1980: When a Celeb Doctor's Slaying Stunned Hollywood
Dr. Herman Tarnower's murder at the hands of his jealous lover, Jean Harris, became fodder for two TV movies: NBC's 'The People vs. Jean Harris' (1981) starring Ellen Burstyn and HBO's 'Mrs. Harris,' starring Annette Bening.
There are few shot-dead doctors who've gotten less sympathy from Hollywood than Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of the 1979 best-seller The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, a precursor to low-carb fad diets like Atkins and The Paleo Diet. Two TV movies were made about the celebrity cardiologist's murder at the hands of spurned lover Jean Harris, and both echo the lyrics of the "Cell Block Tango" number from Chicago: "He had it coming."
Harris, then 56, had been Tarnower's lover for 14 years when the suddenly rich and famous 69-year-old lifelong bachelor decided to leave her for his office assistant, Lynne Tryforos, 38. On March 10, 1980, Harris drove from Virginia, where she was the headmistress of an elite girls school, to Tarnower's 6-acre Westchester County estate with a .32-caliber handgun in her purse. Her defense was that she was influenced by the methamphetamine Desoxy that Tarnower himself had prescribed for her depression. She testified that she planned to confront the doctor, then commit suicide on a small island on the estate's duck pond. But after entering the sleeping doctor's bedroom, she was enraged to see a negligee that suggested Tryforos recently had slept over.
When Tarnower awakened, Harris said she tried to commit suicide but there was a struggle for the gun. She ended up shooting him four times. Harris was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. In 1992, she was released on parole and died in 2012. The first TV movie done on the shooting was NBC's The People vs. Jean Harris (1981) that starred Ellen Burstyn. HBO addressed the subject in 2005's Mrs. Harris with Annette Bening as the lead. "I'm sure she didn't remember the moment she shot him," says Burstyn, who visited Harris in prison. "She said, 'I couldn't have killed him. I loved him too much.' "