Melissa C. Morris was weighing her words carefully. The society wife, whose two-and-half-year-old blog about her rarefied life has garnered a devoted and growing readership, wanted to be sure nothing she said could be taken the wrong way. Over espresso at a restaurant near her Manhattan apartment, she said that, on the Internet and in life, “I focus on the positive. I like to keep things lighthearted.”
Using a medium that often portrays women of her milieu as spoiled backstabbers, Mrs. Morris offers a rare perspective of New York society on her blog, May December, named in part because of the 30-year age gap between her and her husband. The defunct Socialite Rank once passed harsh judgment over the social ambitions of young Manhattan swells like Mrs. Morris, but it and other socialite observer blogs are generally written by outsiders (in the case of Park Avenue Peerage, a college student in Illinois). But Mrs. Morris, 28, not only lives the life of galas, country houses and world travel, but reports on it in posts utterly free of snark.
Nowhere on May December (melissacmorris.com) will a reader find salacious gossip or compromising party photos. Instead, in posts written with all the propriety of a thank-you note on Mrs. John L. Strong stationery, she shares a recipe for beef stroganoff and snapshots from a family wedding in Nashville, and seeks help in settling a friendly dispute with her husband.
In a post titled, “A Tale of Two Dishwashers,” she wrote, “When we renovated part of our kitchen we added a butler’s pantry (don’t get too excited, there’s just me and no butler in sight, so technically this room should be renamed Mel’s pantry).”
She compared the merits of a new appliance in the pantry with the older model still in the kitchen, and said she and her husband disagreed about which one was better. “So, blog readers, what say you,” she wrote, “dishwasher with the silverware rack up top or dishwasher with the silverware basket?” (In a follow-up post, she said she preferred the basket.)
She could be any housewife — her preferred descriptor — except her homes are on the Upper East Side and in New Canaan, Conn. (where the Mieles in question are). Her husband is Alfred Hennen Morris, 58, known as Chappy, whose ancestors settled New York and helped draft the United States Constitution. And included among friends in those wedding candids is “Senator Bill,” as in Bill Frist, the former Senate majority leader.
The juxtaposition of the mundane and the glamorous, provided by a woman who wears her glasses to charity galas and prefers preppy togs to high fashion, nets May December 40,000 hits a month. “There’s nothing too deep about her life, but it’s kind of neat to keep up with her,” said Nina Theiss, a Minneapolis stock trader and reader.
The pink-and-green blog is illustrated with close-up details of the Morrises’ life: their Christmas cards, a picture of a brick wall by their Connecticut driveway after a garbage truck hit it. A popular feature is “Monty Monday,” in which Mrs. Morris showcases her pet Italian greyhound, Monty, playing fetch or dressed as a chicken for Halloween.
Another recurring cast member is Mr. Morris, a fixture on the Upper East Side party circuit. For the blog, his wife once photographed him in the Park Avenue window display of Scully & Scully, the home furnishings boutique, trying out a desk chair.
“I think he substantially brightens up the display,” she wrote.
The former Melissa Catherine Stanley married in May 2006, after the two had been dating for five years. The news of the engagement caused a small stir in the society pages. “Chappy was a really eligible bachelor,” said David Patrick Columbia, the editor of NewYorkSocialDiary.com, one of the few socialite chronicles online written by an insider. “He’s a very nice guy, likes women, has money, comes from a very old, real old, real authentic New York family, and had never been married before. A lot of women wanted to go out with him.”
And Mr. Morris obliged a number of them. “It’s no secret, I certainly had fun,” Mr. Morris said. Of his nine godchildren, four are the children of former girlfriends. But, he said: “Melissa’s cool with it. She’s not jealous. She’s friends with my exes. It’s in the past, all of that stuff.”
Mrs. Morris grew up in Short Hills, N.J., summered in New England and attended the Barclay Classes (“dance classes where you wear white gloves and learn about table manners,” she said). She met Mr. Morris in 2000 when she worked as his personal trainer. At the time she was dating the “RoboCop” star Peter Weller; Mr. Morris was dating Taylor Stein, the daughter of a nightclub owner. The two started out as friends. “I had no idea who he was,” Mrs. Morris said.
Though the couple appear in party photos (in May, Mr. Morris was a chairman of the American Theater Wing’s spring gala), the blog is largely off the radar of their social set. “I’ve never heard of it,” said Somers Farkas, a New York philanthropist who is friendly with the couple but who does not read blogs. (“I’m not even sure I would know how to find one,” she said.)
But some fellow bloggers give Mrs. Morris credit. “The fact that she got 58 comments about her dishwasher — I’m impressed with that,” said Emily Brill, the publishing heiress whose four-month-old blog, Essentially Emily, is decidedly racier.
On the Internet, a few reactions to May December have been less than charitable. Early on, when Mrs. Morris was still thinking of her site as a digital diary mostly for her own amusement, she posted photos of her wedding. A harsh drubbing followed from bloggers and commenters who mocked her hairstyle, her lifestyle and, above all, her relationship. Among the few printable criticisms: “Is that Melissa C. Morris chick way older than she looks, or is she pulling an Anna Nicole?” wrote one commenter on Gawker.
Mrs. Morris is well aware that her site can read like a parody of the rich and preppy. “I’m in on the joke,” she said. “The monogramming, marrying a guy named Chappy — you just have to go with it.”
The Morris marriage is, by the couple’s account, happy. He admires her “old soul” and common sense; she says he’s encouraging and a good sport. He calls her Bee, short for Honeybee. She calls him Freddie. (“I think Chappy is too-too,” she said.)
The two know how their age difference may appear to the outside world. “People are going to have all kind of preconceived notions,” he said. “I would have preconceived notions. But Mel is very mature, and I’m very patient, and that’s how it works.”
He said he likes and approves of May December; he even reads it, he joked, “to see what we’ve been up to.” Despite his buttoned-up appearance, it is he who suggests some of the blog’s wackier moments: for photographs, he volunteered to lie on the tracks in front of a display locomotive and to stick his head into the mouth of a lion-head door knocker. “Melissa is much more serious,” he said. “She would never tell me to do that.”
Occasionally on May December, Mrs. Morris will offer up a semi-intimate tidbit. An e-mail message from a reader asking whether she preferred Justin Timberlake or Brad Pitt prompted her to confess that while her husband would always be tops with her, she had “a bit of a thing” for John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States. (“Just. Plain. Hunky.”)
But she remains decorously mum about most personal issues, and it is her tendency toward undersharing that compels readers to parse her photos for clues to where she lives and to ask her borderline impolite questions. “The most popular is, ‘When are you and Chappy going to have a baby?’ ” Mrs. Morris said. “I don’t mind if people ask. I just don’t answer.” For the record: they plan to start a family after their fifth wedding anniversary.
In the meantime she has smaller adventures to keep her occupied. In one December post, which was the closest she has come to a rant, she blogged about having car trouble with a new Range Rover that left her stranded overnight with her dog on a snowy trip to Boston.
She coped by holing up at a boutique hotel. “I made the best of it,” she said, in on the joke as always. “I had Monty, I had room service. We had a fun night.”
[Via NY Times]