Monday, October 5, 2009

Memories are made of this

New York City School children line up for lunch. Photo: JH.
October 5, 2009. Weekend began with lots of clouds and some rain and ended up sunny and mild (people were sunbathing in the park next door), and it was glorious down by the river on Sunday afternoon walking the dogs.

I take them down along the Promenade for one walk or another during the day so that I can also see the river. I take my camera just in case there’s something interesting or beautiful. Yesterday it was the clouds. Big tall majestic clouds drifting almost imperceptibly in that pure and beautiful sea of blue. Then the moon last night must have been full or close, lighting the river’s surface with it’s bright beams. Also astounding.
Fascinating clouds hovering over the Long Island Sound in the distance. Sunday, 3 PM.
Looking east over the East River towards Queens.
The promenade, The John Finley Walk over the FDR Drive approaching Carl Schurz Park. This is part of our daily dog routine.
While the dorgs were sniffing everywhere I was watching the approaching/passing sailboat and thinking how wondeerful it must be for those aboard.
The promenade looking north. That's 10 Gracie Square on the left. The bulding runs through the entire block between 84th (actually Gracie Square) and 83rd Street.
Memories are made of this: Housewives. At the end of last week there were rumors that Sonja Morgan had signed on as “housewife” for the Bravo show, “The Real Housewives of New York.”

Although I feel compelled to comment that if those girls are “housewives” then so’s my dog Missy (who responds more readily to “Madame”). Missy just loves attention. Not that she’d do the dishes for it, but then again she can’t. And besides, why should she? She wags her fluffly little tail non-stop (the canine equivalent of batting her baby blues) and looks up at me like I’m the answer to all her dreams (and meals). And she gets what she wants.

But a housewife? Never. My mother was a housewife. She got to cry real tears over the kitchen sink while doing the dishes, exasperated by the man in her life and the love that she wasn’t getting (and the bacon he wasn’t bringing home besides). However, that was then, and now everybody’s on TV. If my mother could have done it on TV our troubles would have been over and she’d a been a housewife no more, praise Allah.

That said, from the little I know of the present cast of characters who are on or about to be on the Bravo show, Sonja is excellent casting. I have no doubt she will deliver the ratings as ably as the rest of the “housewives.”

May 1994 issue of Quest.
Sonja Morgan came into this life we call New York as Sonja Tremont in the mid-1980s. From Albany, New York. Or so she told me when I interviewed her in 1994 for a profile for Quest.

Sonja was “hostess” or “phone receptionist” at a very prosperous little Italian restaurant called San Pietro owned and run by four brothers named Bruno (still there, still prosperous) on East 54th between Madison and Fifth - (the Brunos also own Sistina and the new Caravaggio).

I was introduced to San Pietro by a friend, an heiress between husbands and a frequent patron of the place at lunchtime when she and her friends could scope out the effectively eligible tycoons.

In the Quest piece (May 1994 issue) I listed some of them: John Gutfreund, Ronald Perelman, Alfred Taubman, Howard Kaminsky, Carl Icahn, Nelson Peltz, Donald Trump, Alessandro Marchessini, David Koch, Allen Grubman, Joe Perella, etc. Also some of the ladies often lunching at nearby tables: Barbara Walters, Andrea Eastman, Deborah Norville, Donna Acquavella, Dawn Mello, Deborah Grubman, Linda Wachner, Martha Stewart, Tiffany Dubin (Alfred Taubman’s stepdaughter).

“And they all know Sonja,” I wrote. Sonja told me at the time that they all knew her because “marketing” was her field and she saw her role at San Pietro as a marketer for the restaurant. Or so she said.

I had no idea that these clever, charming young women who work the phones of a restaurant like San Pietro or Michael’s, bring in business with their public relations. And that when it’s slow they’re not beneath calling customers on the phone and asking when they’re going to be coming in. In a very nice way, mind you; as they are very much aware of whom they’re pitching the restaurant to. It’s a very good business because the attention is inevitably appreciated.

Some would interpret that sentence in other ways. Especially all you readers out there who are addicted to “Mad Men.”

The May 1994 Quest article on Sonja when she was working at San Pietro, inset pictures of some of the restaurant's clientele (top down) David Koch, Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, and Alfred Taubman.
Meanwhile, Sonja Tremont also got around. “They see her at the Grammys,” I wrote, “or at the Trump wedding, or the Red Cross Ball in Monaco (seated next to her pal Prince Albert), or at parties at Le Club or at the Irish Derby, or at Larry Gagosian’s in the Hamptons.” Or so I was told.

However, Sonja said all this came from her training at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she graduated with a Bachelors in Marketing.

“... High profile dining is her medium and marketing is what she does with it.” In relating her job at San Pietro she clearly defined herself as kind of lobbyist for the restaurant, socializing in or around the same worlds where its clientele came from. I also knew from my friend who introduced us that this was at least partly true.

Sonja was one of those young women who come to the Big Town, to New York, like the men, to seek their dreams, to make their way, to create big, expansive lives for themselves. Whereas it’s a dream for tens of millions, for others it’s a reality because they Do It.

The financial aspect of that is crucial, naturally. A girl’s gotta eat. Get that ice or else no dice. Etcetera. They may be naïve about the road they’ve chosen to travel down, but they are ambitious.

They are regarded suspiciously in some or even many ways because they’re after the almighty buck. No! Really? Just like the guys they meet (who are also after hours out for the almighty tumble. With whomever.)

In the interview with me, however, Sonja made it clear that she had her own boyfriends. Young guys. An Italian who introduced her to the European world; a young businessman with an important father. And she did have these boyfriends, as you can see in the pictures we ran of her fifteen years ago.

After the article ran, however, Sonja was fired.
I was surprised but I also didn’t see the two sides to the story I had written. However, some of the wives of the tycoons who patronized San Pietro were a little put out when they read their husbands’ names mentioned in association with ... this girl who takes the reservations at San Pietro. And what else does she take? Etcetera. And so, of course, the husbands were a little put out that this girl had to mention their names. Ergo Sonja was put out. Of a job. On the street.

I called her on hearing the news and apologized for having written the piece. Sonja, however, seemed unfazed. She said she was moving on. I believed her. I admired her spunk. If she was hurt by it, she never showed it.

I ran into her every now and then after that. She was living in a small apartment on East 57th Street and promoting some business projects and traveling to Europe or weekending in Aspen or the Hamptons depending on the season. I liked her. I always liked her. She’s forthright and friendly. And flattering.

Then one night a few years ago I ran into her one night at a big cocktail party at Charles Evans' on Park Avenue. She got off the elevator with a man who could only be described as much older, albeit trim and fit. His name was John Morgan. And she had married him. Mr. Morgan, who is a very bright man in conversation, is the great-grandson of (John) Pierpont Morgan and evidently a direct descendent of John Adams and John Quincy Adams on his mother’s side. That’s what Sonja told me.

Sonja with Chani Arangruren
She also told me that she’d known John since her San Pietro days where he was always “Mr. Morgan.” But then one night she ran into him at a party and when she greeted him as Mr. Morgan, he suggested she call him John. And so she did.

Then someone suggested Sonja call herself Mrs. Morgan. And so she did. You see how simple it can be?

The age difference is generational. But that’s okay since the groom quite obviously had no intention of giving up his youth. Mr. Morgan had been married before and had a family and probably grandchildren. He is also one of those men who is vital and always has been. You get that when you talk to him. He’s very direct, smart, informed, and a thinker. And he liked Sonja.

He bought her a townhouse. He also had a big house on an island off the coast of Connecticut. And a yacht on which they entertained the passing parade of the rich, the chic and the shameless, as well as the celebrities, in St. Bart’s every Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

Then they had a daughter. And life went on, as far as I knew, until a few years ago, maybe two or three, when I learned that they were separated or separating and then divorcing. I wasn’t surprised. It looked improbable if not impossible. I don’t know what the problem was and I am certain there are two distinct and completely credible sides. But it was also a May-December marriage. Period. Not to mention the motivations that created their chemistry.
Patty Raines, John McMennim, Sonja Morgan Brian Farrell, Sonja Morgan, and Andy Sportsforzini. Other Real Housewives of New York were at the same party. Click here to view.
Double pick. Party party, Sonja with Lady Cavendish, Liliana.
Several years ago, for the annual Quest 400, I did a piece on couples in New York who had ancestry that was associated with Old Guard Society in New York. John Adams Morgan was a likely candidate. His very much younger wife and their toddler daughter made for an intriguing portrait. Incidentally, they are not the only couple we photographed for that piece who have since divorced.

The last time I had a real conversation with Sonja was more than a year ago when she was “producing” a movie. The last time I read about her before this past week was when I learned she’d been sued by some investors and that they’d won the lawsuit against her with a judgment of several million dollars. Lucky for John Morgan he’s not married to her now, no?

Often I’ve seen her several times in the distance at parties. In all those years, she’s never changed although now she definitely shops at Bergdorf’s more often. One night I saw her drive up to the Sherry Netherland in a chauffeur driven Jag and wrapped in mink or sable. Our little Sonja.

John and Sonja Morgan with Sharon Handler and Amb John Loeb.
John Morgan called me a couple of years ago to ask if we’d remove the photograph we ran of them on The List which had previously appeared in the Quest piece. I got the feeling this wasn’t a pleasant memory. As often they are not under the circumstances called divorce.

Since then I’ve seen him at restaurants, and often with a new woman in his life. No moss growing under this man’s feet. He may be December to some but it looks and seems more like June in January.

Then at the end of last week he called me again about the picture, telling me it was now on television (I think he meant the web), also thereby informing me of Sonja’s new gig. It had been written up on Gawker and they’d used the picture.

I sympathized with his concern that his small daughter was in the middle of all this publicity and ballyhoo. However, the cat's out of the bag; the horse has left the barn (Sonja’s a Sagittarius coincidentally), long ago. None of this news is surprising in this New York world of these girls. The only surprise is that people play with the same book of matches no matter how long they’ve lived. Almost all people, I mean.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to NYSD's newsletter. It's free!

Comments? Contact DPC here.