“If there was a queen of New York, she was probably the queen,” said Graydon Carter of Brooke Astor when he testified in the trial of her son, Anthony Marshall, on Wednesday. Marshall is being prosecuted for swindling his mother out of her estate when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
This story first appeared in the May 21, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Vanity Fair editor in chief’s wife Anna watched from the gallery as Carter drew chuckles for giving his educational background as “thrown out of university” and offered recollections of the society doyenne. Astor wrote three essays for Vanity Fair from 1995 to 2000, serving up advice on surviving boring charity events and flirting with men: “A real lady should always leave something on her plate,” she warned.
“[Her essays] were very charming,” said Carter. “And she didn’t fight over her fee, so that was good for me.”
Astor, who was paid about $1,000 for her efforts, befriended Carter and lunched with him regularly at her apartment as well as the Knickerbocker Club and the Four Seasons. Carter was even able to entice her below 57th Street to Da Silvano.
“She was the most beautifully turned out woman I’ve ever seen,” remembered Carter, down to the embroidered handkerchiefs she always carried in her purse.
However, as Astor aged, her ensembles remained perfect but her mind became increasingly disordered. “She could remember events in 1917, but not what we had talked about five minutes earlier,” said Carter.
Once, he came to meet Astor at the Knick and she didn’t recognize him. “She asked where Graydon Carter was,” said the editor, who is likely not used to having people forget him. “I’m Graydon,” he said. “Oh yes, of course you are,” responded a flustered Astor.
By their final encounter, in 2003, Astor no longer could identify her onetime editor. “Do you know Graydon Carter?” she asked. “I’m right here,” he gently reminded her.
Earlier in the day, one of Astor’s former maids told of coming upon the centenarian wandering stark naked in the foyer of her Maine house in the summer of 2002.
“What’s my name?” Astor asked later that summer. “I don’t know what it is. Who am I?”
After his testimony, Carter admitted he didn’t mind being on the stand. “I’m fascinated,” he said, though he vowed to cut any of his own testimony from the upcoming Vanity Fair article on the trial. “I didn’t say anything interesting,” he shrugged.
Of the whole affaire Astor, he opined, “It’s horribly tragic. I feel sorry for Anthony Marshall and Brooke Astor. This is the worst thing that can happen to a family.”
Some journalists had other things on their minds. “Can I get a reservation at the Monkey Club?” shouted one as Carter hopped on the elevator.