Astor Lives and Astor Wives.

Brooke Astor at 100 at the Living Landmarks Gala. Photo: JH.

Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, known in her lifetime and long after as the Mrs. Astor, died in 1908 in the double mansion that occupied most of the block on Fifth Avenue between 65th and 66th Street, which she shared with her son and his family. She was 78.

In her dotage, around the turn of the 19th/20th century, Lina Astor (as she was known to friends) had become isolated by her failing mind. Her son John Jacob Astor IV and her grandson Vincent looked after her, allowing her to live in the splendor to which she had long been accustomed with a staff and caregivers who accommodated her whims which included her “entertainments,” all a charade, of course. Vincent, who was in his mid-teens at the time, was often the only other family member in residence, and was solicitous and sympathetic about his grandmother’s failing mental health.

A century later, Vincent’s widow, Brooke Astor, now in her 104th year, is at the center of a scandalous controversy over the quality of her care. She is unaware of any of this, according to reports, because she is suffering from Alzheimers. But her grandson, Philip Marshall, has accused his father, Mrs. Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, of basically depriving Mrs. Astor of the finest care her fortune could allow, while also implying that the Astor millions are being used to enhance his father’s lifestyle.

Utter neglect of the aged and infirm is not an uncommon story, although rarely discussed or addressed: they are easy and frequent targets for deprivation and other cruelties, and often by members of their own families, including their children. Resentments harbored over generations are activated late in life sometimes explain the circumstances, and the elder generation has no recourse but to take what they get. That may or may not partly explain Mrs. Astor’s dilemma, although it’s only a guess.

The great irony, if the accusations have any truth, is that Mr. Marshall’s birth father J. Dryden Kuser, who was Mrs. Astor’s first husband (they married when she was 17) was, in her words, a sadist who was frequently physically abusive toward her and she divorced him after a little more than ten years of marriage.

On Wednesday, the allegations of abuse and neglect came to light when Philip Marshall petitioned the court to remove his father as his grandmother’s guardian and appoint Annette de la Renta, a longtime close friend of Mrs. Astor, in his place. That day, Justice John Stackhouse of the New York State Supreme Court granted an order appointing Mrs. de la Renta guardian and JPMorganChase in charge of her finances.

The question everyone was asking: were the charges true? Was Mr. Marshall neglecting his mother’s best interests while enriching himself with the Astor millions? Mr. Marshall said he is "shocked and deeply hurt by the allegations against me, which are completely untrue." For those close to the situation, it is obviously not a new story. Mrs. de la Renta as well as David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, all old and close friends of Mrs. Astor, had supplied affidavits supporting Philip Marshall’s petition for a change in guardianship. None is inclined to make decisions based on paltry evidence.

The tragedy is that Brooke Astor became the grandest of New York’s grande dames because of her philanthropy in improving the quality of life for those in need. Now she has no say or power in helping herself in these final moments of her very long and fruitful life. There can be no doubt, however, that Mrs. de la Renta will do everything in her power to see that her friend is comfortable and well cared-for. Yesterday Mrs. Astor was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital.

Al Uzielli

Counterpoint. Yesterday, was the funeral of Giancarlo Uzielli who died on Monday several weeks after suffering a stroke. Gianni Uzielli, as he was known, was a stockbroker when he married Anne Ford in 1966, the daughter of Anne McDonnell and Henry Ford II.

He soon became a popular man-about-town and restaurateur. The couple had two children, Alessandro (known as Al) and Allegra and later divorced.

The very popular Mr. Uzielli’s fortunes as a restaurateur rose and fell over the decades although his reputation as a bon vivant remained intact. In the later years of his life he had some rough patches in his business life although his son Al, a film producer and now also an owner of the very successful La Dolce Vita restaurant in Beverly Hills, was always supportive.

During these last five weeks of Mr. Uzielli’s life when he was hospitalized here in New York, his Al was always at his side. Last night Al Uzielli hosted a reception in honor of his late father’s memory at Elaine’s where Gianni Uzielli was a frequent patron for decades. Ciao Gianni.

John Barman's guest house

A couple of weekends ago we were out in the Hamptons covering the multitude of social activities and put up in the guest quarters of interior designers John Barman and Kelly Graham in Bridgehampton.

This week’s NYSD HOUSE features an interview with Barman in the apartment he shares in Manhattan with Graham, and Buster the pug. The following are some shots JH took of the Bridgehampton house.

The Bridgehampton living room (above) and sitting room. (right).

The library.


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July 28, 2006, Volume VI, Number 120


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/