Personal assistants often know more than people would like to admit. It’s certainly been the case in the trial of Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor’s only son, where her former secretaries have been airing some dirty laundry.
For example, the time Charlene Marshall, Anthony’s third wife, apparently ranted on the telephone about her husband’s relationship with his mother: “She’s killing him, she’s f—ing killing him. And if he dies before she does, I get nothing,” she allegedly said. The unpleasant anecdote was expected to be part of the testimony of Astor’s secretary, Birgit Darby, on Tuesday, but was ruled out as prejudicial.
This story first appeared in the May 13, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At that announcement, Charlene Marshall raised both hands in thanks to the ceiling and said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s out.”
In her actual testimony, Darby said Charlene Marshall never once visited her mother-in-law during Darby’s tenure. Anthony Marshall was more present, asking that Darby fax him his mother’s weekly schedules and dictating control over her expenses. He also came over regularly with checks that “had been filled out by him, and then he would put them in front of her.”
In addition, Darby was asked to inform Marshall whenever Astor wanted to go shopping. “[Mrs. Astor] was very into fashion,” said Darby. “She would often want to go to Bergdorfs but worried that she didn’t have enough money to buy a new dress.”
The late Astor’s expenditures were also laid bare: She rented a house in Palm Beach for two months at $50,000 per month in 2002 and flew on a private jet with her dachshunds and her staff for $7,000 to $8,000 each way. The defense lawyers also pointed out certain shopping trips during which she racked up bills up to $9,000. Just before Darby’s testimony, the prosecution had argued strongly that Marshall’s wife Charlene is an integral part of the case despite not being on trial, because of her role “egging on” her husband. Anthony Marshall’s motive was to take care of his wife financially, especially given their 21-year age gap, they explained. Marshall is now 84, and his wife is 63.
The morning’s events clearly upset Charlene Marshall. She furiously took notes and shook her head repeatedly, mouthing “no” when the assistant district attorney raised points on which she disagreed.
Her behavior was in direct contrast to longtime Astor friend Patsy Preston’s very upright demeanor. When the lead defense attorney raised an objection during her testimony, for example, a flustered Preston responded, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
But even a close friend like Preston was forced to lift the curtain a little on what was once a private life. She recalled Astor’s concern about her bond with Marshall. “[I was] so close with [my] girls,” Preston remembered. “She [said she] wished her relationship with her own son was as close.”