Glimpses of Astor’s Living Conditions Are Provided to Judge
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
In a bedroom closet, eight pink nightgowns hang, flanked by a blue one on the right. Not a wrinkle is evident. Thirteen books, mostly hardcover, are stacked beside the canopy bed. Faded photographs share table space with more recent ones. In the living room and den, there is no shortage of places to sit, although visitors rarely fill the floral-patterned chairs and sofas any more.
These are among the views visible in several photographs that lawyers for Brooke Astor’s only son, Anthony Marshall, offered as exhibits to a state judge yesterday in an effort to show that the 104-year-old philanthropist lives in a manner that reflects her wealth and social standing.
Somewhere between the lace and the staff of nurses and attendants, a grandson of Mrs. Astor’s says, she went neglected.
The grandson, Philip Marshall, accused his father in court papers filed in July of skimping on Mrs. Astor’s needs. The papers allege that Mrs. Astor, the inheritor of one of America’s most famous fortunes, wore a tattered nightgown and slept on a couch that smelled of dog urine.
Lawyers for both sides have been studying her apartment and possessions as closely as detectives would a crime scene. The temporary guardian over Mrs. Astor’s apartment, J.P. Morgan Chase, has changed the locks, effectively keeping out Mr. Marshall.
In a letter with ransom-note overtones, a lawyer who represents Mrs. Astor’s temporary guardian, Paul Saunders wrote another attorney on Tuesday: “I am in possession of one of Mrs. Astor’s nightgowns, face cream and tights. Please let me know if you wish to inspect them.” The letter is included in the court filing.
Mr. Marshall’s attorney, Kenneth Warner, wrote that whatever Mr. Saunders had in his possession was inconsequential. Even if the nightgown was torn, the items were “meaningless in isolation,” Mr. Warner wrote to the court Wednesday.
She “owned an exquisite wardrobe of lovely clothing and plentiful accoutremonts of daily living,” Mr. Warner wrote.
Noting that most of Mrs. Astor’s wardrobe had been moved with her to her Westchester estate, Mr. Warner told The New York Sun yesterday: “There are plenty of people who have nine nightgowns, and that holds them permanently. For Brooke Astor, it was a small fraction of what she had. The allegation that she was being kept with inadequate clothing is just absurd.”
Clothing aside, Mr. Warner said that Mrs. Astor has been well cared for in recent years as extreme old age took her out of the public’s eye.
“There was a staff of at least 9 different people in the household to serve her — 2 registered nurses, 2 nurses’ aides, a head housekeeper and 2 more to clean the apartment, a weekday cook and a weekend cook,” Mr. Warner wrote. “All for a woman who recently has been largely sedentary.”
A spokesman for Philip Marshall, Fraser Seitel, declined to comment on the condition of Mrs. Astor’s apartment or her belongings.
“We don’t intend to answer to every point with a point by point rebuttal,” he said. “The court will substantiate the accuracy and the truth of the issues raised in the petition.”
Philip Marshall has sought to have his father removed as Mrs. Astor’s guardian.
Last week, the judge in the case, John Stackhouse, released an order that authorized the temporary guardian over Mrs. Astor’s property, J.P. Morgan Chase, to do certain renovations on Mrs. Astor’s apartment, including replacing the couch that allegedly smelled of urine. In his letter to Judge Stackhouse, Mr. Warner asked the judge to rescind that order to allow the condition of the couch to be available as evidence for a trial in the guardianship proceeding.
Mr. Warner also casts doubts on Mrs. Astor’s health, which has reportedly improved since she was moved in July to her Westchester estate under the care of a temporary personal guardian, Annette de la Renta. Mr. Warner does not state what ails Mrs. Astor, only writing that “mealtimes are particularly revealing.”
In the papers, Mr. Warner asks that a doctor of Mr. Marshall’s choosing be allowed to examine Mrs. Astor “on the ground that Mr. Marshall, from his personal observations, believes that his mother’s condition has deteriorated but that this is being concealed’ by the grandson and Mrs. de la Renta.
The spokesman for Philip Marshall, who also represents Mrs. De la Renta, said Mrs. Astor is seen by two doctors every week and has around-the-clock nurses.
“She is a 104-year-old woman and she is frail,” Mr. Seitel said. “She is doing quite well.”