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The Ninth Circle Of Helen
By Gerald W. Wright
Ten years after 'Daria', life for the mother of 'The Misery Chick' is anything but miserable. StarStruck.com's Washington correspondent Gerald W. Wright catches up with Helen Morgendorffer – successful wife, mother, and undisputed Queen of the Maryland legal machine – on life after the groundbreaking MTV series, and the upcoming (and long-awaited) DVD release.
To get a spot for the Grand Breakfast Buffet at the Imperium Hotel in Lawndale, Maryland (quite simply, THE spot to breakfast at for the power players from Washington and New York who want to get away from the hustle and bustle, and yet still have unmatched comfort, and delicacies literally from around the world) is an experience that, being honest, almost none of us normal people will get to have. That's part of why I was thrilled to get this assignment – well, perhaps a third of why I was thrilled.
I mean, the place has a menu of over twenty different flavors of mini-muffins served fresh to your table (the menu specials change every day – a variety of mouth-watering, exotic taste sensations), the absolutely best coffees (flown in fresh every day; today's selection is the Tolima from Columbia, and it should be a mortal sin to even have a sugar bowl or a pouring bowl of milk on the same table as a cup of that coffee), and oh, the selection of fresh fruit. I have been ruined for the fruit section of my local supermarket for ALL time. Compared to the selections at the Imperium – the local fruit stands? The word is 'mundane'.
Even a chance to sample the legendary Imperium's buffet still wasn't the big draw of this assignment. Today, I get to interview interesting women in America today – both for her incredible successes over the past decade, and for being the mother of perhaps the most famous (for a time) teenage girl in America.
Today – I was going to interview Helen Morgendorffer – one of the stars of the iconic 1990's MTV reality show 'Daria' – and what some people call the only good program ever to rise from the channel.
I was fortunate to get scheduled in the Lady Morgendorffer's busy schedule – of course, being the East Coast's answer to Johnnie Cochran – 'Attorney To The Stars' for the Eastern Seaboard, as it were – doesn't leave much time for chit-chat and such. I'd tried to wangle an interview for almost three weeks when, at six-thirteen in the morning, I received a call from Stacy Rowe – Helen's personal assistant (and incidentally, one of the high-school best friends of her daughter, Quinn Morgendorffer – yes, that Quinn Morgenforffer). She informed me that Mrs. Morgenforffer would be traveling out of town on business, and would be gone for several weeks, so if I wanted an interview, I should be in the Imperium's dining room at 7:15.
I was there at seven.
After waiting for almost forty-five minutes (during which I had a breakfast I won't see anything like again until I hit Heaven – you simply must try the twice-baked flake pastry stars with caramelized Genovian pears), Helen Morgendorffer swept into the room with the elegance of a Grace Kelly or a Princess Diana, dressed in an Italian-blue jacket, skirt and matching blouse – this was a Sammi Rudolph original, if I know my fashions (and I do) – with matching Manolo Blahnik half-inch heels, and styling Pink Hope Wonder sunglasses by Angel. Overall, her look was such that every eye in the area was on her as she walked past – a look that I know would look just as great in a D.C. Court of Appeals as it does here.
(When I asked about the sunglasses later, Helen told me that she's been a strong supporter of the Komen Foundation for many years – one of many women's causes that this incredible woman supports.)
Helen sat down in the chair next to me – I have to admit, that threw me; most of the celebrities sit across from me during an interview, or keep the distance from me to maintain the allure of their celebrity, but Helen sat down and patted me on the back of my right hand, as she took her sunglasses off, giving me a smile that (again, unlike a lot of other celebs I've interviewed) reached her large brown eyes and made them sparkle with life.
"Oh, Gerald – will you forgive me?" Helen asked me. "I was running late already – Amy and Reese are in town, and the twins were bouncing all around; there's nothing like a pair of twelve-year-olds dueling through the house about which boy on TV is cuter, and there was a bit of a clothing disaster at breakfast."
I just smiled at her. "We've all been there – I promise you," I told her (she actually seemed glad that I understood!). "I have a boatload of nieces and nephews myself – in fact, my niece Alexis is a huge fan of yours from your time on the show."
Helen is a beautiful woman – that goes without saying – but when those words flowed from my mouth, she smiled that smile; that slow, gentle, perfect smile that seems to come from nowhere and just light up a room, blinding and hypnotizing you all at once. I've only seen two women that can smile like that – Julia Roberts, and now – Helen Morgendorffer.
"You know, with the DVD set coming out soon, perhaps I could send her an autographed copy," she said, picking up one of the mini-muffins from the saucer in front of her – a pair of waiters had darted over with a tray of blueberry muffins and a fresh carafe of coffee, and served her as she spoke. "We're all getting together in two weeks for a pre-release party – I'll just have everyone sigh the inner covers for her. She'll enjoy that, with her friends at Manual High School."
"I-I think she'd like that a lot," I told her. It was true – the legendary ability of Helen's to know everyone about a situation, or more than enough to keep someone on their toes. The world first saw that in the Season Two Finale, when she helped Daria work out her writing block.
"Well, this is especially good this morning," Helen said, sipping at her coffee, then sitting the cup down and brushing her bangs back before continuing. (For those of you living under a rock over the last eight years, Helen's slightly formal hairstyle has changed several times; today, her thick, chestnut hair is shorter than she wore it during the five-year run of the show – she now wears it in a stylish, slightly wavy cut that reaches just below her ears. It's a good look for her.) "I don't get to come here as much as I'd like; that was part of the reason why I asked you to meet here this morning. Did you try the hazelnut-cinnamon-boysenberry muffins? I understand that's the special this morning!"
"I prefer the blueberry ones," I told her. "I'm a traditionalist."
Helen laughed as she took a pair of tiny nibbles off her muffin, and (for research purposes only) I gave her the once-over; Helen has a figure that women FAR younger than her would be beyond envious of, especially since her figure allows her to carry off the outfit she wears very well. As we continued our interview, Helen told me that while she watches what she eats (the heart-attack scare that Jake had during Daria's third season was a wake-up call for Helen in terms of healthy living; she and her husband now have a diet that consists primarily of vegetable dishes and seafood) – she falls prey to the occasional 'pig-out'. "Oh, you do not want to be near me at a cookout!" Helen gushed, recounting to me the time when she and Jake attended an intimate little cookout at the Sloane Manor, with no less than Angier Sloane himself on the tongs and 'kiss me- I'm the chef' apron. "It was the Memorial Day weekend after the show ended, and both Daria and Tom had gone off to college. "Grilled salmon steaks and giant prawns, a Crémant de Bordeaux to make everything perfect... on occasion, one can splurge."
"So, what has life been like since Daria?"
"Well, Gerald – there have been some changes to my life, but overall – I'm still the same Helen Morgendorffer who let the entire world see what my daughter has going through in her life," Helen said, a tiny smile going across her face. "Oh, I know that I might have come across as a bit off-putting in the first seasons, but as things moved on, I feel that we all came out looking rather well. Doing the show opened my eyes to the world around me, and how I look at my family and the people around me. It allowed me to see and to express myself in ways I'm not sure that I could have if I hadn't gone through that experience."
"Throughout the show's run, and even afterward, you were consistently one of the more popular members of the cast," I pointed out. "I'd go so far as to say that you and Stacy Rowe were the most popular members of the cast outside of Daria, Quinn and Jane (Lane).
"Don't let Quinn hear you say that!" Helen said, laughing. "Sometimes, Quinn really did think the show was about her! She was always the one who forgot the most quickly that the cameras were around – and I can't believe that even being followed around by cameras all of the time, some of the things she did-!"
Helen's face grew a touch somber. "I wish Daria had remembered that – before she got into that damned car with Tom," she continued. "That was a bad situation... but then again, there's another side to look at."
That tiny smile of Helen's appeared again, growing wider as she said, "Besides - having cameras around both of your teenage daughters 24-7 is one of the best ways imaginable to keep from becoming a grandmother far, far earlier than one would want. I suppose that you were going to ask me about - that episode, weren't you?"
"Not at all," I answered quickly, and she actually laughed – a very pleasant sound. If I hadn't had my Netbook open on the other side of the table so I could record everything (don't worry, I had cleared it with Miss Rowe beforehand) and Helen wasn't happily married to Jake, this would have seemed like one of the best first dates I've been on in a long while. "Actually, I was going to ask you about Jake. What's he been up to since the end of the show?"
"Semi-retired," she answered, and she finished her coffee; about the time, a waiter came over to take her order, and she ordered the breakfast fruit salad – a selection of wafer-thin slices of several fruits with a dash of a sweet cream sauce. "He sold his consulting firm to Jodie Landon just before her graduation from Turner, and after a year of playing golf and trying new recipes, he finally hit on something that was, well, tasty. I'll sure that you know the rest."
With 'Jake's Kitchen-Fire Chili' as one of the big kickers for his best-selling cookbook, especially the image viewers had of him and his 'experiments', it was safe to say that. "What about you, Helen?" I asked. "How have things gone for you in your life?"
"I'm doing well," she said, in a slightly depreciating manner, as she speared slices of banana, passion fruit and kiwi, and dabbed at the cream sauce. "As you probably know, I finally made partner – and a little later, the position at the Maryland Bar Association opened up. I did that for a year, found that it wasn't what I wanted – and so, with the support of Jake and my family, and the backing of some friends, I began my own law firm. We got our first big case right away – defending Gale Timmes in her murder trial. After we proved her innocent, we got the Red Wigglers class-action suit – and almost as we were finishing that up, we got the case that put us over the top – Al-Dadah & Janssen v. Lawndale Board of Education, in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Those three put us in the spotlight."
"And your personal life?" I asked.
Helen seemed to be far away for a moment. "Well, with the DVD release and all of the publicity, I guess I might as well say something... four months after Jake's book came out, and all the publicity died down – he had a second heart attack. Not a major one, but that one was the warning for Jake to really take things seriously and slow down. If it hadn't been for Stacy, he wouldn't have been able to continue with the writing and such."
"About Miss Rowe – Stacy," I asked. "How do your daughters feel about having one of their friends working for you as a live-in assistant?"
"Well, if it were a problem to work with people that Daria and Quinn know, we'd have found out when Jake stayed on a while to help Jodie get up to speed," Helen responded, "and it happened that Stacy has a natural aptitude for the work. As you know, she had a short career as a NASCAR racer, but gave that up after her accident; after Jake's heart attack, the girls came home to check on their father, and the usual subjects started showing up again. During one visit, Jake and Stacy were watching a race on TV together. She made a comment, about driving, before you know it, he's asking her if he can pay her to drive him to his therapy – next thing I know, I come home one day and there she is, typing pages for his next cookbook."
"So she's basically become part of the family," I asked.
"Well, it is nice, having a younger person around the house – well, one that doesn't constantly regurgitate legal babble all of the time!" Helen smiled, nodding in response to my question. "If nothing else, she's got both Jake and me dressing better - worlds better than before. Really, though – Stacy's been with us for almost five years and we're both in a good place now, with her in our lives. She has a perspective on things that we normally wouldn't consider, and on several occasions, being able to see things from the view she brings has helped us in both our personal and professional dealings."
Helen took another tiny bite of banana and fig. "But don't get me wrong – the show was called Daria. Even though it seemed as if it would drive her crazy, the fact that she managed to stay with it until graduation was amazing – and what was even more amazing was that for almost three years, I had my eyes opened to a world that very few parents ever see – the world through the eyes of my children. Daria was a life-changing experience for me – one that opened my eyes up to so many things, and gave me a real sense of who the women my babies were growing up to be."
She sat the fork down next to the bowl. "On the last day of shooting, I took Glenn (Eichler) aside," Helen said. "I told him, 'Thank you. For coming up with this idea, for choosing my little girl, for allowing me to see her in a way I probably never would have – thank you.'" I was so caught up in other things, and if it hadn't been for this show – I don't know if I would have paid enough – or any – attention to my daughters, or what relationship I'd have with them. Glenn Eichler gave me back my family."
I nodded, and shut off my Netbook before I turned back to Helen. "I think that will do it," I said, wiping my hands on a linen napkin before offering it to Helen – and being surprised by just how strong, and how soft, her touch was.
"Thank you, Gerald," she replied. "I have to go now. I look forward to reading your article; I'm usually never that honest with interviewers."
"No," I said, looking directly into those incredible eyes. "Thank you, Helen."
I turned to close my Netbook – and when I turned back, Helen had already risen from the table and was halfway across the floor of the dining room towards the exit. As she crossed the dining room floor on those incredible legs, almost every man in the area had stopped in their tracks and was watching her leave, wistful expressions on their faces.
I can definitely understand how they feel. Like lightning from a clear blue sky, Helen Morgendorffer can shock you, knock you off your feet and leave you breathless... but once you can pick yourself up again, you're probably looking for another chance encounter with the thunderbolt.
Daria: The Animated Series will be released on DVD on April 11, 2010. You can learn more about the upcoming release at MTV.com, or on the 'Daria World' page on Facebook.