Publication Date: October 22, 2009
Brooke Astor lived a rich and adventurous life. In Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon, her twilight years should have been comfortable and uneventful. Instead, as Alzheimer descended, the Centenarian was living under the guardianship of her son, Anthony Marshall, and living in squalor. Her worried grandson approached her dear friends, Annette de la Renta and David Rockefeller for advice and what transpired in the aftermath of that meeting was more than any of them could have imagined.
Let me address the most obvious problem first; the book ends with a statement that as of the writing of the work, the trial goes on. Readers are left to head to Google to find out what happened to Anthony Marshall, who did not share longevity with his mother. Meryl Gordon is a well-respected journalist who interviewed Ambassador Marshall prior to the intervention of her friends to wrest guardianship from him. She had an objective look at the man and his second wife, Charlene, that laid parallel with the impressions of her interviewees.
As with the previously reviewed book by Gordon Phantom of Fifth Avenue, Gordon starts with the early life of Brooke Russell and her marriage as a very young person alleged abusive womanizer, John Dryden Kuser. She considered her next husband, Charles Henry Marshall with whom she produced only child, Anthony Marshall, the love of her life. After Marshall’s death, she quickly married Vincent Astor and though it was a brief marriage ending in his death, it seems to have been a mutually pleasant arrangement. Once Astor was gone, Brooke was a 57-year-old widow with no desire to marry again and an ever-evolving and active social life with a few trusted friends and retainers. Local folks may be interested to know that one of her trusted friends was Freddy Melhado whose first wife was Lydia Buhl was a great-great-granddaughter of Hiram Walker. I’m going to be honest here and say that the first part of the book was reasonably dry. Brooke Astor was a colorful woman but that came mostly from her own account which seemed perhaps whitewashed in reflected memory.
Having met Ambassador Marshall, Gordon seems convinced that he did not consider the machinations that led to his mother’s redirected wealth to be against her interest. Yes, his acquisition of a second wife was coated in controversy, and we hear in Brooke’s own words that she didn’t like the woman, but Ambassador Marshall reads as having been misguided while Charlene was mercenary. Her controlling tendency in the interview with Gordon is a good indicator and personality. Gordon titillates with a reporting of the take of the tabloids but overall her writing style is direct and from an objective standpoint. I found it to be a cautionary tales for people who are caretakers to not stretch the rules whether the motivation is greed or just what they think they can set right that their loved one might regret in reflection of life. David, my now 72-year-old father, had a different perspective. He felt that the manipulation of the son and daughter-in-law were purely motivated by a criminal level of greed. They did, after all, take heirlooms rightly belonging to the Astor family from whom Anthony Marshall was not a descendant. He also felt that once accused, the Marshalls made some really dumb decisions in both legal counsel and public relations which complicated the way that the case was viewed.
The bottom line is that Mrs. Astor Regrets is an interesting read that doesn’t have the payoff ending that one might expect though the result can easily be found through Google search. Mrs. Astor lived to the ripe old age of 105 with the end surrounded by the people she most loved and trusted. If you’re looking for a really interesting and different kind of legal story, pick up Mrs. Astor Regrets today.
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