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Brooke Astor

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Title: Brooke Astor  
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Subject: Anthony Dryden Marshall, Astor family, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, Vincent Astor, 2007
Collection: 1902 Births, 2007 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Novelists, 20Th-Century Women Writers, American Centenarians, American Memoirists, American Philanthropists, American Socialites, American Women Novelists, American Women Writers, Astor Family, Burials at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Deaths from Pneumonia, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Infectious Disease Deaths in New York, Livingston Family, Madeira School Alumni, Military Brats, New York Republicans, People from Bernardsville, New Jersey, People from Briarcliff Manor, New York, People from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Presidential Citizens Medal Recipients, Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients, United States National Medal of Arts Recipients, Women Memoirists, Writers from New Hampshire, Writers from New Jersey, Writers from New York City
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Brooke Astor

Brooke Astor
Brooke Astor in 2002 in her duplex
Born Roberta Brooke Russell
(1902-03-30)March 30, 1902
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Died August 13, 2007(2007-08-13) (aged 105)
Briarcliff Manor, New York
Occupation writer, philanthropist
Spouse(s) John Dryden Kuser
(m. 1919–1930; divorced)
Charles Henry Marshall
(m. 1932–1952; his death)
William Vincent Astor
(m. 1953–1959; his death)
Children Anthony Dryden Marshall
Parent(s) John Henry Russell, Jr.
Mabel Cecile Hornby Howard
Relatives John Henry Russell, Sr. (grandfather)

Roberta Brooke Astor (née Russell; March 30, 1902 – August 13, 2007) was an American philanthropist, socialite, and writer who was the chairwoman of the Vincent Astor Foundation, which had been established by her third husband, Vincent Astor, son of John Jacob Astor IV and great-great grandson of America's first multi-millionaire, John Jacob Astor. Brooke Astor was the author of two novels and two volumes of personal memoirs.


  • Early life 1
  • Marriages 2
    • John Dryden Kuser 2.1
    • Charles Henry Marshall 2.2
    • William Vincent Astor 2.3
  • Philanthropy 3
  • Politics 4
  • Elder abuse controversy 5
  • Estate tampering 6
  • Death and interment 7
  • Media coverage 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • In fiction 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life

Brooke was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the only child of John Henry Russell, Jr. (1872–1947), the 16th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and his wife, Mabel Cecile Hornby Howard (1879–1967). Her paternal grandfather John Henry Russell, Sr. was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. She was named for her maternal grandmother (Roberta) and was known as Bobby to close friends and family.

Due to her father's career, she spent much of her childhood living in China, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other places. Also, she briefly attended The Madeira School in 1919 but graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland.


John Dryden Kuser

She married her first husband, John Dryden Kuser (1897–1964), shortly after her 17th birthday, on April 26, 1919, in Washington, D.C. "I certainly wouldn't advise getting married that young to anyone," she said later in life. "At the age of sixteen, you're not jelled yet. The first thing you look at, you fall in love with."[1]

John was the son of the financier and conservationist Anthony Rudolph Kuser and Susie Fairfield Drydan. Susie's father was U.S. Senator John Fairfield Dryden. John Kuser later became a New Jersey Republican councilman, assemblyman, and state senator.[2] They also lived in Bernardsville, New Jersey.[3]

Brooke described her tumultuous first marriage as the "Worst years of my life", which was punctuated by her husband's alleged physical abuse, alcoholism, and adultery.[1] According to Frances Kiernan's 2007 biography of Brooke Astor, when Brooke was six months pregnant with the couple's only child, her husband broke her jaw during a marital fight.[4] "I learned about terrible manners from the family of my first husband," she told The New York Times. "They didn't know how to treat people."[1] A year after the marriage, according to a published account of the divorce proceedings, John "began to embarrass her in social activities" and "told her that he no longer loved her and that their marriage was a failure."[5]

Brooke and John had one son, Anthony Dryden "Tony" Kuser, May 30, 1924. She filed for divorce February 15, 1930, in Reno, Nevada. It was finalized later that year.[5] John married his second wife, Vieva Marie Fisher Banks (formerly Mrs. James Lenox Banks, Jr.) September 6, 1930, in Virginia City, Nevada. They had one daughter, Suzanne Dryden Kuser, and divorced in October 1935. A week later, Sen. Kuser married Louise Mattei Farry (formerly Mrs. Joseph Farry). In 1958, he married, as his fourth wife, Grace Egglesfield Gibbons (widow of John J. Gibbons). An amateur ornithologist and president of the New Jersey Audubon Society, Sen. Kuser introduced the bill that made the eastern goldfinch the state bird of New Jersey. He also was, at various times, an insurance and real estate broker in New Jersey (1937–1942) and Nevada (1942–1955), a vice president of Lenox, Inc., the pottery and china company, a columnist for the Nevada State Journal (1943–1947), and a director of the Fox Film Corporation.

Charles Henry Marshall

Her second husband, whom she married in 1932, was Charles Henry "Buddy" Marshall (1891–1952). Buddy was the senior partner of the investment firm Butler, Herrick & Marshall, a brother-in-law of the mercantile heir Marshall Field III, and a descendant of James Lenox, the founder of the Lenox Library.

Astor later wrote that the marriage was "a great love match."[1]

She had two stepchildren by the marriage, Peter Marshall and Helen Huntington Marshall. Helen Marshall's first marriage was to composer Ernest Schelling[6] and, her second to cellist János Scholz[7]

In 1942, Brooke's then-18-year-old son Tony changed his name to Anthony Dryden Marshall out of admiration for his stepfather. Buddy's financial fortunes turned in the mid-1940s, at which time Brooke went to work for eight years as a features editor at House & Garden magazine. She also briefly worked for Ruby Ross Wood, a prominent New York interior decorator who, with her associate Billy Baldwin, decorated the Marshalls' apartment at 1 Gracie Square in New York City.[8]

William Vincent Astor

In October 1953, 11 months after Charles Marshall's death, she married her third and final husband, William Vincent Astor (1891–1959), the chairman of the board of Newsweek magazine and the last notably rich American member of the famous Astor family. Vincent was the son of RMS Titanic victim John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV (1864–1912) and socialite Ava Lowle Willing (1868–1958), he had been married and divorced twice before, was childless, and was known to have a difficult personality.

"He had a dreadful childhood, and as a result, had moments of deep melancholy," Brooke recalled. "But I think I made him happy. That's what I set out to do. I'd literally dance with the dogs, sing and play the piano, and I would make him laugh, something no one had ever done before. Because of his money, Vincent was very suspicious of people. That's what I tried to cure him of."[1]

Not wanting to die alone, Astor agreed to divorce his second wife, Mary Benedict "Minnie" Cushing, only after she had found him a replacement spouse. Minnie had first suggested Janet Newbold Rhinelander-Stewart, the newly divorced wife of James Smith Bush II, who turned down Astor's proposal with startling candor stating "I don't even like you". Minnie then suggested the recently widowed Brooke.[9] Few people believed that the Astor-Marshall union was anything more than a financial transaction. According to Brooke's friend Louis Auchincloss; "Of course she married Vincent for the money," adding, "I wouldn't respect her if she hadn't. Only a twisted person would have married him for love."[4]

During her brief marriage to Vincent, whom she called "Captain", Brooke participated in his real-estate and hotel empire and his philanthropic endeavors. Between 1954 and 1958, she redecorated one of his properties, the Hotel St. Regis, which had been built by his father. Vincent died leaving all his money to Brooke. His younger half-brother socialite John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI (1912–1992) was left with nothing since Vincent's hatred for Jakey's mother Madeleine (Jack's second wife and widow) led him to believe he was not even a biological Astor. Vincent had nothing but contempt for him.[10] Jakey felt cheated and resentfully stated Vincent "had the legal, not the moral right to keep all the money".[11] He was certain that Vincent was "mentally incompetent" when signing his last will in June 1958 due to frequent smoking and alcoholism, though Brooke insisted otherwise. While Vincent was hospitalized, Brooke would often bring him liquor. Jakey accused her of using the liquor to influence the will in her favor. Jakey ended up settling for $250,000. The rest of money remained with the Vincent Astor foundation and Brooke. Before Vincent's death, Brooke once privately admitted to her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Cynthia "Liz" Cryan: "I don't think I can stand being married to him anymore. I don't think I can take it. He never wants to go anywhere — he's so antisocial."[12]

Though she received several proposals after Astor's death, she chose not to remarry. In a 1980 interview, she stated: "I'd have to marry a man of a suitable age and somebody who was a somebody, and that's not easy. Frankly, I think I'm unmarriageable now", and also said "I'm too used to having things my way. But I still enjoy a flirt now and then."[1]


Though she was appointed a member of the board of the Astor Foundation soon after her marriage, upon Vincent Astor's death in 1959, she took charge of all the philanthropies to which he left his fortune. She served as a Trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chaired the Visiting Committee of the Metropolitan's Department of Far Eastern Art; she is credited with the idea for a Chinese garden courtyard, the Astor Court, in the Metropolitan.[13] In addition, Astor served as a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100th Anniversary Committee and hosted the Metropolitan's Centennial Ball.[14] Despite liquidating the Vincent Astor Foundation in 1997, she continued to be active in charities and in New York's social life. The New York Public Library was always one of Astor's favorite charities, as was The Animal Medical Center. In 1988, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.[15] As a result of her charity work, Astor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. Her life's motto summed up her prodigious generosity: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.” [16][17]

Among numerous other organizations, she was involved with Lighthouse for the Blind, the Maternity Center Association, the Astor Home for emotionally disturbed children, the International Rescue Committee, the Fresh Air Fund, and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Society of New York Hospital.


Like much of Astor family, she was a steadfast Republican. When Ronald Reagan ran for president, she was one of his strongest supporters, donating thousands of dollars to his campaign. She was also a strong supporter of the Bush campaigns and was invited to the White House on numerous occasions.

Elder abuse controversy

The Daily News ran a cover story July 26, 2006, describing the family feud between her son Tony and his son Philip Cryan Marshall, regarding Brooke's welfare.

The story detailed how her grandson, a historic preservationist and associate professor at Roger Williams University, had filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of his father as the socialite's guardian and the appointment of Annette de la Renta, the wife of designer Oscar de la Renta, instead.

According to accounts published in The New York Times and the Daily News, Astor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and suffered from anemia, among other ailments. The lawsuit alleged that Marshall had not provided for his elderly mother and, instead, had allowed her to live in squalor and that he had reduced necessary medication and doctor's visits, while enriching himself with income from her estate. Philip Marshall further charged that his father sold his grandmother's favorite Childe Hassam painting in 2002 without her knowledge and with no record as to the whereabouts of the funds received from the sale. In addition to Annette de la Renta, Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller provided affidavits supporting Philip Marshall's requests for a change in guardianship.

The day the story appeared, Associated Press and The New York Times sued to have the records of the Astor case unsealed in the public interest, their request was granted September 1, 2006.[18] Astor was moved to Lenox Hill Hospital, where an unidentified nurse called her appearance "deplorable," according to the Daily News. Her son Tony unsuccessfully attempted to have his mother transferred to another hospital.

Brooke was released from Lenox Hill Hospital July 29, 2006 and moved to Holly Hill, her 75-acre (30 ha) estate in the village of Briarcliff Manor, New York, where she died August 13, 2007.

In 2008, a book, entitled Mrs. Astor Regrets, by Meryl Gordon, makes use of diaries kept by the nurses who cared for Astor during the last years of her life. The diaries were compiled over the four years Astor received care, and detail the abuse that Mrs. Astor reportedly received from her son, Anthony (Tony).[19]

Estate tampering

The New York Times reported August 1, 2006, that Anthony Marshall was accused by Alice Perdue, an employeee in his mother's business office, of diverting nearly $1 million from his ailing mother's personal checking accounts into theatrical productions. Marshall, through a spokesman, said that his mother knew of the investments and approved of them. Perdue countered that Marshall had advised her never to send to his mother any documents of a financial nature because "she didn't understand it."

The claims made by Philip Marshall regarding his father's handling of the estate prompted interest into the matter. The New York District Attorney announced indictments on criminal charges against Tony and attorney Francis X. Morrissey Jr., November 27, 2007. The charges stemmed from the district attorney's office and subsequent grand jury investigation into the mishandling of Astor's money and a questionable signature on the third amendment to her 2002 will, made in March 2004. That amendment called for Astor’s real estate to be sold and the proceeds added to her residuary estate. An earlier amendment, also made in 2004, which designated Marshall as the executor of his mother's estate and left him the entirety of the residuary estate, was also under investigation.[20]

The specific charges included

  • Detailed description of donations by the Vincent Astor Foundation
  • Description of Mrs. Astor's 14-room duplex at Rosario Candela's 778 Park Avenue including the oft-photographed Albert Hadley library. Sales offering as of June 2009 and NYTimes Article 6FEB09
  • "Brooke Astor".  
  • Steve Fishman, "Mrs. Astor's Baby: The Fight for A Mother's Love, And Money", New York Magazine, November 12, 2007
  • Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f  
  2. ^ In 1927, Brooke and John Kuser lived in a New York City townhouse which they rented from Madeleine Talmadge Force, the stepmother of Brooke's eventual third husband.
  3. ^  
  4. ^ a b Schillinger, Liesl (June 17, 2007). "Astor's Place". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2007. 
  5. ^ a b "Mrs. Kuser Files Suit; Gets Custody of Son. Wife of New Jersey Senator in Reno Court Relinquishes Her Dower Rights". The New York Times. February 16, 1930. Retrieved 2014-11-07. (subscription required (help)). 
  6. ^ Gray, Christopher (July 12, 1998). "Streetscapes: 863 Park Avenue; One of the Oldest Luxury Apartment Houses on Park". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  7. ^ Pace, Eric (June 6, 1993). "Janos Scholz, 89, Cellist, Scholar And Morgan Library Benefactor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  8. ^ Astor's association with House & Garden has been established by a contemporary issue of the magazine, which shows "Mrs. Charles H. Marshall of Ruby Ross Wood, Inc." in the design firm's office. The gossip columnist Cindy Adams stated July 28, 2006, that Astor was fired from her position at House & Garden and also worked briefly as a secretary to the American decorator Dorothy Draper.
  9. ^ "Part III: Vincent, the Astor Who Gave Away the Money".  
  10. ^ "Part II: Vincent, the Astor Who Gave Away the Money". New York Social Diary. 29 April 2009. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  11. ^ Wilson, Andrew (6 March 2012). Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. Atria Books.  
  12. ^ Gordon, Meryl (22 October 2009). Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach. Mariner Books.  
  13. ^ One Hundred Eleventh Annual Report of the Trustees The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Fiscal Year July 1, 1980, Through June 30, 1981. Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 19, 1981. 
  14. ^ "Finding aid for the George Trescher records related to The Metropolitan Museum of Art Centennial, 1949, 1960-1971 (bulk 1967-1970)" (PDF). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  15. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  16. ^ a b Berger, Marilyn (August 13, 2007). "Brooke Astor, New York's First Lady of Philanthropy, Dies at 105". The New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2007. Brooke Astor.....died yesterday afternoon at her weekend estate, Holly Hill, in  
  17. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller; Dunlap, David W. (2 May 1985). "New York Day by Day; 2 Honors for Brooke Astor". The New York Times. p. B3. It was a big day for Brooke Astor yesterday. At lunch, she received the Frederick Law Olmsted Award for being wonderful to  
  18. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F. (1 September 2006). "Astor Painting Becomes Focus of Courtroom Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  19. ^ Mason, Christopher (17 November 2008). "The Baby Monitor Diaries".  
  20. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F. (27 November 2007). "Son of Astor Is Said to Face Criminal Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  21. ^ a b "Brooke Astor's son accused of plundering estate".  
  22. ^ John Eligon (30 March 2009). "Jury Selection Begins in Fraud Trial of Brooke Astor's Son". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  23. ^ Eligon, John (8 October 2009). "Brooke Astor's Son Guilty in Scheme to Defraud Her". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  24. ^ Barron, James (21 December 2009). "Brooke Astor's Son Is Sentenced to Prison". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  25. ^ Morgan, Thomas J. (14 October 2009). "Philanthropist Astor's will headed for court challenge, grandson says".  
  26. ^ Vogel, Carol (1 December 2011). "A Brooke Astor Auction Planned by Sotheby's". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  27. ^ "ASTOR, Brooke". The New York Times. 16 August 2007. p. C15. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  28. ^ From the pop standard Young at Heart, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh
  29. ^ Young, Peter (13 August 2007). "Brooke Astor, New York Society Doyenne, Benefactor, Dies at 105".  
  30. ^ "Remembering Brooke Astor". The New York Times. 13 August 2007. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 


See also

Brooke Astor is portrayed as the heroine, Jane Merle, of the romantic comedy Night and Silence: Who is Here? by British novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson.[30]

In fiction

  • Astor, Brooke (1962). Patchwork Child: Early Memories. New York: Random House.  
  • Astor, Brooke (1965). The Bluebird is at Home. New York: Random House.  
  • Astor, Brooke (1980). Footprints. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.  
  • Astor, Brooke (1986). The Last Blossom on the Plum Tree: A Period Piece. New York: St. Martin's Press.  


She is interred in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York. The epitaph on her gravestone, chosen by her, reads: "I had a wonderful life".[29]

Among the organizations who lamented her death included the Lotos Club, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House and the Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Center.

Media coverage

"And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive.
Then here is the best part,
You'll have a head start,
If you are among the very young at heart."[27][28]
from "Young at Heart" by Johnny Richards and Carolyn Leigh

One of Astor's death notices in The New York Times, a paid notice from The Rockefeller University, ended with these lines:

Brooke died at age 105, August 13, 2007, from pneumonia at her home in Briarcliff Manor, New York.[16] She is interred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery next to Vincent.

The grave of Brooke Astor in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Death and interment

November 30, 2011, Sotheby's announced plans for an April 19, 2012, auction of jewelry as well as fine and decorative arts from her Park Avenue apartment and Holly Hill, her Westchester estate.[26]

The trial of Marshall and Morrissey started March 30, 2009, with the jury selection. The judge, Justice A. Kirke Bartley Jr., had originally indicated that the trial could last up to three months.[22] After deliberations that stretched over 12 days and were reportedly marked by bitter disagreements that left one female juror claiming to feel personally threatened, the jury convicted Anthony D. Marshall of one of two charges of grand larceny, the most serious of a number of charges brought against him October 8, 2009. The same jury convicted Francis X. Morrissey Jr. of forgery.[23] In December 2009, Marshall and Morrisey were both sentenced to 1–3 years in prison.[24] Philip C. Marshall, Astor's grandson, said that now that his father has been convicted in the Brooke Astor will case, he expects the will to be contested by various charities.[25]

[21] in plundering her $198 million estate. The most severe charge, grand larceny, carries up to a 25-year sentence.[21]

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