Since Brooke Astor’s grandson, her powerful friends, and her longtime staff alleged that the 104-year-old philanthropist’s son, Anthony Marshall, and his wife, Charlene, were taking advantage of her failing health, a New York court has removed her from the Marshalls’ care. The Embattled couple tell their side of the scandal.
On Friday, September 29, early on a dark evening, military hero, former C.I.A. officer, and former ambassador to Kenya, the Malagasy Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago Anthony Marshall, 82, sat in the Midtown Manhattan offices of his attorney Kenneth Warner. Dressed smartly in a navy blazer and red tie, Marshall was waiting for his third wife, Charlene, 61, to arrive for a meeting, so that the couple could discuss with Vanity Fair the recent lurid press stories that have accused them of abusively neglecting his 104-year-old mother, the iconic New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, and of enriching themselves with income from her assets. The allegations include forcing Mrs. Astor to sleep on a urine-soaked sofa, skimping on her medicines and clothes, and locking up her beloved dachshunds in a room away from her. Such images are especially startling considering that Mrs. Astor is famous for her wealth, her taste and elegance, her good manners, and her generosity in doling out nearly $200 million to New York charities.
The allegations were made principally by one of Anthony’s twin sons, Philip, 53, a professor of historic preservation at Roger Williams University, in Rhode Island, and they were supported by giant figures in New York society: Annette de la Renta, wife of the designer Oscar and for years the great friend and protegee of Mrs. Astor; another good friend of hers, financier David Rockefeller; and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger-all of whom in mid-July signed affidavits recommending that de la Renta be appointed Mrs. Astor’s personal guardian. De la Renta, ordinarily press-shy in the extreme, said in an affidavit that she felt that the Marshalls had deprived Mrs. Astor of things that gave her pleasure: visits from friends; getting her hair done; fresh flowers; and summer stays at her Westchester residence, Holly Hill, where, she has told people, she wants to die.
Within 24 hours of receiving the petition and affidavits, Justice John Stackhouse of New York’s Supreme Court granted de la Renta temporary guardianship of Mrs. Astor and J. P. Morgan Chase temporary guardianship of her assets. Susan Robbins, Mrs. Astor’s court-appointed lawyer, had questioned the authenticity of Mrs. Astor’s signature on at least one codicil to her 2002 will, and raised the issue of whether she knew what she was signing on two others. It has also emerged that the two latest codicils were worked on by a lawyer with a questionable past, one Francis X. Morrissey, 63, an acquaintance of the Marshalls’. Morrissey was suspended from the bar in 1995 for an unauthorized withdrawal of $960,000 from a client’s account. (Morrissey was reinstated to the bar in 1998.) Subsequently he has been accused of “undue influence and fraud” in the execution of wills of elderly clients who left him valuable real estate and artworks. (Morrissey has denied any wrongdoing.) On October 13 a settlement was reached in which Annette de la Renta’s role as guardian and J. P. Morgan Chase’s as financial steward became permanent. Although Anthony and Charlene admitted no wrongdoing, they agreed to pay $1.35 million to the estate and also post substantial collateral to cover future claims. In return the bank agreed not to sue to recover millions of dollars’ worth of assets it believes were improperly obtained, and other legal claims will be put on hold until after Mrs. Astor’s death.
The settlement may calm the waters for now, but as Charlene put it a few days after the settlement, “There will be a battle royal when Brooke Astor dies.”
Anthony Marshall, or “Tony,” as he is generally known, says he was as shocked as anyone to learn of Morrissey’s unsavory history when it was recounted in the press in early August. He also says he had no inkling that his son Philip and Annette de la Renta were making accusations against him until the court removed him in July as his mother’s guardian. His narrative of last summer goes like this: “On July 24, I was up at Cove End (Brooke Astor’s $5.5 million Maine compound, which was given to him in 2003 and which he gave to his wife six months later) when we learned that my mother had been hospitalized.” Immediately, the couple flew to New York, where they found her in Lenox Hill Hospital. Tony left instructions to be notified should there be any change in her condition.
Tony was astonished, therefore, to walk into the hospital room on July 29 and find his mother gone. All the flowers people had sent had also been removed. Except for one vase of pink roses. The ones he had given her.
After talking with the doorman at his mother’s building, at 778 Park Avenue, he discovered that she had been taken the day before to Holly Hill and that de la Renta had organized the whole operation. (De la Renta’s spokesperson says that she had nothing to do with the removal of flowers from the hospital and that she did not go there that day.) Tony drove out to Holly Hill with his wife. En route Charlene, who has short ash-blond hair, received a phone call from one of her daughters, in Maine. The daughter was pregnant, and she said the stress of being pestered by the press had made her cramp and spot blood. Her mother advised her to get to a hospital immediately. At the gates of Holly Hill, the press was waiting, and flashbulbs popped as Tony and Charlene asked permission to be let into his mother’s house. There they encountered several staff they had fired, including Chris Ely, the chief butler, who had given an affidavit supporting Philip’s allegations. The couple went into Mrs. Astor’s sunroom, where Philip, tall and thin like his father, greeted them. Unlike his father, Philip prefers casual attire-T-shirts, sandals, and shapeless slacks. Tony says Philip patted his leg. “Ordinarily it would have been a gesture of sympathy, courage,” Tony says. “(But under the circumstances) it made me want to … ” He trails off, his eyes blazing with fury.
Father and son had seen each other only a handful of times over the past decade. On one of these occasions, at Philip’s twin brother’s wedding in Vermont in 1995, Tony claims, Philip had leaned over and whispered, “You know the annual gift a father can give a son has been raised from $10,000 to $11,000.” (Philip says, “I certainly wouldn’t have said this, especially since he has never given me more than a couple of hundred dollars for birthdays or Christmas, so I wouldn’t expect it.”) Tony also claims that Philip later asked what was in his grandmother’s will for him, to which Tony replied a minimum of a million dollars. After that, Tony says, Philip “acted strangely” and broke off all contact. According to Philip, he met with his father and Charlene in 2004. When discussions came to Mrs. Astor’s will, Charlene stepped in to do the talking. “Charlene said that my grandmother had originally left Alec (Philip’s twin brother) and me $10,000 each.” She then informed Philip that his father had been able to change Mrs. Astor’s will so that he and his brother would get a million dollars each. Philip wonders, “How could my father have changed my grandmother’s will, especially since she was clearly not capable of making such decisions on her own?
“This was particularly amazing,” he continues, “since, in early 2001, my father told me that my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a fact he had also shared with my grandmother’s lawyer, butler, and then secretary.” (The Marshalls say that Astor was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.)
“If my goal were to inherit money,” Philip adds, “I would have never instigated this petition. I risk a lot in doing so, including being cut off by my father.”
According to one person who knows him, Tony is a bit of a Prince Charles-like figure, who has lived in the shadow of his formidable mother. (Tony says, “I was purposefully in her shadow when it came to the foundation, but otherwise not at all.”) About two years ago, after her health declined dramatically, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Around that time her will was amended so that he would inherit almost all of her assets. (Tony says, “My mother ran her own staff and affairs until 2004, but in the last two years she got more infirm physically and, as her power of attorney and son, I have had to help her.”)
Furthermore, it was reported this summer, a painting that was perhaps Mrs. Astor’s most prized possession, Childe Hassam’s Flags, Fifth Avenue, which she had bought in 1970 for $172,010 and which hung above the fireplace in the library of her Park Avenue apartment, had been sold by Tony for $10 million in 2002. He took a $2 million “commission” on the sale and says his mother authorized him to proceed with it.
The New York tabloids had a field day alleging that Marshall’s bad behavior had been egged on by Charlene, the former wife of an Episcopalian minister. She has been portrayed as a greedy, gaudy creature, even referred to as “Lady Macbeth,” and she drew sharp criticism for wearing her mother-in-law’s dazzling emerald necklace to the 2003 Tony Awards.
Since the story broke, Tony says, he and his wife have received death threats and horrible phone calls at three in the morning. The New York Post’s Cindy Adams sent them a copy of a column she wrote criticizing them, they claim, over which she scrawled “thieves.” (Adams flatly denies this.) Tony found himself locked out of his offices in his mother’s apartment and had to go to court to obtain access to his own computer.
When Charlene, dressed simply in a black sweater and pencil skirt, finally arrived for our interview, apologizing that she had been stuck in other meetings, her eyes were red, and she was clearly distraught. She ignored everyone else in the room and made straight for her husband, who leapt up to hug her. “I love you,” he said. “You’ve had a really hard day. I can tell.” She nodded. Tony turned to me, and with pride in his voice that one seldom hears in a man who has been married to the same woman for 17 years, he said, “I would like you to meet my wife, Charlene.”
“Being a Wasp, we don’t talk about these things,” says Carter Peabody, an old friend of the Astor family’s. He did, however, say that he liked Tony Marshall and really could not understand how this mess had come to be. It was a sentiment shared by many in his set.
At the center of it all is Brooke Astor, the philanthropic doyenne of New York society for the past four decades. Her only real rival was Jackie Onassis’s great friend Jayne Wrightsman, 87, who by comparison is considered something of a lightweight in that she gives mostly to a few select arts institutions, such as the Hermitage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Astor Foundation under Brooke, on the other hand, gave to hundreds of worthy causes, such as the New York Public Library and the Coalition for the Homeless. Dressed in her trademark hat, gloves, and pearls, Mrs. Astor personally visited all those institutions to which her foundation gave money, and the people involved with them usually took that as a great compliment.
Brooke Astor was, however, also a narcissist, obsessed with fashion and her own image, and a self-confessed lousy mother. Her 1980 memoir, Footprints, is remarkable in many aspects, not the least of which is how little it mentions her only child. She herself was an only child, raised in Beijing, where her father, John Russell, was a Marine officer. The family was not rich, but they were genteel, and she never knew life without a staff. Tony was the product of an unhappy first marriage, entered into when Brooke was only 16, to Dryden Kuser, a Princeton grad who came from what Brooke’s mother called a “nouveau riche” family. After Dryden displayed problems with alcohol and philandering, Brooke divorced him, but continued to live a comfortable lifestyle, thanks to the generosity of her mother-in-law-though, she notes wryly in her autobiography, had she been older and less naive she might have thought about asking for more in the settlement.
She soon met a married stockbroker, Charles “Buddie” Marshall, 12 years her senior. In her memoir she wrote that she cut off all contact with Buddie for two years on her father’s advice because Buddie was married with two children. Ivan Obolensky, 82, from a famous Russian aristocratic family and also an Astor nephew, says, “(Buddie’s wife) Alice was no ball of fire and Brooke swiped him away.”
Brooke and Buddie married in 1932 and made their home in a Manhattan penthouse at 10 Gracie Square and later in Tyringham, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. Brooke took a job at House & Garden magazine, where one of her great pleasures was styling places that seemed gloomy and hopeless. The couple also bought a castello in Italy and spent much time touring Europe. Brooke recalled that Tony, who later adopted his stepfather’s surname, was sometimes present on such travels, and when he was 11, he was sent to boarding school. At 17, Tony signed up to join the Marines and distinguished himself in the Battle of Iwo Jima. “Most of his colleagues did not survive that fight,” says one of his friends. Tony was awarded a Purple Heart, among other medals.
In 1952, Buddie Marshall suddenly died, at age 62. Brooke wrote that she dealt with her grief by keeping busy, but her finances were shaky, and she knew she would have to sell the Tyringham house. Within a year, however, she had married the very wealthy Vincent Astor, who proposed while he was still married to his second wife. Obolensky describes Brooke’s appeal to Vincent: “She was cheery. She had a penchant for whistling. She’d go around the party, and she was a great whistler. Unbelievable. She’d whistle lieder. She was very cultured, and she was funny. And she’d giggle. It was exactly what a lugubrious, difficult man (like Vincent Astor) likes.”
Vincent, the son of millionaire inventor John Jacob Astor IV, had multiplied his sizable inheritance through investing in real estate and various other business ventures, including Newsweek magazine. Brooke admitted that the marriage, which lasted five and a half years, until Vincent’s death in 1959, was not without its hardships. Vincent, who suffered from cardiac disease, was willful and possessive. “Soon after we were married, I discovered that Vincent was extremely jealous. He was jealous of my old friends I lost many friends forever,” she recalled. “Worst of all, he was jealous of Tony. Tony was not happy in his own life at that time, so this was very hard on me.” When Vincent died, though, a new world opened up for her. He left $60 million to the Vincent Astor charitable foundation, of which Brooke would be president. Another $60 million made up the Vincent Astor Trust, which he designated for her life benefit. She could do with it as she pleased and she had “general power of appointment,” meaning she could leave it to anyone she chose upon her death.
To get it, though, she had to face down a legal challenge by Jack Astor, Vincent’s half-brother. Traditionally, the Astors passed money through their male heirs. “My grandfather’s will states that the long-held money (the Vincent Astor Trust) was to be passed to his son, then his son,” says Jackie Drexel, Jack’s daughter, now in her 50s. But according to a family relative, Jack chose to contest the will, for the benefit of his children, by claiming that the marriage to Brooke was unconsummated, and by questioning Vincent’s mental competence. “There were much stronger ways he could have contested it,” says Jackie. Ivan Obolensky says that he might have received some of the money, but that he refused to join in Jack Astor’s lawsuit. “Even if I wanted to rock (the boat), do you think I’d rock it on the same side with Jack Astor?” says Obolensky, who explains that he despised Jack for being a draft dodger. Brooke hired the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, and a lawyer there named David Peck won the case for her. “He became my knight in shining armor,” she wrote, and she retained Sullivan & Cromwell ever after-until 2004, that is.
For her third act, Brooke did not dwell on being Vincent Astor’s widow, but honed her own legend, rather to the annoyance of the surviving Astors. “She had a publicist (George Trescher) work on her image,” says Jackie Drexel dryly. “She was not afraid to be in the press.” The columnist Liz Smith recalls, “George Trescher was a genius at opinion- and image-making, and Brooke adored him and relied on him more than anyone else to guide her. It was George who would tell her which institutions and people were worth her attention and which were not. He told her to cultivate me, for example, and that’s how we became friends! He taught her how to be media-savvy.”
Obolensky was livid when the New York Public Library main hallway was named not after Vincent but after Brooke. “In that big hall there was the commemoration to Brooke,” says Obolensky. “She forgot she was Mrs. Astor. What she did was to completely put poor Vincent in a kiosk relegated to this little latrine.”
Yet, there was something about Brooke that set her apart from the crowd. “She was somehow 20 feet higher than everyone else,” says someone who knew her. “It was the wit, charm, the intensity, the fun. There was simply no one like her.” When she gave her late husband’s money away, she did it in style, personally and intensely. A poem she wrote, which I came across in the legal papers, displays her resolve and optimism. It is called “Discipline.” There is no date on it and it is not attached to any other documents.
I am old and I have had
more than my share of good and bad.
I’ve had love and sorrow, seen sudden death
and been left alone and of love bereft.
I thought I would never love again
and I thought my life was grief and pain.
The edge between life and death was thin,
but then I discovered discipline.
I learned to smile when I felt sad,
I learned to take the good and bad,
I learned to care a great deal more
for the world about me than before.
I began to forget the “Me” and “I”
and joined in life as it rolled by;
this may not mean sheer ecstasy
but is better by far than “I” and “Me.”
Brooke appealed to people from all walks of life. An Englishwoman named Daphne Riley was employed to manage her Smythson diary, known to some as “the red book” (although sometimes they were blue, according to Tony). Whatever their color, they were big-“several inches long and several inches wide,” according to a friend, and packed with engagements from morning until night. Riley says she loved the work because “we had been friends for many, many years.” It was a sentiment echoed by many of those on Brooke’s staff (some of whom called her “Mama” as she got older), and it was reciprocated. “Mrs. Astor made me promise that I would stay with her the rest of her life,” says Marciano Amaral, her Portuguese chauffeur of 10 years. Amaral, to whom Brooke lent a New York apartment, promised he would. “It was a very solemn moment,” he recalls. Even her lawyers became her friends. As Peck got older he was succeeded on the Vincent Astor Foundation board by Henry Ess, also of Sullivan & Cromwell, who in turn was replaced by Henry “Terry” Christensen III, another partner in that firm. All three men were invited to her weekend homes. “What she wanted to know was whether or not someone was really worth knowing because they were sufficiently cultured,” says a close friend.
With such a powerhouse of a mother, it was small wonder, perhaps, that Tony appeared “totally intimidated,” as Obolensky puts it. In 1977, Tony returned to America after serving in the diplomatic corps in Africa and the Caribbean, and spent two years trying out various consulting jobs. In 1979, his mother asked him to help her manage her office, and the next year she granted him power of attorney, jointly with Henry Ess and later Terry Christensen. Tony, who cites his financial experience at the investment house of Tucker, Anthony & R. L. Day (subsequently acquired by John Hancock), says he was horrified when he looked at the books. The trust had shrunk to $29 million.
At first, Tony was paid $50,000 a year to fix the situation-and he did. The trust is now worth $82 million-or, as he points out, it was on July 24, when it was taken from his control. Tony denies that he relied on anyone else to manage his mother’s money. “At one point,” he says with great pride, “I was invested in 12 different funds. One was doing really well in gas but terribly in health care, so I pulled out, and the manager of the fund told me he’d have done the same thing.” A friend of Brooke’s says, “I don’t think he was an actual investment adviser, but he did keep the banks on their toes.”
The mother-son relationship was always odd and frustrating to both. “On the one hand she was grateful for everything he did for her; on the other hand she wanted him to be his own person,” says a friend. Because he was Brooke Astor’s son, few people gave him any credit for accomplishments of his own. “He couldn’t paddle a canoe,” says Obolensky. “All things were set in motion by Brooke.”
Tony had twin sons, Philip and Alec, with his first wife, Elizabeth Cryan, a woman from Philadelphia whom he had wed in 1947. It was not a happy marriage, and when they divorced, the boys were seven. Eventually they moved with their mother to Massachusetts. Since Tony was abroad much of the time during this period, they saw little of him when they were growing up. In 1962, he married his secretary, Thelma Hoegnell, or “Tee,” as she was known. They divorced in the late 1980s. Although he had inherited some money from his grandfather Kuser, Tee’s alimony was substantial, and she kept the couple’s suite in Manhattan’s Carlyle hotel. One person says Brooke owned this; Tony says he did.
In the late 80s, Tony met Charlene Gilbert, the lively wife of the Reverend Paul Gilbert, of Northeast Harbor’s St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea church, which Brooke attended when she was at Cove End. “In fact, Brooke introduced us,” says Tony. When asked what attracted him to Charlene, he replies, “Chemistry,” and then delivers a paean to his wife’s energy. Charlene smiles and says, “He is my soul mate. I was in a bad marriage, and then I met the person I was meant to be with.”
When Charlene realized that she’d fallen for Tony, she believed she had no option but to leave Northeast Harbor. “My husband couldn’t exactly leave his parishioners, so I had to go.” She moved into what she calls a New York “studio” and Tony calls a “ratty hole.”
“I want to make one thing clear: I did not abandon my three children (Robert, Inness, and Arden),” Charlene says. “I had to be the one to leave because it was his parish.” She got joint custody and says she spent the next few months attending “every soccer game, every ballet exhibition,” in which the two children who were still in school participated. “I was on the plane to Bar Harbor all the time,” she says. (In the 1990s, Paul Gilbert became rector of St. John’s of Lattingtown, in Locust Valley, New York, where he caused his own scandal, by leaving his second wife, Patricia, for a parishioner. He is now a pastor in South Carolina. When contacted by Vanity Fair, he did not want to talk about his first wife.)
Brooke was perfectly polite to her new daughter-in-law, giving her a ring when she married Tony and inviting the couple to Cove End for dinner. Charlene says that-contrary to an earlier report in this magazine-Brooke did indeed attend the 1999 wedding of Charlene’s daughter, Inness. But Brooke also set boundaries, and few people thought she was fond of Charlene. According to Alicia Johnson, the housekeeper at Cove End, when Charlene became friendly with Martha Stewart (who also has a house in Maine) and invited her over for dinner, Brooke suddenly discovered another engagement, and the group had to dine at one of the cottages on the property, not in the main house.
Brooke’s staff actively disliked Charlene. Alicia Johnson claims that she is the type to go to the local diner and pocket the ketchup packets off the table. (Charlene responds, “That’s ludicrous. Alicia Johnson is a disgruntled former employee.”)
Inevitably, as Brooke got older she became more dependent on her son. She was particularly anxious about her finances, even though she received about $2 million a year from the interest on her capital, and there was always the money in the trust if she needed to dip into it. “She grew more and more worried about money, even though she didn’t need to,” says a person who knew her. Another says she used to joke, “I am the nouveau pauvre.” Tony recalls he used to banter with her, “‘Mother, you’ll be fine. Just don’t buy a plane.’ I said that because David Rockefeller had a plane.”
Still, there was friction between mother and son about expenditures, according to the staff. “I remember one time she told Chris Ely (the butler) to buy presents for her grandchildren and Tony complained,” says a former member of the staff, who also says that Brooke once said as a joke to her son, “Is it O.K. if I buy a pair of shoes, Tony?” (“Almost certainly my mother would have told Chris Ely to buy presents for the great-grandchildren (not grandchildren) and I would have never complained about it,” Tony responds. He denies the shoe incident happened.)
In 2002, Tony proposed selling the Hassam painting to Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters. Peters had seen the painting at Manhattan’s Adelson Galleries, where it was on loan, and expressed interest in buying it. Tony says he went back to his mother, who asked how much Peters was offering. The figure turned out to be $10 million. Tony says he checked around with the auction houses and discovered that this amount was several million more than any other Hassam had ever sold for (which is true). “Great,” he says his mother said. “Sell it. I’ll put my father’s portrait up there.” Tony adds, “She told me, ‘I am going to give you a $2 million commission, but you’re going to have to pay taxes.'” He challenges those who doubt his account: “Find me one person who says she doesn’t prefer having a picture of General Russell hanging in that spot.” A friend of Brooke’s believes that she did not include the painting in a new will she made in 2002, and approved the sale.
Tony did not help his own credibility, however, when he suddenly came forward last September, after the press had run stories about the sale of the painting. Now he admitted that an error was made in his mother’s 2002 tax return, overstating by more than $7 million the price she had originally paid for the painting, and thereby underpaying the capital-gains taxes by roughly a million dollars. Tony says that erroneous filing was made by the accountants and was only just pointed out by him to J. P. Morgan Chase, when the bank handed over financial documents this summer. “When the tax returns came before me at the time, I took a look at it, and I saw the accountant’s signature, so I just signed, which is what a lot of people do,” he says. Ironically, Peters later sold the painting for between $20 and $25 million to a private investor.
Already in the mid-1990s an incident had occurred that Brooke’s Maine neighbor Susan Lyall says shocked her. Lyall wanted to buy August Moon, a parcel of the Maine property that Brooke wanted to get rid of. Lyall says Brooke told her that the price was just over $1 million, less than Lyall had expected. As they walked the land together, Brooke explained that she wanted Lyall to have it at a good price because she understood conservation. When they returned to Cove End, they encountered Tony, and Brooke told him about the planned sale. To Lyall’s embarrassment he got very irritated and said, “No, that’s the price before estate agents’ fees and taxes and so on.” He wanted an extra $800,000. Lyall says that Brooke later rang her up and said, “No, I want you to have the land at the price I first mentioned.” (Tony says, “August Moon was eventually sold for just over $1 million in the end. I didn’t get into the haggling.”)
“There’s no polite way of saying it: the Marshalls are a little cheap,” says someone who has dealt with their Delphi Productions company, a theatrical joint venture the couple formed in 2003 with producer David Richenthal. It operated, at Tony’s suggestion, from offices on the first floor of his mother’s apartment. Their first production was the highly praised, Tony Award-winning 2003 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy. Alice Perdue, 59, who worked for a decade for Brooke, paying the bills, told The New York Times that starting in 2003 Tony had asked her to write checks totaling about $900,000 to Delphi-a departure from previous expenses she had been covering. “Things changed when Mrs. Astor broke her hip for the second time in 2003,” Perdue told the Times. “Mr. and Mrs. Marshall got aggressive about taking over then.”
Closely involved with Delphi was Francis X. Morrissey, the soft-spoken, silver-haired lawyer, whom Charlene had known in Maine. There he had acted as a trustee for Seal Harbor resident Anne Hilde Huston, who bequeathed her 29-acre property to him. It has been reported also that Huston’s childhood friend Elisabeth Von Knapitsch left him her Park Avenue apartment, two Renoir paintings, two Guillemain paintings, and cash. (Von Knapitsch had initially left him her entire $15 million estate, but the court public administrator accused Morrissey of using undue influence, and the case was settled.) Another Morrissey client, the economist Sam Schurr, changed his will the day before he died, at age 83, in 2002, to leave Morrissey his Manhattan apartment, a drawing by Diego Rivera, and $300,000 in cash. Schurr’s nephew challenged the will, and Morrissey was again accused of using “undue influence,” taking advantage of an elderly client’s mental state. That case, too, was settled, and Morrissey has denied any wrongdoing in both.
Marciano Amaral, Brooke Astor’s chauffeur, says he did not like Morrissey. “He’d deliver cupcakes for her with the price tag on them,” he recalls. “Fortunately, the staff had more sense than to give them to Mrs. Astor-she’d have had a fit at such lack of refinement.”
In 2000, Philip Marshall says, his grandmother told him she wanted him, his wife, and their two children to have a cottage on the Maine property. He had begun visiting her in recent years, and because they were both interested in art and history, they got on. Brooke also thought his children well behaved, says a friend of hers, although ordinarily she did not like children. (She had less in common with his twin, Alec, a photographer.) According to Philip, “Apparently my grandmother followed through to the extent of talking with Terry Christensen and my father after she got back to New York City. My father called me in September (2000) to convince me that the house would be a burden to us, we would have to pay the taxes and maintenance, and, anyway, we could use it any time we want to come up to visit. Understanding the reality of the situation, I told my father that was fine with us.”
But the idea stuck with Brooke, according to several on her staff. In 2003, a chef employed by Mrs. Astor recalls, Philip and his family were asked to dinner, and “Mama” wanted a special meal, to celebrate giving Philip the property in Maine. Then, says the chef, Tony and Charlene were told about it, and the dinner was canceled just hours before it was supposed to occur. (The Marshalls deny this.)
Tony claims that Brooke decided to give him Cove End in 2003, along with a gift of $5 million to “provide for” Charlene. “Had Philip showed any interest, I would have given him a cottage,” says Tony, “but he never came down, saying he preferred to go to the Adirondacks, where his wife’s family had property.” Philip says that this is not true and that he visited Cove End every summer. A good friend of Brooke’s claims that Tony was all too aware that his mother did not want Charlene to inherit anything of hers when Tony died. “Cove End was given to him on the understanding it would be passed on to his children,” says the friend. Tony denies this, and six months after his mother gave it to him, he gave it to his wife.
In January 2004, Terry Christensen was fired out of the blue and effectively replaced with Morrissey. Amaral and people around Brooke were shocked that she would agree to this move. “She loved Terry. He was a good friend,” says the former chauffeur. Christensen, an elegant man who is highly respected for his work in trusts and estate planning, was stunned and frightened for Brooke, says a colleague. A document included among legal papers suggests that he subsequently told Marshall of his low opinion of Morrissey and to be careful.
In 2003 and 2004, Brooke Astor’s will was amended with three codicils. The first, the only one supervised by Terry Christensen, authorized Tony to distribute 49 percent of the Vincent Astor Trust to charities of his choosing, provided he took no fee and any money remaining at his death went to charity. (The 2002 will had stated the money was to go directly to charity.) The second codicil made Tony the sole executor of his mother’s estate and the recipient of all assets remaining after bequests and obligations. (In her 2002 will the executor responsibilities were to be shared with Sullivan & Cromwell, and her assets were to be put in a special trust for Tony, who would receive an income of 7 percent of the total value every year until his death. Thereafter the capital would go to charities she had chosen.) Tony, after becoming executor, named his wife and Morrissey as co-executors. (He removed Morrissey in August of this year.) According to the third codicil, upon Brooke’s death the executor was to sell her real estate, including the Park Avenue apartment. (The will had previously stated that the real estate should simply be given to Tony.) Susan Robbins, Astor’s court-appointed lawyer, claimed in legal papers that the latter two codicils drastically changed the “basic spirit” of the will. She also claimed that “something is amiss with (Astor’s) signature” in the last codicil, and requested that handwriting experts analyze it. After Tony’s lawyers resisted, the court ordered the tests, which are still pending as of this writing. When asked about the changes, the Marshalls say they cannot comment on the will or on Robbins’s allegations. Kenneth Warner, Tony Marshall’s attorney, says it is outrageous that Robbins has discussed the will in public.
As Brooke was seen in public less and less, Charlene sometimes appeared wearing Brooke’s famous jewels. When Charlene ran up onstage to collect the 2003 Tony Award for best revival, she wore Brooke’s dazzling emeralds. “They were quite something,” says one observer wryly. At the next year’s Tony ceremony, when Delphi won for best play with I Am My Own Wife, Charlene wore a diamond necklace of Brooke’s known as “the snowflakes.” When asked about the jewelry, Charlene explains, “I knew we might win for Long Day’s Journey into Night, so I asked Brooke if I could borrow something. She said, ‘Here, have the emeralds … but I want them back the next day,’ so I brought them back. The next year, I went to her again and said, ‘I don’t think we are going to win, but I’d love to wear something great,’ so this time she lent me the snowflakes. I took them back, but this time she said, ‘Keep them. I never wear them,’ so I did.”
By this time Brooke’s mental competence and Charlene’s increasing influence in the household were becoming regular topics of conversation among the staff. Some say that every time they asked Tony for something they were referred to Charlene, who was noticeably penny-pinching. (Tony responds: “The staff had charge accounts. They could get what they wanted at any time without asking anyone, and I certainly did not have to ask Charlene.”) One by one, they were fired. Zorida Santana, the chef, returned from maternity leave to be told there was no need for her services, since Mrs. Astor could no longer afford them. In August 2005, Marciano Amaral went on vacation and returned to similar news, with the added twist that he had only 30 days to vacate his apartment. He was shocked. “Mrs. Astor had always said I could stay as long as I needed,” says Amaral. He adds, “Tony Marshall didn’t have the courage to face me.” The secretary Alice Perdue was fired, along with another secretary, Noemie. Amid all this cost-cutting, Tony’s compensation for managing Brooke’s finances increased in 2005 from $450,000 a year to $2 million, according to J. P. Morgan Chase. Tony’s lawyers responded that the $2 million was a one-time payment, and that the bank has demonstrated “unremitting hostility,” motivated by the fees it might collect.
In February 2005 the butler Chris Ely was fired, which was seen by the rest of the staff as a turning point. Holly Hill was closed up. “Chris was the one person who had influence over Mrs. Astor-who could gainsay Mr. Marshall,” says one staff member. (Tony responds, “We let certain staff go-I wouldn’t say they were fired-and all staff, except Marciano, who had both a free apartment and nothing to do for a year before he was let go, were replaced.”)
Ely was so upset, he went to Annette de la Renta and David Rockefeller, who held a meeting with Tony. In her affidavit de la Renta writes that she asked repeatedly for two air purifiers to be put in Brooke’s room, and since it was never done, she had to purchase them herself. (Charlene says, “We were looking into getting her the right kind of purifier and were talking it through with one of the nurses when Annette de la Renta rushed out and bought one.”)
Philip was also hearing reports from the nurses and staff that worried him greatly. Ely had already told him he was forced to use his own money to buy such basics as slippers, electric blankets, and face creams. Now Philip heard reports about skimping on medications, including Procrit, which treats anemia. (Marshall strongly denies this.)
De la Renta and Rockefeller agreed to sign affidavits supporting Philip’s petition to remove his father as Brooke’s guardian. A spokesperson for de la Renta says she did not inform Marshall because she feared he would fire the remaining members of the staff who had also signed affidavits in support of the petition.
In the October 13 settlement, removing Tony permanently from his mother’s financial and health affairs, he agreed not only to pay the estate $1.35 million, but also to return a painting by Andrew Wyeth, jewelry, and a grandfather clock to serve as collateral against future legal claims. His yacht, General Russell, has also been designated for that purpose. Charlene was made to transfer back to Tony the ownership of Cove End, so it can be similarly used. A few days after the settlement, Charlene tells me, “We feel very relieved this is over for now. The important point is that the money we are returning is not ‘taken’ money or ‘stolen’ money, but money for collateral, in case of future disputes. The things are presents given to us since 1992. They are in the will, and we expect to get it all back.”
When asked about his feelings toward his son, Tony says, “Charlene says we should feel sorry for Philip. That’s too generous. Alec wrote me about three weeks ago, and I wrote back explicitly laying out in great detail what we were going through, so Philip must know. I am very relieved that the settlement has taken place, but I stick with what I said once before, that I was wounded in Iwo Jima, and my wounds healed, but the wounds Philip inflicted on me will never heal.”
Charlene adds, “I had a phone call Sunday evening from one of the nurses, who has just been let go. She told me that when Philip recently visited Holly Hill and asked for something to eat and drink, Chris Ely lit into him and refused. So their little happy unit is already beginning to implode.” (Philip says, “That sounds really weird. I don’t know where she got that idea.”)
“Given my grandmother’s health and the care she is getting,” says Philip, “any talk of a will contest is premature. That said, we remain vigilant about respecting her wishes and legacy, especially as they involve her love of New York.”