Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach

Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach

by Meryl Gordon

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Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach by Meryl Gordon

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547247984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/22/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 167,583
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Meryl Gordon is a full-time magazine journalist who has been a contract writer for New York magazine for the past fifteen years.

Lorna Raver has received numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards and has been nominated for the coveted Audie Award for her audiobook narrations.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue — Trial by Tabloid

When God created tabloids, that Tuesday after Thanksgiving was surely the kind of day he had in mind. On the morning of November 27, 2007, New York City’s two leading practitioners of that irreverent style of newspapering were thirsty for blue blood. Though the New York Times maintained judicious restraint, both the Post and the Daily News bannered the latest twist in the most talked-about high-society scandal in years, the saga of the late Brooke Astor and her only child, Anthony Marshall. She was, of course, the glamorous socialite and philanthropist who had transformed herself, thanks to cranky Vincent Astor’s charming fortune, into a beloved philanthropist and influential American icon.
Her son, a clubbable war hero, former ambassador, and award-winning Broadway producer, had been transformed at age eighty-three from the epitome of WASP rectitude to a handcuffed suspect facing an eighteen-count indictment. Tony Marshall’s fall from grace was abetted by his mother, his son, his attorney (who was charged in the same indictment), and the tabloids (which were just doing their thing). Charged with grand larceny, falsifying business records, conspiracy, and possession of stolen property, Marshall was looking at the specter of a quarter-century behind bars. "BAD BOY," scolded the News. "CROOK ASTOR," snarled the Post.
The headlines referred to his alleged scheme to swindle his mother’s millions from her favored cultural institutions (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library) into his own accounts. But the case was always as much about family as it was about money. It began sixteen months earlier with the seismic jolt from charges by Tony Marshall’s son Philip, a college professor, who alleged that his 104-year-old grandmother had descended from Park Avenue splendor to gentrified squalor (despite eight squabbling servants). Taken up with lynch-mob ferocity by the tabloids were such allegations as Tony’s seemingly selfish refusal to allow his mother to visit her country estate, his inexplicable sale of her favorite painting, and the claim that Mrs. Astor (yes, Mrs. Astor) was spending her declining days lying on a dog-urine-stained couch.
So began this upper-crust reality soap opera. Here in a nouveau riche age was America’s true aristocracy, the arbiters of society, the twenty-first century’s link to the New York of Edith Wharton and Henry James. But in this world of emeralds and Astors, things were not always what they seemed. Resentments seethed just below the surface, and ambition was cloaked in polished manners. The hired help, from the butler to the social secretary to Mrs. Astor’s nurses, would be drawn into the fray, testing their loyalty and discretion.
Past and present intertwined during the final reels of the Brooke Astor story, harking back to her failures as a mother and to the girl she had been, a teenage bride married off to a dashing millionaire whose acts of violence would haunt her for more than eighty years. This family drama involved a son whose mother, father, and succession of stepfathers left him with no sense of how a loving parent might behave. And then there was the money, nearly $200 million, a ruthless American fortune built on the lust for fur pelts and Manhattan real estate.
At 7:58 a.m., Tony Marshall arrived at the Manhattan district attorney’s office at One Hogan Place to turn himself in. White-haired and courtly, he wore a dark, well-tailored suit with his Marine Corps tie and clasp, clinging defiantly to these symbols of accomplishment and propriety. In the grim squad room on the ninth floor, Marshall was given paperwork to fill out — the business of being arrested. With its fluorescent lights, beat-up furniture, stacked water-cooler bottles, and jail cell with rusted metal bars, this setting must have seemed a harsh rebuke to a man accustomed to antiques, fine art, and regularly freshened floral arrangements.
In the upper reaches of society, it is not enough to acquire wealth; it must be protected from interlopers, some of whom are family members. As a young man in his twenties, Tony Marshall made his first court appearance, nearby in another Foley Square building, when his biological father unsuccessfully sued him in an effort to wrest away Tony’s trust fund. Brooke Astor had been taken to court over money as well, battling to protect her full share of Vincent Astor’s millions and fend off claims from one of her husband’s aggrieved family members.
But these squabbles had been mere civil matters, quarrels among family members without the involvement of the authorities. Tony Marshall was handcuffed when detectives escorted him downstairs for his mug shot and fingerprinting. The latter proved surprisingly complicated. Modern fingerprinting machines are not calibrated for aging digits, which leave indistinct markings. Several attempts were made before the detectives finally resorted to the ink method. Back in the squad room, Marshall was offered a nutrition bar, orange juice, and a banana, but declined. A member of the Knickerbocker Club, the New York Racquet Club, and the Brook Club, on a normal day he would have been lunching among the city’s elite.
By the time he was paraded in full perp-walk fashion across the street to the courthouse at 111 Centre Street, his face was ashen and his hair disheveled. Here was another photo opportunity in the unrehearsed spectacle of New York, seized on by the mobs of cameramen and journalists who had been staking out the building for six hours, eager to capture Tony Marshall’s downfall in time for the news at five. A news vendor hawking a stack of newspapers yelled out, "The rich stealing from the rich, find out what happened." Spying the defendant, the vendor cried out, "Mr. Marshall, why did you do it? Do you have anything to say?"
Walking slowly into the courtroom, Tony appeared to have aged dramatically in just a few hours, the portrait of Dorian Gray. His alarmed wife, Charlene, hurried up the aisle and wrapped her arms around him, covering his face with kisses. As she ran her hands through his mussed hair, Tony wiped tears from his eyes. Grasping his arm in support, Charlene walked down the aisle by his side, repeating, "We’ll be okay, we’ll be okay." Moments later he joined his lawyers at the wooden table and faced Justice A. Kirke Bartley, Jr., a former prosecutor known for trying mob boss John Gotti.
Rising to her feet as the hearing began, the prosecutor Elizabeth Loewy solemnly told the judge, "Despite his mother’s generosity when she was well, he used his position of trust to steal from her." Handed a copy of the indictment accusing him of fraud, conspiracy, and theft, Tony Marshall read through it slowly, as if having trouble comprehending the words. When asked to respond to the charges, he whispered, "Not guilty."

Three months earlier, at the age of 105, Brooke Astor had passed away at her Westchester country home, Holly Hill. For nearly a century she had presented herself to the world as a woman with a good-natured and witty persona, keeping her secrets and sorrows at bay. But as her life began to draw to a close, her dreams grew more vivid and disturbing; imaginary intruders pursued her. In her last year, she was dangerously fragile and afflicted with a Merck Manual of ailments. A voracious reader and the author of four books, she had lost the ability to speak in full sentences but could still communicate using gestures or facial expressions. Each morning the nurses would hold up a choice of outfits (mostly from Eileen Fisher) and Mrs. Astor would point to indicate her preference. "She could make her will known," says her social worker, Lois Orlin. "If she didn’t want something or she liked something, you could tell." Even near the end, keeping up appearances still mattered, as she clung to her sense of dignity.
As Brooke drifted through the days, gazing idly out the picture windows at the trees and gardens of her estate, her staff devised ways to remind her of the glory of her life and past good times. A favorite tactic was propping up on a lectern the photo album with pictures from Brooke’s one hundredth birthday party. "She really loved them," recalls her physical therapist, Sandra Foschi. "She looked in closely." The staff paged quickly past the photographs of Tony and Charlene, fearful that Mrs. Astor might find the sight upsetting. Sometimes Brooke would smile in recognition of the faces of her friends. Other times, overcome with memories, she would weep. "It was very emotional for her," says Foschi. "She would tear up, she would hang her head down. It brought great joy but also great sadness."
Perhaps her reaction reflected change and loss. But maybe in some corner of her mind she sensed the troubles that were tearing apart the family that she had come to care about too late.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"[An] impeccably researched, thoroughly detailed, and absorbing profile of a sadly dysfunctional family." —-Library Journal

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Mrs. Astor Regrets 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
NinaCA More than 1 year ago
The book was written in a way where you understand who Mrs. Astor was and how she portrayed herself to society. You saw a glimpse of how she raised her son and in result saw how he turned out. In the end, I had sympathy for Mrs. Astor and her son; in a way, they brought this suffering on themselves. They may have been rich but their problems weren't any different from anyone else. I felt that this book was unbiased, the right amount of information without sounding like a gossip column, and a very easy read. One flaw for me throughout the book was the repetition of quotes/lines - it almost felt like deja vu. This is a good book to read if you are interested in taking a little glimpse into what New York high society is like or if you are just relaxing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would have purchased the hard copy if I knew that photos would not be available in eBook version.
Yulichka More than 1 year ago
Good book, gives a lot of insight into the life of Brooke Astor and the peopke around her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written account of a famous family and what people will stoop to for money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brooke Astor lived a good and useful life up until almost the end. Then in a fragile state, Mrs. Astor was alost deserted by everyone. She was almost alone. Money could no longer buy any happiness. Her servants were fired by a manipulative son and his wife. She was not surrounded by care givers. Rather by noncaring givers. Fortunately she had a good grandson and some wonderful friends who saved and prolonged her life. Mrs. Astor Regrets is a splendid study of a situation that has now found its way to the courts.Meryl Gordon has written a thoroughly fascinating study of Mrs. Astor's end of life situation. The scene is well described through what must have been extensive research and interviews with all the players involved except Mrs. Astor. This book takes you into the world of the wealthy and those characters living on the fringes. It is such a socialogical study that reads like a good mystery! So I recommend this adventure to all who enjoy the study of society; It's highs and lows. Its customs and all the personalities encountered therein!
Book-touched More than 1 year ago
Mrs. Astor Regrets is an apt title for Meryl Gordon's biography of Brooke Astor, philanthropist and socialite. I highly recommend it. The book conveys straight from the headlines events that led up to the New York high society scandal and indictment of Brooke's only son Anthony "Tony" Marshall, a war hero, former ambassador and Broadway producer, for looting her estate. The biography reads like a juicy novel, raised by a status obsessed mother Brooke who married three times, twice to men of tremendous means once for true love turned herself into a social arbiter and philanthropist. Her only son Tony craved his mother's love and acceptance and endured not being liked by Brooke's husbands or by society at large. After loaning his mother and father money from his own trust fund, as the author posits he gave it in an attempt to buy love, he then seemingly succumbs to greed. Tony's resulting actions were brought to light by non other than his own son, Phillip. Tony is currently awaiting sentencing having been found guilty. "Money does not buy happiness" though cliché is true. Brooke performed much good through her philanthropy however the underlying lives seem tragic and somehow empty. We can only hope that whomever gains control of the charitable trust (i.e. yet to be determined in a settlement trial once Tony is sentenced) will perform good deeds once again. This is a family drama full of well-known characters you'll immediately recognize. With an epilogue yet to be determined and written about in tomorrow's headlines its a timely book for our times, read it!
griffin721 More than 1 year ago
Written beautifully and a fast read. The Astor family did so much good it was sad to see how she was treated by her only child. Her friends were her saving grace in the end. Thank you for such a great read.
Nan53 More than 1 year ago
It was interesting to learn just how the rich live, and who's friends with who in "that" world. It was an easy read. It didn't get bogged down with minute details which happens in some biographies. There was enough detail though to keep my interest. Now I want to know how the son has made out with the courts.
christopher76 More than 1 year ago
a great read into the lives of the Astor family. the author does a good job of setting forth both sides.
ReaderinColorado More than 1 year ago
This is a particularly good book if you want to evaluate the good and evils of wealth. Mrs. Astor surely led the good life with her wealth but once you are up in years you become a target for everyone envious of your wealth and this does not exclude your family members. Whether or not she was abused and mistreated, the author has left for you to decide, after reading the facts. Certainly a good book to play the Devil's Advocate.
PHM1955 More than 1 year ago
This book was an interesting aspect of Mrs. Astor's famous public life. Unfortunately, towards the end of her life her son and daughter-in-law took advantage of Mrs. Astor's poor health.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved the book
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