Dr. Herman Tarnower (March 18, 1910 – March 10, 1980) was an American cardiologist and author (with Samm Sinclair Baker) of the bestselling diet book The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet. He was shot to death at age 69 in 1980 by Jean Harris, who was convicted of his murder after a three-month trial in White Plains, New York in 1981.
Herman Tarnower was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants, Dora and Harry Tarnower. Known to his friends as Hy, Tarnower had three sisters, and attended Syracuse University, becoming a physician specializing in cardiology.
Tarnower established a cardiology practice in the Scarsdale and White Plains areas of New York. During World War II, he joined the US Army Medical Corps and was promoted to major. After the war, he founded the Scarsdale Medical Center and was highly regarded among his colleagues and patients.
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 having a low intake of fats, salt and sweets was quite revolutionary at the time and when The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was published in 1979, it became an immediate bestseller.
Tarnower began a relationship with Jean Harris in 1966. A lifelong bachelor, he continued to see other women during the course of their relationship, and in 1979 was having an affair with Lynne Tryforos, who worked as a secretary in his office. This was a source of tension that led to the end of the relationship between Harris and Tarnower, and these tensions came to a boiling point on March 10, 1980, when Harris drove from the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia to Tarnower's home in Purchase, New York with a .32 caliber handgun in her possession. At trial, she stated she had planned to commit suicide after talking in person with Tarnower one last time. When she arrived at the house, however, she noticed Tryforos's lingerie in the bedroom. An argument ensued, and Herman Tarnower allegedly said to her, "Jesus, Jean, you're crazy! Get out of here!" Harris shot the 69-year-old Tarnower four times at close range, killing him. She was arrested and tried for second degree murder, claiming at trial that the shooting was an accident and that the gun had gone off accidentally while Tarnower tried to wrestle it away from her. The jury was unable to believe her testimony and convicted her of second-degree murder, because manslaughter was not an option during the deliberations. Judge Russell Leggett sentenced Harris to the minimun of 15-years-to-life in prison. However, she was granted clemency by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992 and paroled in 1993.
Herman Tarnower was interred on a sloping hill in the Larchmont Temple section of Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Jean Harris visited his gravesite on several occasions.
The acknowledgements page of the 9th printing of the paperback edition of Tarnower's The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet starts with, "We are grateful to Jean Harris for her splendid assistance in the research and writing of this book..." then, two paragraphs later, "We wish, especially, to thank Lynne Tryforos...."
- In the film Mrs. Harris (2005), Tarnower was portrayed by Ben Kingsley and Jean Harris by Annette Bening.
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Summer of George", Kramer is mistakenly awarded a Tony for a musical named "Scarsdale Surprise", a show about the murder of Herman Tarnower.
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