The Last Days of Brooke Astor

Brooke Astor died last year at the age of 105. If you looked at the papers with any regularity in the months that proceeded and followed her passing, you're probably familiar with the controversy involving Astor's son, Anthony Marshall, who was accused of neglecting his dying mother, forcing her to change her will, and plundering her estate. New details surrounding Astor's final days are now emerging with the publication of Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon, several passages from which were excerpted in the Post over the weekend.

While a good deal of info on the scandal came out during the press bonzanza following Astor's death ("proof of the persistence of our voyeuristic fixation on the not-quite-extinct dinosaur, Society Rex," writes Michael Gross), Gordon has some chilling new material, too. Many of the new details come from the journals that were kept by Astor's nurses and aides, who kept tabs on the aged socialite's visits with friends, family members, and shady attorneys thanks to a baby monitor that had been placed in Astor's bedroom. A "portrait of a despairing woman who felt that she had lived too long," the journals recount how Astor was often paranoid and disoriented in her last years, was once dragged down a hallway by her son's lawyers to sign a new will, and had grown frightened of "men in blue suits" who "make me sign things."

The book also highlights just how determined Marshall was to carry on as if nothing had happened. Not long after longtime Astor friend Annette de la Renta filed a petition to remove Brooke Astor from her son's care, he turned up at a Metropolitan Museum of Art board meeting, although few expected him to attend considering de la Renta was vice chair of the board:

On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2006, when the first board meeting since the Astor scandal hit the newspapers was scheduled, the museum staff believed that Tony Marshall would not be attending, since he had not RSVP'd. The assumption was that Tony would be too embarrassed to show his face. So there was a collective gasp when, just as the meeting was beginning, he strode in.

"We thought he did it for shock value," says one museum staffer.

"I debated, 'Should I go or not?' " Tony told me several months later. "I thought, 'Look, I know I'm right. I know the truth, we know the truth. I'm not going to shy away from there. I want to see how people react to my being there.' "

The answer was immediately apparent: He was persona non grata. The museum's director, Philippe de Montebello, recalls, "I averted my eyes, my gaze never met his. Everyone did."

For Tony, walking to his seat was the equivalent of a long day's journey into social death. It was a shunning worthy of Edith Wharton, although Tony lacked the rebelliousness of Lily Bart in "The House of Mirth."

SECRETS ASTOR'S BUTLER HEARD [NYP]
Behind the Brooke Astor Affair [TDB]