphia after Jean accepts a job as a director of an affluent private school. After she settles into her life, she reaches out to Marge again and Marge invites her to a party she is throwing at her NYC apartment. This my friends is our meet-cute!
In walks…Dr Herman Tarnower.
She is smitten straight away. They hit it off and had good conversation, she was smart so likely Herman was also drawn to her. At the time, Jean was in her 40’s and Herman is in his 50’s.
After they met that evening, Jean started receiving little cards and presents and this began a long distance 14-year relationship. At first, Herman took her fancy dinners, out on the town, and to dinner parties. He even brought her into his circle of friends. He had many wealthy friends and patients, and for Jean this is exactly what she’d been looking for, she had really hit the jackpot.
In 1967, Herman proposed to Jean and she was over the moon. She wanted to wait for a little bit of time so that her sons could finish school before moving to New York. A few months went on and Herman would never set a date for their wedding. He finally one day broke the news to her that he couldn’t go through with getting married. Jean thought maybe he just isn’t the type so she posted the ring back to him. This made him angry and he drove all the way to Philly to give it back to her. He wanted her to wear the ring. He was what we’d call now, a fuckboy. Jean gets mad but they do make up eventually. Jean is just so desperate to make it work and be with Herman.
Jean injures her back, and this my friends, is where the pill addiction enters the story.
Jean and Herman did continue to see each other, and Herman took Jean on trips and continued to have her as a long- distance girlfriend. But he was obviously seeing other women. Jean was miserable trying to be okay with him not being faithful and serious about their relationship, but all the while it was killing her inside.
Jean accepted a new job in Connecticut, which was great for her because it meant she’d be closer to Herman. Colleagues from the school said that her was erratic and had short fuse. At this point she was taking sleeping pills at night and amphetamines during the day. Her mental health is not great, between the relationship’s troubles, the drug problem, and pressures from her job.
Around this time, Herman starts to see his 34-year old secretary named Lynn. He starts to play the two against each other. He basically thought they’d both try harder to please him. They would leave harassing messages on each other’s answering machines. It pushed Jean further and further to the edge.
In 1977, Jean was now 54 years old and offered the head mistress position at really prestigious private school in Mclean, Virginia. Her first year wasn’t great. She replaced a really beloved head mistress and was not so well liked by the students.
In 1978, Jean decided to buy a gun. At the time she was suicidal, she couldn’t take not having Herman to herself, the addiction. She was not very happy at all.
In 1979, The Scarsdale Diet Book came out. The diet was trash as we talked about in the beginning of the episode but Herman became an instant celebrity. And now he was wealthier and more famous. He was on tv shows doing interviews.
Jean was very upset, but Jean actually helped write a lot of the book. Herman came up with the diet but Jean wrote a lot of it, but she is not given any credit at all for this in the book. He just sends her a check for $4,000 and was “thanks bitch!”. This made her even more mad, because she didn’t want a job, she did this because she loved him.
After this, Lynn became the “main” girlfriend and began going with Herman on his trips and there for holidays. There were even rumours that Herman was going to propose.
At the same time, she was having further issues at her job, she expelled some students near to their graduation for weed possession and the faculty and parents were mad at her. She even received a terrible letter from a student.
This was the last straw for Jean. Everything had been piling up on her and she basically lost it. Jean is also withdrawing from the speed she’d been taking and she had been trying to reach Herman for 3 days but he wouldn’t answer. She needed a prescription badly. She then decided to write Herman this 10-page letter on the horrible way he’s treated her over the years and posted it to him. She then wrote her will.
On March 10th, 1980, she finally reaches Herman and begs him not to read the letter and tries to explain how she was feeling with all the stress. She asks if she could come and see him that night. He said he was having dinner with his niece.
Jean decides she is going to drive up to New York that night.
She grabs her gun and puts on her mink coat. It’s a LEWK! She then drives 5 hours in pouring rain.
Jean arrives at 10:40pm and Herman is sleeping. She wakes him up, he is really annoyed to be woken up. Jean goes to the bathroom and she sees Lynn’s nightgown and curlers. This is when she loses her shit. She hurls the curlers across the room and Herman then slaps Jean and he yells for her to get out. She then pulls out the gun and her and Herman wrestle for the gun and he was shot through the hand.
Herman was able to buzz his housekeeper Suzanne and she could hear Jean scream and a gunshot. 3 more shots were fired at close range. Jean then put the gun to her head and it clicked. She then pointed it towards a closet and it fired, she then tried to shoot herself again and it clicked.
She decided she has to get out of the house. She gets in her car and starts driving but she passes police coming to the house, so she decides to turn around and go back. Once she gets there she says to the Police, the Herman has been shot. She went up to Herman’s bedroom with the Police officers and his housekeepers were already there and told police Jean had shot him.
Jean claimed the whole thing was a mistake, that this was really a suicide attempt gone wrong. She said it was a struggle for the gun. This is what she would say in court as her defence. The prosecution think she shot him at point blank on purpose.
There was a huge media presence. It was a big case. The prosecution offered her manslaughter but she refused and wanted to fight it in court. She wore fancy dresses and coats to court every day and even took to the stand to explain the mental abuse she suffered by Herman, still claiming she had just wanted to kill herself.
So, do you remember that 10-page letter she wrote and mailed and begged Herman not to read? Well, he didn’t read it. But it was read to the court. And it really did not do her any favours because it really showed how mad she was at him!
Jean Harris was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. While she was in prison, she wrote two books, Stranger in Two Worlds (a memoir) and They Always Call Us Ladies. She got very into prison reform.
Jean was released from prison and was release at aged 69 in 1993. She went on to do talk shows after her release. Jean died in 2012.
Tv show – Murder Made Me Famous