Scars­dale Diet doc­tor’s killer in­spired fem­i­nists, TV movies

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Michael Melia Jean Har­ris ral­lied fem­i­nists, founded non­profit for chil­dren.

NEW HAVEN, CoNN. — Jean Har­ris, the pa­tri­cian girls’ school head­mistress who spent 12 years in prison for the 1980 killing of her lover, “Scars­dale Diet” doc­tor Her­man Tarnower, in a case that ral­lied fem­i­nists and in­spired tele­vi­sion movies, has died. She was 89.

Har­ris died Sun­day at an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity in New Haven, her son, James Har­ris, said Fri­day.

She had claimed the shoot­ing of Tarnower, 69, was an ac­ci­dent. Con­victed of mur­der in 1981, Har­ris suf­fered two heart at­tacks while serv­ing her sen­tence in the Bed­ford Hills women’s prison north of New York City. She was granted clemency by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo when she un­der­went heart by­pass surgery in De­cem­ber 1992.

She later founded Chil­dren of Bed­ford Inc., a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion to pro­vide schol­ar­ships and tu­tor­ing for chil­dren of fe­male prison in­mates.

Her trial for shoot­ing Tarnower, the mil­lion­aire car­di­ol­o­gist fa­mous for de­vis­ing the Scars­dale Diet — a weight-loss book and sen­sa­tion of the 1970s named for the New York sub­urb where he prac­ticed — brought fem­i­nists ral­ly­ing to her de­fense.

They pic­tured her as a woman vic­tim­ized by a male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety, adrift be­cause she was get­ting older and her lover of 14 years was brush­ing her off in fa­vor of his younger of­fice as­sis­tant. In ad­di­tion, they said, she was in the thrall of an­tide­pres­sant drugs Tarnower had pre­scribed.

The case in­spired two tele­vi­sion movies, “The Peo­ple vs. Jean Har­ris” and “Mrs. Har­ris,” which ran on HBO in 2006.

Har­ris al­ways main­tained that she went armed to Tarnower’s Westch­ester County es­tate in Pur­chase on March 10, 1980, to con­front him over his wom­an­iz­ing and kill her­self, but un­in­ten­tion­ally shot him four times in a strug­gle over the gun. She later ac­knowl­edged she was “cer­tainly guilty of some­thing. I caused the man’s death.”

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