It’s hard to feel sorry for Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor’s kid. Okay, he’s 85, but he’s still her kid. According to current reports, Marshall managed to appropriate from his declining mother, before she died at 105, a few zillion dollars that weren’t rightfully his. This despite all the zillions that were. And despite the fact that he had lived quite a respectable life as a diplomat, manager of the family estate, member of significant boards and producer of plays. The judge who sentenced him to one to three years for his transgressions said he believed Mrs. Astor loved her son and was loved by him. But it came to one pretty sad end.
It was a finale — some would say a sobering, Shakespearean finale — to a case that had mushroomed from a family feud over her care into a five-month trial for “grand theft Astor,” as one prosecutor described it on Monday, “a six-year crime spree involving a series of larcenies.”
In the back-story, heard sobbing in the courtroom or often shown helping him through doors and into cars, is Marshall’s wife Charlene. Nobody ever said Mrs. Astor loved Charlene, or vice versa. But the son and his wife come off as money-grabbing ultra-rich ingrates, who neglected, mistreated and swindled the beloved aging philanthropist.
Fascinating as such tales of wealth and intrigue inevitably are, several legitimate questions nag: When did everything turn sour? When did a son who presumably loved and respected his mother forget about doing that? When did a mother who presumably loved and provided for her son become preyed upon rather than protected? And could the finale have been different?
Never having been on intimate terms with the Astors or the Marshalls, I can’t answer for them. But countless unspectacular versions of filial love gone wrong or lower-profile cases of neglected aging parents are played out every day, and similar questions nag. Could some open dialogue, before the parties hit their 80s and their 100s, have made a difference? Could closer attention, earlier on, to the complexities of health care — and who would be in charge — have made the last years better for the aging parent? Were there wounds that could have been healed, plans that could have been made before dementia and calamity struck?
There frequently are. It’s easier, too, if you don’t have a zillion dollars.