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Court claim: 104-year-old philanthropist lives in squalor

Thursday, July 27, 2006

NEW YORK -- She wears torn nightgowns and sleeps on a couch that smells of urine. Her bland diet includes pureed peas and oatmeal. Her dogs, once a source of comfort, are kept locked in a pantry.

A court filing alleges that this is the life of 104-year-old Brooke Astor, the multimillionaire Manhattan socialite who dedicated much of her vast fortune to promoting culture and alleviating human misery.

Astor married into a family that at one time was among America's wealthiest and most prominent. Her late husband's father, John Jacob Astor IV, died in the sinking of the Titanic; his grandmother, Caroline Astor, led New York society for 25 years during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century; and his great-great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor, became America's wealthiest man by 1840.

The court papers -- filed last week and reported on Wednesday by the Daily News -- blame the alleged misery and squalor inside Astor's Park Avenue duplex on her only child, Anthony Marshall, who controls her $45 million portfolio.

The accuser: Astor's grandson, Philip Marshall.

He alleges in a sworn statement that his 82-year-old father "has turned a blind eye to her, intentionally and repeatedly ignoring her health, safety, personal and household needs, while enriching himself with millions of dollars."

The court papers -- which were sealed on Wednesday -- seek to remove Anthony Marshall as legal guardian and replace him with Annette de la Renta, the wife of Oscar de la Renta, and J.P. Morgan Chase bank.

A call to Anthony Marshall was not immediately returned. The former diplomat and Broadway producer declined to discuss the case with the Daily News, saying, "It is a matter that is going to be coming up in a court of law and it should be left to the court." A hearing was scheduled for Aug. 8.

Philip Marshall's allegations regarding his grandmother have the backing in sworn statements of such famous names as Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller, who both attended Astor's 100th birthday gala four years ago.

"This is a remarkable and extraordinary woman who has given so much to so many, and he wants to see that in her last days she's given what she needs," said Rockefeller spokesman Fraser Seitel. "She can afford it, and she deserves it."

Astor ran the Astor Foundation after the death of her third husband, Vincent Astor, in 1959.

Brooke Astor gave millions to the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall and the Museum of Natural History. But she also funded smaller projects such as new windows for a nursing home and was noted for personally visiting the places she helped out.

"Money is like manure, it should be spread around," was her oft-quoted motto.

Astor has faded from sight in recent years amid declining health, including two broken hips. Once she was confined to her apartment, court papers allege, she was denied many of the staples of her high-society life.

Her son allegedly replaced her costly face creams with petroleum jelly. A French chef was fired, leaving her at the mercy of an "unmotivated cook" serving pureed peas, liver, carrots and oatmeal, court papers say.

Her dogs, Boysie and Girlsie, have been confined to a pantry for the last six months to keep them from damaging the apartment, the papers say. Philip Marshall also alleges that nurses had to use their own money to buy hair bonnets and no-skid socks for the elderly woman when requests for the items were denied.

"Her bedroom is so cold in the winter that my grandmother is forced to sleep in the TV room in torn nightgowns on a filthy couch that smells, probably from dog urine," Philip Marshall said in his affidavit.

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