Will Brooke Astor’s Grandson Crash His Father’s Funeral?

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Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In one more indication of the seismic scale of Astor family dysfunction, Philip Marshall says that he may crash the funeral of his father Tony Marshall, scheduled for tomorrow.

After Tony, Brooke Astor’s only child, died this weekend at age 90, his wife Charlene placed an obituary in the Times listing her husband’s many accomplishments: author, ambassador, Broadway producer. The obit neglected to mention what had brought Tony the most attention: looting his famous mother’s estate. Nor did it say that it was Tony’s son Philip who first accused his father of wrongdoing.

It’s completely understandable that my father never wanted to talk to me again,” Philip said yesterday. Still, Philip thought that attending the funeral might help him gain “closure.” “I would like to be able to go,” he told me, “It’s open to the public even if I’m not on the invitation list.” Charlene’s obituary talked of the love her children and grandchildren had for Tony, but didn’t mention Philip or his brother, Tony’s children from a previous marriage. (Philip didn’t learn of his father’s death until a journalist called.)

Philip claimed that he turned on his father out of concern for his grandmother, Brooke Astor, the doyenne of high society who, until her death at 103, was an indefatigable flirt, gossip, dancer, and, after inheriting her husband’s money, philanthropist. By her own admission, Brooke had been a neglectful mother. She didn’t have room for Tony in her busy life. Brooke’s friends found him boring, a judgment his mother shared. Tony’s biggest sin, though, was Charlene. Brooke’s friends found his third wife distasteful. “Crass,” said one who pointed out that she paraded around town in Brooke’s jewels. 

But even Brooke recognized that Charlene adored her son and made him happy — “she gave him unstinting love and devotion,” recalled Tony’s lawyer Ken Warner. And Brooke seemed thankful, and gave Tony and Charlene lavish gifts. For Tony, it was proof of what he’d always doubted. “My mother loved me,” he told me not long before his trial. For Charlene, it was her husband’s due. He deserved everything he got, and more.

It was the “more” that led to the trouble. Successive wills gave Tony and Charlene increasing assets, but the D.A. charged that Tony took advantage of Brooke’s failing mental state. According to the D.A., Charlene was at least partly to blame. “The D.A. made it very clear that Tony’s motivation was to get money to Charlene in case he died before his mother,” said Meryl Gordon, author of Mrs. Astor Regrets.

If Philip does crash the funeral, it will infuriate Charlene, which may be the point. Even with Tony gone, there are still scores to settle. “She made him really happy — but at such a great cost,” said Philip. Philip counts himself among Charlene’s victims. “Charlene was never accused of stealing of anything by the D.A.,” said Philip, “But she stole our father.” 

A judge sentenced Tony to up to three years in prison, though he was released after three months for health reasons, a decision that Philip, now an elder abuse activist, didn’t seem to feel sent the right message. “We are all accountable for our actions,” he said.

For Charlene, even three months was too long. Tony was a “very great man,” she wrote in the Times. He spent his last days doted on by Charlene in an Upper East Side apartment given him by his mother.