Marjabelle Y. Stewart, 82, White-Gloved Author, Dies
By Margalit Fox
Marjabelle Young Stewart, who was widely known as the Queen of Couth for her vast, genteel empire of books and classes about etiquette, died March 3 in
The apparent cause was pneumonia, her husband, William E. Stewart, said.
A familiar presence on the lecture circuit and on television, Mrs. Stewart was a member of the small white-gloved pantheon that has lately included Letitia Baldridge, Elizabeth Post and Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners. Over decades. Mrs. Stewart initiated millions of people, from college students and business executives to the children of presidents, into the mysteries of wielding a fish fork (gently and with a light touch) and the proper way to eat a hot dog (wrap it with a napkin).
She also presided over a national network of etiquette classes for young people that at its height had franchises in several hundred cities in the
Mrs. Stewart's many books include Marjabelle Stewart's Book of Modern Table Manners (St. Martin's, 1981); Can My Bridesmaids Wear Black? And 325 Other Most Asked Questions (St. Martins, 1989); and Executive Etiquette in the New Workplace (St. Martin's 1996; with Marian Faux).
She was also known for her list of
The popular obsession with etiquette goes back to at least 1861, when Mrs. Beeton's famous manual, Household Management, was published in
But to Mrs. Stewart, the choice was clear: the universe was a social minefield, and it was her mission to guide people safely through it. The dinner table was especially fraught with peril. Spareribs lay in wait. (Nibble, nibble, nibble. Handle delicately. Don't gnaw.) Artichokes could happen at any time. (Pull the leaves gently though your teeth, and the way you do it can speak volumes.) French fries could be a dinner's
At home, Mrs. Stewart kept silver salver for calling cards in the foyer. She owned a flotilla of punch bowls. She traveled to classes armed with a complete place setting, which besides china included 10 pieces of silverware; five crystal glasses, all different; and a silver salt cellar with accompanying shell-shaped spoon. She taught her young daughter Jacqueline, to curtsey to her teacher. This did not find favor with Jacqueline's classmates.
Mrs. Stewart spoke in rapturous cadences, addressing interviewers as Darling, Honey Angel and Oh, You Sweetheart. Soup, in particular, made her wax poetic. Now, send your soup spoon out to sea like a little ship, she told one group of students. Lean forward, bring the soup spoon to your lips and inhale like angels.
Marjabelle Ruby Bryant was born on May 16, 1924, in
Sunday was visiting day, and every Sunday, Marjabelle and her remaining sisters, dressed in their best, sat and waited for their mother. She seldom came. After their mother remarried, the girls went to live with her again.
In later years, Mrs. Stewart described her childhood as an old tin can that I had to get rid of. But she also credited the orphanage with instilling in her the decorum that would become the bedrock of her professional life.
At 17, she married Jack Davidson Young, a scientist some years her senior. They moved to
My dear, never wear a strapless dress to a dinner party, the prominent hostess Perle Mesta once reprimanded her. Above the centerpiece, you're naked!
Marjabelle Young resolved to learn, and she did. A beauty who was said to resemble Rita Hayworth, she became a model, later opening a modeling agency with two colleagues. From there, it was a short step to running a charm school, where she taught the children of the powerful how to bow, curtsey and tenderly ladle punch. Her pupils included Lyndon B. Johnson's daughters, Lynda and Luci, and Richard M Nixon's daughters, Tricia and Julie.
She apparently charmed the men of
Besides her husband, Mrs. Stewart is survived by a sister, Elenore Osterkamp of
Despite Mrs. Stewart's love of all things gracious, her advice could be cheerfully populist. Asked by a young pupil what to do if one found the food at a dinner party distasteful, she suggested this:
Never, never say, Yuck. Move it around, play with it a little bit. Just don't make any comments about it. Then, eat at McDonalds later.
Taken from The New York Times, Sunday March 11, 2007