Friday, April 8, 2011

The price of playing Sonja Morgan

Looking northeast from 24th and Fifth Avenue towards the New York Life Building. 2:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, April 8, 2011. Yesterday was both sunny and overcast in New York; and chilly.

The price of an ounce of gold hit a record $1472 and the price of an ounce of silver went over $40. The gold price is a record and the silver price is the highest its been since the early 1980s when the Hunt Brothers of Texas cornered the market and it hit $50. That was about the same time gold hit a record price (for the time) before its great decline.
Town house window ledges starting to show signs of life.
Analysts attempting to put a “perspective” on it recall thirty years ago when Ronald Reagan had just become President and a decade of super-wealth commenced after a decade (the 70s) of Recession.

However, the significance of all this is yet to be determined. Some believe that the PMs are a security. The majority of the gold that has been mined since it became a precious metal thousands of years ago, remains extant. Such cannot be said of any paper currency. Ever. Others believe it is simply a bubble. In a society of bubbles.

The pic in the Post.
Yesterday’s New York Post had a go at Sonja Morgan, one of the “wives” on the New York Housewives reality show. They ran a picture of her her dressed as Marie Antoinette (the TV version, of course) and holding a piece of cake in her hand – referring to that famous remark falsely attributed to her “Let ‘em eat cake.”

Sonja’s getting a lot of attention these days as the newest “housewife” to join the cast. She was divorced from her husband John Morgan a few years ago, presumably getting (although I could be very wrong) a healthy settlement – including a townhouse on the Upper East Side. Since then Sonja got herself involved in the movie business as an aspiring producer, and that experience landed her in a ditch (as you can read in the Post piece) called bankruptcy with  close to $20 million in liabilities.

I’ve known Sonja for about fifteen or sixteen years. I met her when she was a luncheon hostess at San Pietro, the great Italian restaurant on 54th Street between Madison and Fifth. I was taken there to lunch by a woman friend of mine wanted me to see the place because of it tycoon clientele, and to meet Sonja. My friend was single at the time at at least semi-interested in meeting one of them; maybe. My friend also had befriended Sonja and found her fascinating because she knew all the tycoons – Perelman, Trump, Taubman, etc.

Not long after, I wrote a profile on Sonja for Quest. It was one of the first pieces I wrote for the magazine. She was a girl from Albany, Sonja Tremont. She’d come to the city to make a career for herself. She regarded her job at San Pietro as a kind of “marketing” position. She’d get to know the tycoons on a personal basis, leading some people to think she had a financial basis for getting to know these tycoons. She dated some of them too.

When she told me, for that initial article about her job and her business interests, I was impressed that she was quite sincere about it. Sonja is verbal. Very. If you spend enough time with her you will learn exactly what she’s thinking and what’s going on with her because she SAYS it. I happen to like that characteristic and quality and therefore I happen to like Sonja. She’s nothing if not likeable.

Sonja, John and child photographed for Quest magazine's 400 List.
Her ex-husband John Morgan probably has a few other things to say about her that are less than praising. I don’t know him although I’ve met him a number of times and had conversations with him. He’s a much older man than his now ex-wife, by more than 30 years. And although he doesn’t look like a kid, out of matrimony he’s an intelligent man with a sturdy constitution that belies his age. He’s also apparently not lost that teenage libido entirely. This isn’t unusual as many of us know. To successfully satisfy that would-be teenage libido is frequently impossible for many men, after a certain age. No matter what or who they have in mind. Apparently, Mr. Morgan was not one of those men.

Several years ago we ran a picture of the Morgans and their tiny daughter for a piece I did in Quest  on Descendants of old New York society families. It was a nice photograph. It remained on the NYSD archive until Mr. Morgan asked me if I’d take it down. I agreed to, of course, since they were newly divorced and he was disassociating as people do.

He seemed somewhat bitter about his ex-wife (although he had a new girlfriend with whom I’d often see him lunching at Michael’s). He expressed classic divorced partner complaints about the other. I couldn’t help reminding him, with all due respect, that he was an “old” man when he married her and she was a “young” woman and didn’t take a PhD to figure out “what” the story was. It is a rather common, classic “fair exchange” in the land of Too Much Money. Another example of that wonderful Larry Hart lyric (from “I Wish I Were In Love Again“): The self-deception that believes the lie.

The May 1994 Quest article on Sonja when she was working at San Pietro, with pictures of some of the restaurant's clientele (top down): David Koch, Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, and Alfred Taubman.
John Morgan over the phone chortled when reminded of his transgressions. In the land of Too Much Money. It is funny, you have to admit. Just like the “let ‘em eat cake: bit. And there’s nothing new about it in New York.

However, Sonja. One night about 10 years ago. I was with my NYSD partner Jeff Hirsch and George Gurley who was writing a piece on me and the newly launched NYSD. It was about 11 at night. We’d just left a party at Doubles, the private club in the Sherry Netherland. As we were exiting the hotel, Sonja pulled up in a chauffeur driven Jaguar, swathed in fur, and looking every inch like a Morgan wife (21st century style).

George asked me who she was. I told him. I told him about Mr. Morgan. He then asked me what I thought of her. I said she was “heading for trouble.” George wanted to know how I knew that.

It wasn’t prescient. It was classic Manhattan tower tales. The apartments up and down Park and Fifth are repositories of many of these tales. Women come to New York to make lives for themselves, just as men do. The ambitious ones, male and female, are driven to succeed. Get the Money. Many have and sometimes – only sometimes – on the grandest scale, and if they are very clever, they acquire stature to go with it.

But stature, in any business, is the result of a state of mind which not every “ambitious” person possesses. Otherwise these mergers (and acquisitions) are like the daily Lottery. In the Land of Too Much Money.

Sonja won the lottery. And when she did – with a good intentions, mind you – she encountered the reality. Which is how they classify the TV show on which she is the star. Made up and miserable.

The Sonja I know is the same one who gave that interview to the Post reporter. She told the reporter exactly what she was thinking, exactly where she was at financially and otherwise. It’s part street-smart, part naivete and more than a little bit of heart. She is naturally self-deprecating even boasting of self-confidence. She admits errors of judgment (and her mother’s anxiety about them) and candidly explains what it’s like to be in her position. Not easy.

However, she’s seeking a solution. This is the Sonja I know. A working mother now, and protecting her child from the prying eyes of the camera. The challenges are now much bigger.
Sonja with Marquette de Bary. Sonja with Liliana Cavendish.
Sonja with Brian Farrell. Sonja with Liliana Cavendish and Anna de Rothschild.
I never would have imagined all these years later reading about her in Post because of a TV show she’s on, dressed as the ill-fated French queen. I’m sure the way it’s turned out, from Morgan to Reality TV, is not something she would have imagined either.

The first times I met her, she was like a lot of young women who come to the Big Town with Big Dreams. She wanted her own business. An honorable and self-respecting objective. I don’t doubt that she’s still got that in the front of her mind.

The Comments at the end of the Post article were mean. Calling her names, disdaining the story even running in the paper – although they obviously read it – calling her “trash” as if they’re coming from some kind of high road. It’s called Schadenfreude. What kind of person regards another human being as “trash”?  Although Sonja’s ex-husband might have agreed, recalling that phone conversation with him, in effect abjuring his hand in his errors of judgment. We’re often like that when it comes down to  “the devil made me do it.” Of course she did.
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