New York contributing editor Gordon interviewed more than 230 people to craft this readable soap opera about a wealthy family wracked by greed and animosity.
In 2006, the affairs of Brooke Astor splashed across tabloid front pages when her grandson Philip accused his father, Anthony Marshall, of elder abuse and sued to have him removed as the New York philanthropist’s guardian. Within months, Astor’s only child was charged with swindling millions from his 104-year-old mother’s estate. Lawyer Francis X. Morrisey Jr., who frequently escorted Mrs. Astor to benefits and parties, allegedly conspired with Tony Marshall to induce his mother to change her will to give Tony $60 million earmarked for charity. The heroes in this sordid tale are the hired help, who saw that the aging social arbiter was being taking advantage of and said so. “I was employed by Brooke Astor—my loyalty was to her,” said butler Chris Ely, who hinted to his boss’s friend David Rockefeller that things were awry. Taking us deep inside Mrs. Astor’s world, from her 14-room apartment at 778 Park Avenue and her 75-acre estate in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., to the board rooms of the Metropolitan Museum and other charities, the author describes the final dementia-wracked days of this beguiling, white-gloved narcissist, who died in 2007. She outlived three husbands (including Vincent Astor, who left her a fortune), disliked son Tony, a Broadway producer who managed her finances, and loathed his wife Charlene. Her affection went to grandsons Philip and Alec, both disappointments to their father. Readers will be saddened by the despair and paranoia of the philanthropist’s last days, cheer at the love and concern of her friends and take perverse pleasure in watching Tony ostracized at a charity event and forced to economize by firing his chauffeur and driving his own Toyota Prius. With the criminal case against her son and the challenges to her will yet to be resolved, Mrs. Astor lies in a Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., cemetery. Her headstone reads, “I had a wonderful life.”
Juicy account of a shocking scandal.