The Battle for Mrs. Astor

Excerpts: The Battle for Mrs. Astor

  • They were both referring to the much-publicized case of the late Brooke Astor, the infinitely charitable New York icon, who is alleged to have suffered similar abuse at the hands of her son, former ambassador Anthony “Tony” Marshall, and his attorney, Francis X. Morrissey.
  • The alleged elder abuse of Brooke Astor began after the marriage of Tony Marshall to his third wife, Charlene Gilbert, in 1992, when Brooke was 90 and within a few years of lapsing into Alzheimer’s. Although Brooke did her best to conceal her condition, friends soon realized its nature.
  • At a book party given by Henry and Nancy Kissinger on February 13, 1997, I found the hitherto ageless 94-year-old out on the sidewalk, dressed to the nines, with no idea where she was or what she was doing. “Who’s that smiling at me?” she whispered, pointing to an old friend.
  • Brooke’s contempt for Charlene made the situation increasingly fraught. “The woman is so pushy—she has no style and no neck,” she complained to friends. These shortcomings became clear at the White House in 1998, when Brooke and her friend and neighbor David Rockefeller flew down on his plane to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.
  • Protocol entitled the honorees to invite family members and old friends to the ceremony. Brooke invited the distinguished bibliophile and lawyer Robert Pirie, who had recently lost a daughter, to be her principal guest.
  • She also took Raymonde, her lady’s maid. The Marshalls arrived separately. Hitherto a merciless critic of Clinton, Brooke was bowled over by the president’s flirtatiousness and could not resist flirting back. She would proudly wear the medal he gave her until her dying day.
  • At the ceremony, Brooke’s friends observed, Charlene proved an embarrassment to her mother-in-law. Pirie recalls seeing Brooke wince at her gauche behavior as she buttonholed celebrities and barged into groups being photographed.
  • A British friend had asked me to lunch at Wasp heaven, the Brook Club, where members and their guests forgather at a majestic mahogany dining table gleaming with gigantic silver candelabra.

Source: Vanity Fair