When Brooke Astor's name flared into the headlines in July 2006, many people didn't even realize the great lady was still alive.
She had, after all, celebrated her 100th birthday more than four years earlier, and then virtually disappeared.
But when it was revealed her only child, Anthony Marshall, then 82, had been charged in court papers of mistreating his mother and enriching himself and his wife at her expense, it launched a cascade of coverage — all captivated by the battle over her almost $200 million fortune.
Almost as scandalous as the allegations themselves was that they were made by Philip Marshall, one of Anthony's twin sons. Young Marshall accused his father of abuses that ranged from skimping on Astor's medications to selling off some of her favorite pieces of art to downsizing the number of aides who looked after her.
Anthony Marshall was also alleged to have invested his mother's money into his own theatrical production company. Philip asked that his father be removed as Astor's legal guardian and replaced by his grandmother's longtime friend Annette de la Renta and the bank J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
For months, charges and countercharges were made almost daily, at times by some of New York's most aristocratic names. Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller joined de la Renta in offering affidavits supporting Philip's accusations against his father.
Days after those accusations were made, New York State Supreme Court Judge John E.H. Stackhouse appointed de la Renta and J.P. Morgan Chase as Astor's temporary guardians, an arrangement that became permanent under terms of a settlement reached in mid-October.
Although the mainstream press provided ample coverage — The New York Times alone published close to 30 major articles on the affair between July 27, 2006, and mid-October — it was a story with enough sordid aspects to ensure equal space in the tabloids. Little of it concerned the actions of Astor herself, focusing instead on the behavior of her relatives and the lawyers they hired, all of it so at odds with the discretion and dignity usually associated with Brooke Astor.
There was, for example, the accusation — never proven — that because her bedroom was too chilly, Astor had been forced by her son to sleep on a couch soiled by urine from her pet dogs, Boysie and Girlsie.
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