AKA Roberta Brooke Russell
Birthplace: Portsmouth, NH
Location of death: Briarcliff Manor, NY
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Remains: Buried, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Philanthropist, Socialite
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Heiress, philanthropist
Philanthropist Brooke Astor was born in New Hampshire and raised in Waikiki, Panama, Peking, and Mexico. Her father was John Henry Russell Jr., a military officer who became Commandant of the US Marine Corps.
She dropped out of high school to marry her first serious boyfriend, J. Dryden Kuser, when she was 17. He was descended from founders of South Jersey Gas and Electric and the Prudential Life Insurance Company, but he drank heavily, beat her, cheated on her, and announced after a year of marriage that he no longer loved her. A dutiful wife, she did not file for divorce until after he won election to the New Jersey Senate in 1930.
Her second marriage was to stockbroker Charles Marshall, a man of more modest means and kinder temperament. During World War II she worked as a nurse tending to veterans, and when the war ended, unlike most married women of her time she decided to work. She wrote for House And Garden magazine, and eventually became an editor there. She was married to Marshall for two decades, until his death.
Her third husband was Vincent Astor, who inherited great wealth when his father died aboard the Titanic in 1912. He owned Newsweek, the Hotel St. Regis, and many millions in real estate, as well as vast holdings in the automobile, shipping, and air transportation industries. The family's ancestry -- and fortune -- traces back to John Jacob Astor, America's richest man by his death in 1848, who accumulated his millions trading fur, tea and real estate. The family name is reflected in Manhattan's Astor Place, the Waldorf-Astoria, etc.
Vincent Astor reportedly once told his wife that when he died, she would have "a hell of a good time" giving away his fortune. He died of a heart attack in 1959, and over the next four decades she did indeed give it all away. "Money is like manure," she often said. "It should be spread around." Astor gave millions to the Bronx Zoo, International Rescue Committee, the Fresh Air Fund, Lighthouse for the Blind, the Maternity Center Association, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library, among other recipients, large and small. All told, she gave away about $195 million.
Toward the end of her life Astor suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and in 2006 she became the subject of a lawsuit alleging elder abuse. Her grandson claimed that Astor's son, Anthony Dryden Marshall, forced her to sleep on a urine-drenched couch, kept her beloved dogs locked in a separate room, replaced her name-brand face cream with petroleum jelly, and switched her prescriptions to lower-cost generic drugs. A court appointed Oscar de la Renta's wife Annette, a close friend of Astor, to act as her temporary guardian, and assigned corporate giant JPMorgan Chase to oversee her assets. A Morgan Chase audit later raised questions about $14-million in cash, property and stocks that Anthony Dryden Marshall received from Astor, who may not have realized what she was signing.
She was 105 when she died in 2007, and two years later her son was convicted of swindling her out of millions.
Father: John Henry Russell, Jr. (Commandant of the USMC, b. 14-Nov-1872, d. 6-Mar-1947)
Mother: Mabel Cecile Hornby Howard Russell (b. 1879, m. 12-Jun-1901, d. 1967)
Husband: John Dryden Kuser (NJ Senator, b. 24 Sep 1897, m. 26-Apr-1919, div. 1930, d. 1996)
Son: Anthony Dryden Kuser Marshall (US Ambassador, b. 30-May-1922, d. 30-Nov-2014)
Husband: Charles Henry Marshall ("Buddy", stockbroker, b. 19-Jan-1891, m. 19-Apr-1932, d. 27-Nov-1952 stroke)
Husband: William Vincent Astor (b. 15-Nov-1891, m. 8-Oct-1953, d. 2-Feb-1959 heart attack)
High School: Miss Madeira's School, Washington, DC (dropped out)
House & Garden Feature Editor
Bill Bradley for President
Friends of Giuliani Exploratory Committee
George W. Bush for President
New York Public Library Honorary Chairman
Presidential Medal of Freedom 15-Jan-1998
National Medal of Arts 1988
Astor Family by marriage
Risk Factors: Alzheimer's
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Bill Cunningham New York (24-Mar-2010) · Herself
New York: A Documentary Film (14-Nov-1999) · Herself
Author of books:
Patchwork Child (1962, memoir)
Footprints (1980, memoir)
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