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A riveting look behind the gates of the house of Astor as a famous family falls apart in public
The fate of Brooke Astor, the endearing philanthropist with the storied name, has generated worldwide headlines since her grandson Philip sued his father in 2006, alleging mistreatment of Brooke. And shortly after her death in 2007, Anthony Marshall, Mrs. Astor s only child, was indicted on charges of looting her estate. Rarely has there been a story with such an appealing heroine, conjuring up a world so nearly forgotten: a realm of lavish wealth and secrets of the sort that have engaged Americans from the era of Edith Wharton to the more recent days of Truman Capote and Vanity Fair. New York journalist Meryl Gordon has interviewed not only the elite of Brooke Astor s social circle, but also the large staff who cosseted and cared for Mrs. Astor during her declining years. The result is the behind-the-headlines story of the Astor empire s unraveling, filled with never-before-reported scenes. This powerful, poignant saga takes the reader inside the gilded gates of an American dynasty to tell of three generations worth of longing and missed opportunities. Even in this territory of privilege, no riches can put things right once they ve been torn asunder. Here is an American epic of the bonds of money, morality, and social position.
During the summer of 2006, as I began researching Mrs. Astor Regrets, I thought that I was in the midst of a deeply textured family saga about society, money, and betrayal. What I could not have imagined was that just three years later I would have a regular seat on a wooden bench in a shabby New York courtroom as Tony Marshall--Brooke Astor's 85-year-old patrician son--stood trial on charges of looting his mother's $185 million estate while she was still alive. What started in 2006 as a bitter but quaintly old-fashioned family fight over the care and custody of the 104-year-old grande dame of New York society had become an eighteen-count criminal indictment charging Tony Marshall with grand larceny and his trusts-and-estates lawyer, Francis Morrissey, Jr., with conspiracy and forgery.
Mrs. Astor Regrets ends with Tony Marshall's indictment. But rather than becoming outdated by events surrounding the trial, the book is more timely than ever. The father-versus-son theme, which was at the heart of the struggle over Brooke Astor's care, was acted out in court when twin sons Philip and Alec Marshall both testified against their father as prosecution witnesses. Afterward, I saw Tony Marshall and his wife, Charlene Marshall, weeping in the corridor in response to this wrenching Oedipal moment.
Ever since I heard the prosecution's opening argument in late April, I have been seized by a sense of déjà vu. The entire outline of the case has followed the trajectory of Mrs. Astor Regrets. I began my story with a richly detailed account of Brooke Astor's one hundredth birthday party in 2002--given by David Rockefeller at his country estate--because artistically it set up the contrast between the society icon’s glittering life and the sad isolation that would soon follow. The prosecution used the birthday party as a framework for their own narrative, quizzing witnesses like Barbara Walters, Annette de la Renta, Nancy Kissinger, and Viscount Astor (all quoted in Mrs. Astor Regrets) about the same party and showing the jury a video of the festivities on a huge courtroom screen.
The prosecutors and the defense lawyers have told me that Mrs. Astor Regrets was required reading as they prepared for the trial. In the corridor outside the courtroom, newspaper reporters (and even a police detective) have asked me to autograph their copies of the book. About the only group left out of the loop are the twelve jurors and four alternates sitting in judgment of Tony Marshall and Francis Morrissey. They are forbidden from reading it because the judge has not allowed into evidence many of the details from the guardianship lawsuit over Mrs. Astor's care that Philip Marshall (joined by David Rockefeller, Annette de la Renta, and Henry Kissinger) filed against his father in 2006.
As a fan of mystery novels, I get an eerie feeling spending four days a week right in the middle of one. I will say that authors must have a better sense of dramatic pacing than courtroom lawyers. The Astor trial is not expected to go to the jury until early August. I have lived with this story for three years, and there remains only one important question for which I have no answer: Will the jury find Tony Marshall and Francis Morrissey, Jr. guilty as charged?
What I do know is that Brooke Astor was so devoted to the rituals of society that she still dressed for dinner, with matching evening bag and dress, at the age of 104. Part of the code that governed Mrs. Astor's life was a sense of personal privacy even when she was a renowned philanthropist to New York's leading charities. To have all this being argued in open court--in a way that has torn her family asunder--is something that Mrs. Astor would indeed regret. --Meryl Gordon
(Photo © Nina Subin)
The indictment in November 2007 of Anthony (Tony) Marshall, the only child of the late legendary philanthropist Brooke Astor, for misuse of his mother's fortune led to an unheard-of scrutiny of America's discreet aristocracy. Gordon, a journalist whose New York magazine article on the scandal in August 2006 formed the germ of this extended work, delivers a balanced, dogged—and ultimately sad—detective account of how Astor's grandson Philip Marshall ended up betraying Tony, his own father. Horrified by accounts of the shamefully reduced conditions under which his then 103-year-old grandmother was being cared for (attested to by servants and Astor's good friends Annette de la Renta and David Rockefeller), Philip legally challenged his father, the custodian of her considerable estate, and Tony's wife, Charlene, citing in particular the uncharacteristic altering of Brooke's will in the last years before she died (she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's). Gordon sifts painstakingly through the rubble of the extended Astor family history, from Brooke's disastrous first marriage at age 17 to her dazzling reinvention in her 50s as the celebrity widow of Vincent Astor (who died in 1959), firmly ensconced at the helm of the venerable and very useful Astor Foundation. In the end, Gordon tells a sad and moving story of elder abuse. (Dec.)
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Great reading. Love knowing about rich and famous people warts and all. Probably more about the warts.Published 18 days ago by Janet V.
I've had it for a month and still haven't finished it. Definitely not a "can't put it down" book.Published 20 days ago by SusanE
I have not read this one but am aware of her story and that of other rich widows and children of the robber barons.Published 1 month ago by N. J. Price
Ugh! I cannot believe I bought this book. Just a warning: A large part of this book is about a court case that was still in progress when this book went to print. Read morePublished 2 months ago by joo
Guide long, but interesting on family matters concerning wealth.Published 2 months ago by Myra M. Miller
The sad saga of greed by someone who was a millionaire many times over. After many years of faithful service to his mother, Tony Marshall steals from her, Brooke Astor, to insure... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Patricia A Smith
The book gets boring after a while and I had a hard time finishing it.Published 4 months ago by Cat
Fair, thought provoking and cannot hardly put this book down. If you want the facts, I believe Meryl has done it here. And so eloquently.Published 4 months ago by Pat Norris