Jean S Harris was born Jean Struven in 1923 in Cleveland, America. Her mother Mildred was a christian scientist and her father Albert a civil engineer. Albert was an intelligent but humourless man who was known for his terrible temper. He was hospitalised for a manic-depressive disorder at least once and received electro-shock treatment.
Harris got good grades at school and went on to attend the prestigious Smith College majoring in economics. Soon after graduation she married a handsome Navy veteran, Jim Harris, and they settled in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Their first son David was born in 1950 and Jimmie quickly followed in 1952. Realising she had a gift with children Harris set up a kindergarten from home.
The marriage had gasped its last breath by 1965 and the couple divorced. Soon after a close friend of Jean’s, Marge Jacobson, introduced her to Dr Herman Tarnower.
A Brooklyn jew, Tarnower set himself up as a cardiologist in the Scarsdale and White Plains areas of New York. During the Second World War he joined the United States Military Corps and was promoted to major. When the war was over he founded the Scarsdale Medical Centre and was highly regarded amongst his colleagues and patients. He was a relentless social climber who held elaborate dinner parties and cultivated a circle of wealthy friends and patients.
Tarnower was also a renowned playboy, but seemed smitten with Harris and to everyone’s surprise, especially hers, he proposed in 1967. Harris refused claiming that she was concerned at having to move her two sons from their schools but by the time the boys had finished their school year Tarnower had changed his mind. He also told her that she should see other men because he would not be able to commit to her.
Harris did not take his advice and the couple carried on seeing each other for 14 years and during that time Tarnower continued dating other women. Harris became particularly jealous of Lynne Tryforos, a young and attractive secretary/medical assistant of Tarnowers who, many of the doctor’s friends believed, was a good influence on him and put him at ease.
The women embarked on a competition for the doctor’s affections. Harris received mysterious and obscene phone calls and she suspected they were from Tryforos. One night at Tarnower’s she found her favorite dress smeared with excrement. She returned the gesture by telephoning Tryforos every night for a month.
Harris became the Director of the Middle School at Springside, a female academy in a posh Philadelphia suburb and in 1977, she became head of the extremely prestigious Madeira School for Girls in Washington DC. When Harris took the role the school was suffering a decline and during the next two years she failed to improve the school’s academic reputation. When a performance report came out in May 1979 it recommended her dismissal.
Fearing the safety of her job Harris’ depression grew deeper. Tarnower was already prescribing her Desoxy, a methamphetamine better known as speed, for her persistent depressive bouts and it was at this time that she bought a .32 revolver.
Friends from the publishing world suggested to Tarnower that he write a book documenting the diet he recommended to his patients. The basic nutritional philosophy of cutting down on carbohydrates, eating plenty of oily fish, lean meat, fruit and vegetables and have a low intake of fats, salt and sweets was quite revolutionary at the time and when Tarnower wrote 'The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet' it became an immediate bestseller.