The Horror of the Astor Trial

The Astor trial has been running for two months, but it feels like forever. Almost every day a horrifying new detail dribbles out like spittle over a demented centenarian’s lip. It’s like a Martin Amis novel or a Neil LaBute play: There are no redeeming figures, and even the deceased comes off poorly. (You know it’s a bad scene when everyone is thrilled to see Henry Kissinger.) But it’s real — the cruel things Brooke Astor, her son Anthony, and Anthony’s wife, Charlene, said about one another; the greed; the disappointment; the loathing; the way-too-personal bathroom details. It looks to be some time before the jury is forced to decide whether Anthony took advantage of Brooke’s Alzheimer’s in order to get his hands on $60 million that was meant for charity. Here are the twenty most grimly fascinating moments so far.

May 4: Brooke Astor’s doctor testifies that Astor told him she would rather spend Christmas with her two dogs than with Charlene Marshall, whom she called “that bitch.”

May 8: Charlene breaks down in tears at the beginning of the day’s proceedings, because it is her and Anthony’s seventeenth wedding anniversary.

May 11: Brooke Astor’s social secretary testifies that Astor once reminisced about the time Bill Clinton grabbed her ass.

May 12: According to the social secretary, Charlene yelled “What the [expletive] does that [expletive] want now?” when the secretary called her in spring 2003, five years before Astor died. “If he dies before she dies I get nothing.” Both statements were stricken from the record.

May 21: Graydon Carter tells the court about the time in the early aughts when Astor asked him where Graydon Carter was — evidence, according to the prosecution, of her senility.

May 19: “The people take the position that dog feces should not be left on the dining room floor of Mrs. Astor when she should have been enjoying her golden years, when other things are being skimped on and Mr. Marshall is benefitting. Yes, that is part of the scheme to defraud.” Such was the testimony the prosecution wished to introduce from Phillip Marshall, one of Anthony’s sons. The judge barred the evidence on the grounds that dog feces were the province of Astor’s staff.

June 2: An Astor estate lawyer testifies that Anthony “twisted his mother’s arm” for $5 million in walking-around money while she recovered from two broken-hip surgeries.

June 5:Do you want all of my money?” asked 101-year-old Astor of Tony in 2003, her third year of advanced Alzheimer’s, according to her estate lawyer. He said she was being ironic. (The prosecution claims the lawyer was in cahoots with Marshall.)

June 8: Astor’s former maid tells jurors that Marshall vetoed a safety gate at his mother’s Park Avenue duplex, cancelled the annual summer rug cleaning, demanded that flower arrangements come from a Korean deli instead of Astor’s more expensive standing order, and took two expensive paintings off the walls. (The maid ignored Marshall’s flower edict, and admitted that Astor knew about at least one of the paintings.)

June 9: “[Astor] said [Charlene] had no class and no neck,” butler Christopher Ely tells the jury.

June 9: The butler tells the jury that in 2002 Marshall tricked his mother, then 99, into thinking she was broke so she would sell her favorite painting. Marshall netted a $2 million commission. “Now can I buy dresses?” Astor reportedly asked her son when he called to report the sale.

June 9: By 2004, Astor was so out of it mentally that she was routinely calling Marshall “my husband,” the butler said. “My husband wants to put me in an old lady’s home,” she once confided.

June 9: On the same day, David Rockefeller’s daughter Miranda Kaiser testifies that in the nineties Astor had explained to her why Anthony was an only child: “He was so unfortunate, I decided not to have any more.”

June 10: Anthony Marshall calls in sick; he needs to see a neurologist. He later says he suffered a mini-stroke.

June 17: Prosecutors claim that Astor’s night nurse will testify that she became afraid of lawyers in dark suits and began asking the nurse to check under her bed for “bad men.”

June 18: Charlene and Tony kiss and cuddle for the courthouse paparazzi. Two days earlier, the court had parsed Astor’s quip on the day she signed over $60 million to her son — “Are they happy in bed?” — for evidence of loopiness.

June 19: It is revealed that Anthony Marshall and his lawyers assigned his mother a hypothetical date of death on a draft estate-tax return, a year and a half before she actually died.

June 22: Anthony Marshall falls off his treadmill and is taken to the emergency room. “His brain is bruised,” a weeping Charlene tells the Post. “It’s swollen.”

June 23: Charlene’s neck comes up again when Astor’s chauffeur testifies that she once said “I don’t want that woman to wear my jewelry because she doesn’t have the neck to wear my jewelry.” And: “Why did my son have to marry that woman? He can just SLEEP with her.” The chauffeur added that Astor referred to Tony as “the man who wants to kill me.”

June 25: Astor’s doctor testifies that she once asked him, “Am I older than Tony or is he older?” Foremost on her mind the day she signed a codicil to her will that turned over $60 million to Marshall was “that she wanted to use the bathroom at home.”

The Horror of the Astor Trial