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Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach Paperback – Bargain Price, October 22, 2009
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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.
Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Meryl Gordon
"Mrs. Astor Regrets--The Trial"
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)
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The Astor scandal was perfect tabloid fodder. Brooke Astor was a NYC institution well-known for her philanthropy, impeccable name and a hat collection that rivaled Queen Elizabeth. Even in the 90s, Brooke Astor always dressed to impress; she considered it her job to impress the common folk. When news hit that Mrs Astor's grandson was accusing her son of denying her the very luxuries her name conjures the tabloids worked themselves into a ritual frenzy of indignation. As author Meryl Gordon notes, every New York summer needs a scandal and Brooke Astor provided in 2006 like a last bequest to the city she loved.
Meryl Gordon's book reads like an extended, very well-research magazine article, which is suitable to the task. If you want erudition, see Frances Kiernan's fine biography "The Last Mrs Astor." If you want fabulousness, this is the book for you.
How fabulous, you ask. Custom de la Renta gowns, wives (who may be lesbians) who pick out a suitable successor so they can get a divorce, dogs named Boysie and Girlsie, loyal butlers and minister's wives who leave their husbands for rich older men - we're talking 10 out of 10 on the fabulous scale. That last ingredient on the fabulous list is Charlene, the third wife of Mrs Astor's son Tony Marshall, and she appears to come from central casting.Read more ›
First, the story is a real page-turner. As I began to learn about the history of the Astor family and how Brooke became The Last Mrs. Astor, I was intensely interested in how all of this was going to end up being tabloid fodder. Though meticulous in her research and sourcing for this book, Meryl Gordon has a prose style that skillfully weaves a narrative of the various facts.
The complexities of the story are fiction-worthy. While she doesn't pass judgment, Gordon gives all of the characters room to be. By the end, I had grown fond of almost all of them, and had sincere feelings of empathy even for those I felt were villains.
One thing I like about a book like this is the opportunity to see how the upper crust live. When I find myself taking sides between Brooke Astor, her son and his wives, her grandson, Annette De La Renta, Mrs. Astor's butler, her nurses and other staff, and even a Rockefeller or two, I get a delicious sense of how everyone's problems are real, no matter their station in life.
While a biographical treatment of someone who's famous for being rich is not generally my cup of tea, this book was a fascinating read. That someone with so much money and power could have been a potential victim of elder abuse was a startling concept to confront.Read more ›
Meryl Gordon has gone behind the headlines and crafted a thoughtful, incisive look at the life of Brooke Astor and the forces that eventually brought a father and son to loggerheads. Brooke Astor was born into a time when families readily gave their daughters to marriage to gain wealth, influence and noble title. After an unhappy first marriage, Brooke married Buddie Marshall, who she referred to as the "love of my life" and bore her only child Anthony. Six months after Buddie's unexpected death Brooke accepted Vincent Astor's marriage proposal and life changed for her and Tony. She began her ascent to the top of society and Tony was often at boarding schools. Though there was never again a financial worry, mother and son were never able to be close. The birth of twins to Tony and his first wife brought some temporary family closeness that later fflounders after Tony marries his third wife.
Meryl Gordon has crafted a well balanced, even handed account of the events leading to the court fight and Mrs. Astor's final days. Using Brook's autobiographies, letters, articles, public court documents and the recollections of countless friends and staff, she has provided insight into the tawdry headlines.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Expect to find this interesting having read The Phantom of Fifth AvenuePublished 1 month ago by Jon S. And Theobald
Anyone who loves social history, or who is enthralled with the "rich and famous" of New York's old guard, will devour this book. Read morePublished 2 months ago by S. Dahl
This is a well-written account of the sad story of greed in the rarified Astor air. However, the fact that the book ends before the verdict in the criminal trial is learned makes... Read morePublished 2 months ago by E. Smith
it reads like a juicy Vanity Fair article. Good popcorn reading, and a fair portrayal of Greed in old moneyed circles.Published 3 months ago by Brett Ponder
Mrs. Astor Regrets is a compelling story about how money both helps and destroys, depending on who is in charge of it. The end of Mrs. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jack M. Walter
It's very informative and well researched, but it's also extremely witty and ultimately quite touching. Read morePublished 7 months ago by addison de witt
I gave this book two stars (actually it deserves 2.5) because it is well-written and well-researched: Having said that, the fact is, I regret starting "Mrs. Astor Regrets. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Betsy Floski
i very much enjoyed the book up until page 291 when it abruptly ended without finishing the story!!! Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jason C