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Morgan vs. Foretich Twenty Years Later 

A mother and daughter whose abuse story gripped the globe are making it in L.A.

Wednesday, Feb 4 2009
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At home, things are as normal as can be. Dr. Elizabeth Morgan brings in a tray carrying a single cup of coffee, a sugar bowl and her favorite creamer. The creamer is shaped like a cow, with a looped tail forming a handle. It doesn’t work that well, she explains as milk slops out, but she loves it.

Her daughter, now called Elena, laughs as she finishes snacking on a cracker, checking her teeth for crumbs in a mirror. She’s wearing tight jeans and a baby-blue tube top, is ebullient and bouncy, and seems younger than 26, closer to the teen pop-music audience she’s wooing.

But Elena has her mother’s eyes and the same burning moral outrage that propelled them both into the global spotlight in the 1980s. It’s been so long that Elena and Elizabeth have begun entirely new lives, landing in the town that has turned epochal personal remakes into a local industry.

click to enlarge ORLY OLIVIER - Elena Mitrano, formerly Hilary Foretich

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“When you’re an only child raised by a single parent, you have a special bond with them,” says Elena — an assumed name she began using after returning to the U.S. from New Zealand, where she went by the assumed name Ellen. “My mother and I get along very easily.”

The term “special bond” would be an understatement. In the late ’80s, Elena, whose given name is Hilary Foretich, rocketed along with her mother, into the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times and made news regularly on ABC, CBS and NBC, fighting an ugly custody battle against Hilary’s father, Dr. Eric Foretich.

Dr. Morgan alleged that Foretich, whom she had divorced before their daughter was born, had sexually abused their little girl, and today estimates that she spent $1 million to prove it and to protect Hilary. When D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. dismissed the civil case against Hilary’s father, oral surgeon Foretich, in 1987, Morgan defied his court orders giving Foretich visitation rights.

She spent two years at the D.C. City Jail for illegally whisking 5-year-old Hilary out of Foretich’s — and the court’s — reach.

Hilary Foretich lived secretly in New Zealand with her grandparents, who plunged her into obscurity by renaming her Ellen Morgan. In jail, Elizabeth Morgan refused to divulge her daughter’s location, but the defiant mom was freed in 1989 — by an act of Congress, no less. Then in 1996, Congress passed yet another custom law for the duo, the Elizabeth Morgan Act, which allowed them both to return home to Washington, D.C.

About a decade ago, Hilary Foretich/Ellen Morgan changed her name again, to Elena Mitrano — a nod to her grandfather’s Italian heritage.

Today, mother and daughter live in Los Angeles, the city of ultimate do-overs. In their second year here, they share an apartment that overlooks the posh Four Seasons Hotel adjacent to Beverly Hills. Because of the location, they get a Beverly Hills view, explains Mitrano, now a beautiful young woman, but with an L.A. rent.

Mitrano recently reached No. 26 in the New York music charts with the title song from her debut album, Rescue Me, produced by L.A.-based company the Heavyweights.

Upbeat and catchy, her pop vocals are popular in New York’s club scene, while ballads like the autobiographical “Voiceless” add weight to her fan base. Whenever she’s at a loss for lyrics or rhythms, Mitrano says, she looks to her idol and asks, “What would Cher do?”

Inevitably here in Tinsel Town, a record deal is in the works. “In a lot of ways, I have been very, very fortunate,” Mitrano says. “My family on my mother’s side loved me and supported me and gave me a tremendous childhood. But there are so many children who aren’t as lucky as I had been, and I wanted to do something for them.”

She got a degree in journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., but found that her voice was more powerful as a creative force, and with her mother’s help she began producing music. “I think it’s high time pop music addressed people’s need to just smile,” Mitrano says.

Her brainy mother, now 61, is getting a master’s in public health at UCLA — adding to her biology degree from Harvard, M.D. from Yale and psychology degree from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Mitrano has performed at the Roxy, Molly Malone’s and Tangier — and is preparing for a tour. With dates yet to be set, she hopes to visit 10 U.S. cities as part of the Rock Your Fashion Tour with Sledge Clothing Co. When Mitrano moved to L.A. to further her singing career, within months, and at Mitrano’s behest, her mother followed.

“Anything for Elena,” Morgan says. In fact, Morgan was an icon to U.S. mothers two decades ago because she would do anything for the then-named Hilary. But Morgan was also accused of being a fraud and a psychopath who would do anything for her daughter.

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