Herman Tarnower (March 18, 1910 – March 10, 1980) was an American cardiologist and co-author (with Samm Sinclair Baker) of the bestselling diet book The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet (1978). On March 10, 1980, just eight days before his 70th birthday, Tarnower was shot dead by Jean Harris. Harris was convicted of his murder at trial in White Plains, New York in 1981.
Herman Tarnower was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants, Harry and Dora Tarnower. Known to his friends as Hy, Tarnower had three sisters and attended Syracuse University. He became 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 initiated the Scarsdale Medical Center and was well regarded among his colleagues and patients.
Friends involved with the publishing business suggested to Tarnower that he publish a book documenting the diet he recommended to his patients. The basic nutritional philosophy of reducing carbohydrates, eating plenty of oily fish, lean meat, fruit and vegetables and having a low intake of fats, salt and sweets was novel at the time and when The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was published in 1979, it became an immediate bestseller.
Tarnower began a relationship with divorcee Jean Harris in 1966.:2 A lifelong bachelor, he continued to date other women during the course of their relationship. In 1979, he was having an affair with Lynne Tryforos, who worked as a secretary in his office. This caused tension between Harris and Tarnower, although Harris stated that the affair with Tryforos had been taking place for the preceding few years. On March 10, 1980, Harris drove from the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia to Tarnower's home in Purchase, New York with a .32 caliber pistol 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' lingerie in the bedroom. An argument ensued, and 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. Harris was arrested and tried for second-degree murder, claiming at the three-month trial that the gun had discharged accidentally while Tarnower tried to wrestle it away from her. The jury did not believe her testimony and convicted her of murder because manslaughter was not an option during the deliberations. Judge Russell Leggett sentenced Harris to the minimum 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.
- In the movie 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 Scarsdale Surprise, a fictional musical about the murder of Herman Tarnower.
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- Anthony Haden-Guest for New York Magazine. March 31, 1980 The Headmistress and the Diet Doctor
- Joseph Bergerdec for the New York Times. December 28, 2012 Headmistress, Jilted Lover, Killer, Then a Force for Good in Jail