Monday, August 1, 2011

Room to grow

Riverside Drive after the downpour. Friday, 7:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, August 1, 2011. Warm and sunny weekend in New York.
The same spot, bone dry by Saturday afternoon.
This week’s segment of Housewives of New York which runs tonight on BRAVO, is their “reunion.” Don’t ask me what that means because I’ve never watched HONY other than a piece of a segment on the web. I’m sure if I were in front of it I’d watch it for its quackiness. How else can we describe nicely the absurdity of people pretending to be real? Not that those girls aren’t real, each and every one of them. Although it’s a little like credit derivatives, so I guess it’s all the Zeitgeist.

A woman friend of mine who does watch the show, and is “embarrassed to admit it” (Mr. Cohen, the creator can admit it for everyone of us), told me people wanted to know who Sonja Morgan's husband was and what was he like.

I was intrigued by her curiosity because for the past few weeks John Adams Morgan has been a very frequently searched for name on the NYSD. I thought that was odd. Usually when you see that much activity for an individual at an older age, you think maybe they died. I did check the obits. No, John Adams Morgan has, if anything, become more alive than ever. Thanks to his now former (and fourth) wife, Sonja, a member of the show’s cast.

John and Sonja Morgan and daughter, shot for a spread on the Original "400" for Quest magazine in 2004.
I’ve met John Morgan several times although I don’t know him. The one conversation I recall with him was about some historical matter and his knowledge was impressive. At the time I only knew him as Sonja’s new husband and presumably one of those Morgans.

The last time I had any communication with him was a few years ago when he and Sonja divorced and he asked me to take down the picture we used in a Quest magazine layout on the “400” List several years ago.

He was annoyed by the continued internet exposure. (Imagine how he’s feeling these days if “exposure” is an issue.) We took it out of the copy. It’s a great portrait, however, as you can see (look to your right), and it speaks volumes if you’ve got any imagination.

However, whatever you may imagine about their lives, it’s probably not true. It’s probably something else, often something better than fiction. This one, it turns out is for Reality TV. From President John Adams, President John Quincy Adams, JP Morgan et all, to ... Housewives of New York. Well one good thing about it is reminds people of the past existence of our second and sixth Presidents.

John Adams Morgan who is finishing up his eighth decade is an interesting fellow on paper and in person. In person he’s self-possessed, knowledgeable, charming in his lack of pretense and serious interest. And he’s one of those older men who has not lost his taste for the joys of youthful rapture. Or something along those lines. He was evidently a solid athlete, a successful businessman, a yachtsman and an eternally youthful spirit, meaning: he’s not bashful.

He’s what New Yorkers today would call a WASP although where the Adamses and the Morgans come from, they were called Yankees. Sometimes damn Yankees.

John Adams Morgan's great-great-great-great-grandfather John Adams, Second President of the United States.
John Morgan's maternal great-great-great-grandfather John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States.
Charles Francis Adams, great-great-grandfather of John Adams Morgan.
J. Pierpont Morgan and his namesake, JP, Jr., known as Jack, grandfather of John Adams Morgan.
Classic Yankee, Mr. Morgan has the two presidents among his descendents on his mother’s side. His great-grandfather Charles Francis Adams was a Congressman and a diplomat; his grandfather, Charles Jr., a Civil War General. On his father’s side, his great-grandfather was J. Pierpont Morgan, the most powerful American banker of the Gilded Age, the man who saved the American economy and Wall Street in the Panic of 1907.

His grandfather JP Morgan Jr., always called Jack, built the Morgan Library and was a partner in JP Morgan. And Sonja’s ex-husband’s father Henry Sturgis Morgan (who had five sons), started Morgan Stanley with Mr. Stanley and some others, after the break-up of the banks and the investment banking houses back in the 1930s (repealed at the end of the 90s). Also his great-great-grandfather Joseph Morgan started Aetna Insurance.

Sonja first met John Morgan back in the mid-90s when she was working as a hostess at San Pietro, the upscale Italian restaurant (excellent cuisine) on Madison Avenue and 54th Street. A famous meeting place for New York’s high powered businessmen to lunch, I ended up writing an article about Sonja (NYSD 10.5.09) and how she was working at San Pietro.

Before Sonja, I didn’t know that women who called “hostesses” at restaurants, could use an “executive” quality to their work. Sonja did. And does. After the article was published, the owners fired her. There were those who claimed that Sonja’s executive qualities had an important erotic side to them.

Sonja had come from upstate – Albany – having put herself through college – to get into business. It is the classic yen for the Big Time that draws a certain kind of man and a certain kind of woman to New York.

What interested me was that her conversation was all about business. She wanted to be in business. She intended to be in business. She was (my word, not hers) a natural entrepreneur. The reason she liked the job at San Pietro was because she got to make connections. She wanted to know these guys. She wasn’t looking for a husband (although it’s not uncommon for a woman of her age and position in New York to “hope” for a husband).

She wanted to know how these men worked, what they thought. John Morgan, who is in the investment business, was a regular client at the restaurant. Sonja liked him although she didn’t really know him. She sat him in the section of the restaurant she called the back (actually it’s next to the front – the restaurant is not large) because he was a “lousy tipper.” Everyone knew it; the waiters, the busboys, etc. And so, Mr. Morgan (which is what she called him), didn't deprive the Big Tippers from a Good Table.

After she lost her job at San Pietro, thanks to my glowing review in Quest, undaunted, having a little money saved, Sonja launched herself as a kind of producer/consultant/conduit. Sonja is forthright and friendly but also interested in others. I’d run into her every now and then. She had made some business deals and had bought herself an apartment on East 57th Street. She also had a small apartment she’d rented in Los Angeles. In the Summer it was the Hamptons. In winter it was St. Barth's and Aspen.

One day skiing in Aspen (I think it was Aspen) she ran into Mr. Morgan on the slopes. Still calling him Mr. Morgan, he said to her, “Why don’t you call me John?”

Not long after they dined. Forty-five minutes into the dinner, she realized she really never knew anything about the kind of man he was. She knew the Morgan part from long ago but now she was meeting an outdoorsy kind of guy, who liked to ski and sail. She had values like, or talked the same language as, people she’d grown up with. He asked her to marry him that night.

They married a few months later. From Sonja’s point of view, the marriage gave him an opportunity to get out and about. With the yacht in St. Bart's. With the houseguests on the island in Connecticut. They acquired a ranch in Telluride, a house in the South of France, a townhouse in Manhattan. A daughter was born (John has a son Sonja’s age).
The Locust Valley estate of of John Morgan's father Henry Sturgis Morgan.
From Sonja’s point of view, they were having a great life. He was a much younger man in mind and body and she felt she’d found her life. A daughter was born. Whatever went wrong is evidently hard for Sonja to understand because it happened quickly for her. She was served with papers. She said she later learned he had been having an affair with her best friend.

Everything that could go wrong has since gone wrong. She has a $7 million judgment out against her over a failed film production deal. She said her pre-nup money has not been forthcoming. She’s got a break and she’s working on the show. She’s also developing some products to promote under her name, beginning with a toaster oven and her recipes for her toaster oven. She’s also got her eye open for other business opportunities. Although the stress of living under this financial cloud is very difficult.

John Morgan, Sonja Morgan, Sharon Handler, and John Loeb.
She and John Morgan share custody of their daughter.

She told me her greatest disappointment is that she and John cannot remain friends. Of his four wives, she was married to him the longest (9 years) and she liked him. I suggested to her that in view of his matrimonial history, she could consider herself lucky to have lasted as long as she did with the man.

Meanwhile, she says he has moved on to other love interests. Sonja has too, although her last romance is over.

Talking with her about her situation, although she has a laundry list of challenges to deal with including the multi-million dollar settlements, she’s soon describing a new business venture that she is getting involved in. It’s the same Sonja whom I met at San Pietro, the girl who would call The Donald, or George Soros, or Ron Perelman to ask them why they hadn’t been in in a few days. Why hadn’t she seen them? And lo, they’d soon appear.

Some of the wives, I was later told, were annoyed with the information about their husbands and this attractive young “hostess” jetsetting around the world on G5s, and phoning these tycoons asking them to “come on over” to San Pietro. Other women I know, however, loved hearing about her job. It sounded like it was a great place to meet a rich guy.

Maybe; but it’s what follows that makes or breaks the dream. Sonja’s still working on her dream.

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