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Brooke Astor

Tears, Trials, and Other Troubles for Famous Family

Testimony at the elder abuse trial of Anthony D. Marshall reveals family plagued by dysfunction.

Tony’s early years

An argument can be made that Tony Marshall owes his existence to family dysfunction. At the age of 16 in 1919, Brooke Russell married J. Dryden Kuser, a drunken, womanizing, wife-beating grandson of a U.S. senator. Five years later she conceived what would be her only child after her husband forced himself on her, Meryl Gordon writes in Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach.

In her 1980 autobiography, Footprints, Astor recorded her reaction to learning she was pregnant: “having not participated very willingly in this future event, I was perturbed.” While she was still pregnant, Astor claims, Kuser, a New Jersey politician, broke her jaw during one beating. But she stayed for the sake of her unborn child, whom they would name Anthony Dryden Kuser.

After her son was born, Brooke dealt with the anger of being abused by Kuser “by spending as much time as possible in Manhattan with friends,” Gordon wrote. “She professed to love her son but handed off his daily care to nannies.” By 1930, she was having an affair with a stockbroker named Charles “Buddie” Marshall. Brooke flew to Reno, Nev., spent three months there to establish residency and divorced Kuser, according to newspaper clips from the time. Buddie Marshall left his wife and handicapped son to marry Brooke. Tony was 8. Marshall didn’t like the boy’s beloved nanny, so Brooke fired her. Within a year or two, the Marshalls sent Tony to boarding school.

In 2001 Tony Marshall self-published Dash, a fictionalized account of his life, Gordon writes in Mrs. Astor Regrets, as a pitiful boy born a “solitary scion of a rich British family with a distant mother and a tyrannical, cruel father.”

Marshall wrote: “As the infant developed into childhood he was regarded in both physique as well as in manner as a hereditary mistake.” Sent to boarding school, the boy “was lonely, friendless, forever hungry and physically exhausted when he rose each morning after a night in the clutch of terrifying nightmares.”

The parent “pleaser”

Children who grow up in dysfunctional families typically follow one of three routes, Neuharth said. They rebel against their parents; they “go away,” often drifting toward alcohol or drugs; or they attempt to “endlessly please their parents.” Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Marshall’s trial have found little common ground, but they agree that Tony Marshall chose a role of “pleaser”—at least for a period.

Though Marshall would later live extremely well off his mother’s wealth, at first it was the other way around. After Brooke married Buddie Marshall, the substantial alimony she had been receiving from her first husband was placed, by divorce agreement, into a trust fund for Tony. When her second husband’s finances took a turn for the worse, Brooke Marshall approached her son with hand out. Tony dutifully gave her money, even paying for an in-ground swimming pool at their summer home and buying his mother jewelry from Cartier and Tiffany, Gordon writes.

And Tony was getting pressure from both sides. By then Kuser, addicted to alcohol and gambling, was broke and chronically borrowed money from Tony until the son had to cut him off. That’s when Kuser unsuccessfully sued Tony for his trust fund. Tony had changed his last name to Marshall, and as a result, his biological father claimed, he didn’t deserve the “Kuser money.”

 

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