Jean Harris Dies; Former Schoolmistress Killed 'Scarsdale Diet' Doctor

Dec 29, 2012
Originally published on December 30, 2012 7:50 pm

Former girls' school headmistress Jean Harris died in New York last Sunday, according to media reports. She was 89.

Harris gained notoriety for murdering her longtime paramour, Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the 'Scarsdale Diet' over a love triangle in 1980. She served a dozen years in a New York prison before she was given clemency due to her failing health by Gov. Mario Cuomo. She had originally been sentenced to 15 years to life, according to the Associated Press.

She had claimed she'd tried to commit suicide in despair over Tarnower's relationship with a younger office associate. The jury didn't see it that way and convicted her of second degree murder. Her case drew widespread attention, as the New York Times notes:

"...there was an underlying social debate that drew commentary from writers, sociologists and feminists and antifeminists alike. Mrs. Harris's passionate defenders saw her plight as epitomizing the fragile position of an aging but fiercely independent woman who, because of limited options, was dependent on a man who mistreated her. Her detractors, who were just as ardent, suggested that such reasoning made it seem that it was the physician, Dr. Herman Tarnower, who was on trial."

The sensational case inspired two movies: "The People vs. Jean Harris", starring Ellen Burstyn and "Mrs. Harris", starring Annette Bening, produced in 2005.

Harris had a second chapter during her incarceration: she established parenting and educational programs for inmates and their children, notes Reuters. She also set up a scholarship fund for inmates' children and wrote about her relationship with Tarnower and life in prison.

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