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by Carol Kaufmann, AARP Bulletin, April 24, 2009
March 30, 1902 Roberta Brooke Russell is born in Portsmouth, N.H., to a Marine Corps general and a Southern belle.
1919 Brooke Russell marries the wealthy John Dryden Kuser. Although they live in luxury, the marriage is miserable. Brooke would later reveal her husband beat her numerous times.
1924 Brooke Kuser gives birth to Anthony, her only child. He is cared for, mainly, by nannies and staff.
1926 Brooke begins her writing career with a book review in Vogue magazine. She would later write four books and numerous poems and essays.
1930 The Kusers divorce. Brooke receives custody of Anthony, a $680,000 apartment and a trust fund of $90,000 a year that will go to Anthony if she remarries.
1932 Brooke marries Charles “Buddie” Marshall, a stockbroker and the love of her life. Anthony, 8, now receives the trust. Years later, when Buddie Marshall would suffer financial losses, Brooke went to Anthony for money. Anthony obliged his mother by giving her a monthly allowance and other gifts.
1934 At age 10, Anthony is sent to boarding school.
1942 Anthony changes his last name to Marshall. Dryden Kuser eventually would sue his son for his trust fund, using the excuse that he relinquished the family name.
1945 Anthony Marshall, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, leads his unit in an assault on Iwo Jima, where he is wounded.
1952 Buddie Marshall dies suddenly of a heart attack. Brooke Marshall’s inheritance of about half a million dollars and her salary as an editor at House and Garden magazine aren’t enough to support her lifestyle. A friend would later say that Brooke felt “poverty-stricken.”
1953 Brooke Marshall becomes the third wife of Vincent Astor, who inherited a $100 million real estate fortune when his father, John Jacob Astor IV, died aboard the Titanic in 1912.
1959 Vincent Astor dies, leaving approximately half his estate to his wife and the other half to a foundation that she is to run. Over the next 40 years, Brooke distributes $195 million from the Astor Foundation to various New York institutions, including libraries, museums and zoos.
1980 Anthony begins earning a salary for managing his mother’s money. Over the next 25 years, his investments lag behind the Standard & Poor’s index.
July 1989 Anthony Marshall is seated next to Charlene Gilbert at his mother’s luncheon for Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. Charlene is the wife of the Episcopal priest in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where Brooke has a summer home. Both Anthony and Charlene would eventually leave their spouses—in Charlene’s case, her family—for each other.
January 1990 Charlene and the Rev. Paul Gilbert divorce. Brooke vows never to let Charlene into her home.
1992 After divorcing his second wife, Anthony marries Charlene. Brooke buys them an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
1997 Brooke, age 95 and widely regarded as New York’s most beloved philanthropist, gives away the foundation’s last $25 million and closes it.
January 1998 Brooke Astor receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton.
Dec. 26, 2000 Anthony writes a letter to his mother’s doctors about her, saying that her mental state is fragile; she has difficulty writing, spelling and doing simple arithmetic; and she is incoherent and indecisive. Anthony would later tell his sons that their grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease.
November 2001 Anthony tells Chris Ely, Brooke’s head butler, that his mother has Alzheimer’s disease.
Jan. 30, 2002 Brooke approves a new draft of her will, a document she updated frequently, with Henry “Terry” Christensen III, her attorney since 1991. In it, Anthony would receive her Park Avenue apartment, her country estate and her property on the Maine coast, $5 million and a yearly sum of $4.2 million for life. Some $60 million would go to designated charities. If Anthony died before her, all his bequests would go to charity, not his wife.
Early 2002 Brooke’s favorite painting, Up the Avenue from Thirty-fourth Street, by Childe Hassam, is sold for $10 million. Her previous wills had stipulated that the painting would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but her most recent will omitted that instruction. Brooke’s close friend Annette de la Renta would later say that Astor had said Marshall wanted her to sell the painting because she was “running out of money.”
March 2002 David Rockefeller throws Brooke a 100th birthday party at his estate.
Dec. 17, 2003 Nurses to Brooke write detailed notes about her condition, citing her confusion, illusions, tremors, paranoia and disorientation.
Dec. 18, 2003 A codicil, drafted by Christensen, is added to Brooke’s will. It stipulates that 49 percent of the remaining assets in a trust left by Vincent Astor be given to Anthony, allowing him to distribute the money to charities. Prior to this change, prosecutors have said, Brooke Astor wanted her estate to be put in a trust for charities of her choice.
Jan. 12, 2004 A second codicil, written by new lawyers chosen by Anthony, is added to Brooke’s will. It gives Anthony her estate outright and allows him to give property to Charlene. It also allows him to choose the executors. He replaces Christensen with his longtime friend Francis X. Morrissey Jr. and Charlene.
Feb. 10, 2004 At a luncheon that Anthony arranged for his mother to host, Brooke praises her son in a short speech, uncharacteristically reading off a note card. Brooke’s doctor would later state that she lacked the mental ability to write such words.
March 3, 2004 Morrissey presents a third codicil to Brooke. It instructs executors to sell her Park Avenue apartment and Hudson Valley country house and include the proceeds in the estate to save on taxes.
July 2006 Philip Marshall, Anthony’s son and a professor of historic preservation, files a guardianship petition to seize control of Brooke’s care, citing reasons of elder abuse, mistreatment and neglect. The suit is backed by affidavits from Astor’s staff, Annette de la Renta, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger.
July 23, 2006 Brooke Astor is taken to Lenox Hill Hospital with pneumonia.
July 24, 2006 Philip tells his father about his lawsuit. Anthony Marshall would soon learn that a judge cut off his salary for managing his mother’s assets and appointed Annette de la Renta as her temporary guardian.
July 26, 2006 The “Battle of N.Y. Blue Bloods” breaks in the New York Daily News. “Disaster for Mrs. Astor,” the front page reads.
July, August 2006 The tabloid press pillories the Marshalls, especially Charlene.
Oct. 13, 2006 The parties announce a settlement. Anthony agrees to cease being steward of his mother’s health and financial affairs. He and Charlene return $11 million worth in cash, jewelry and art to Brooke. Annette de la Renta is officially appointed Astor’s guardian, and JPMorgan Chase bank is put in charge of her financial affairs. Brooke is moved to her country house, and her staff, whom Anthony and Charlene had dismissed, is rehired.
October 2006 A court-appointed attorney for Astor in the guardianship lawsuit delivers to the Manhattan district attorney’s office a report by a forensic handwriting expert that Astor could not have produced the signature on the third codicil. The investigation into criminal wrong-doing by both Anthony Marshall and Francis Morrissey begins—and lasts more than a year.
Dec. 4, 2006 While deciding who would be responsible for the legal bills involved in the guardianship lawsuit, the judge rules that Anthony Marshall was entitled to reimbursement because allegations of elder abuse committed by Anthony and Charlene Marshall were “not substantiated.” The couple claim victory, saying they had been falsely accused.
March 30, 2007 Brooke turns 105. Her grandsons and their families, David Rockefeller, Annette de la Renta, and her staff attend her small birthday party. Anthony and Charlene do not.
Aug. 13, 2007 Brooke Astor dies, leaving an estate worth an estimated $132 million and a trust valued at more than $60 million.
Aug. 14, 2007 Before funeral arrangements are made, lawyers representing Annette de la Renta and Chase bank file papers urging the court to reject Astor’s final will because she was not competent when it was signed and had been under “undue influence and duress.”
Nov. 26, 2007 Prosecutors tell attorneys for Anthony Marshall and Morrissey that their clients have been indicted and are required to turn themselves in the next day.
Nov. 27, 2007 Anthony Marshall, 83, turns himself over to the Manhattan district attorney’s office and is charged with 16 counts, including grand larceny, fraud and conspiracy. The former Marine, diplomat, CIA officer and Tony Award-winning producer is handcuffed and escorted for a mug shot and fingerprinting. He pleads not guilty.
Nov. 30, 2007 Francis X. Morrissey Jr., 66, surrenders to authorities and is charged with forgery and conspiring with Anthony Marshall to induce Brooke Astor to change her will.
September 2008 Anthony Marshall undergoes open heart surgery.
April 16, 2009 Jury selection is concluded. Opening arguments are delayed for at least a week.
We offer special thanks to Meryl Gordon for writing Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach and gaining access to nearly everyone involved in the saga.
Carol Kaufmann is a contributing editor at the AARP Bulletin.
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