Monday, August 13, 2007

Brooke Astor: The Last of the Ladies Who Lunched

Brooke Astor died today at the age of 105. All New Yorkers, whether they realize it or not, have suffered a great loss in the passing of this great lady.

Mrs. Astor, who received the Presidential Medal of Honor from President Clinton in 1998, gave away over $200 million dollars in her lifetime and was largely responsible for saving many of what she called the city's "crown jewels" -- among them the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.

In addition to the "jewels," she spent considerable time and effort personally evaluating grant applications made to the Victor Astor Foundation, the philanthropic foundation established upon the death of her third husband in 1959 and for which she served as Chairwoman. Victor Astor inherited his fortune upon the death of father, John Jacob Astor, IV, who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Shortly before his death, Victor reportedly said that Mrs. Astor would have a great time giving away all of his money once he was dead. She spent four decades doing just that, following his wishes that the money be spent on New York, where it had been made.

Soon after moving to NYC in May 1997, I read an article about Brooke Astor. The article described her as one of the "ladies who lunch," a phrase popularized by Steven Sondheim in a song of the same name from his Broadway show, 'Company.' These "ladies" -- stereotypified Upper East Side biddies, included the likes of Mrs. Astor, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Nan Kempner, and Pauline Trigere, among others. While Sondheim's lyrics celebrated their resilience, they also cast them as slightly out of touch with the rest of the world, "dinosaurs surviving the crunch."

The article that I read made it clear that while Mrs. Astor lived the rarefied life of one of these ladies -- heiress, doyenne, patroness, socialite -- she also retained a "common touch." I was intrigued. So, with the annoying vigor of a new-to-Gothamite, I decided to do some research. I was simultaneously shocked and thrilled to discover that Brooke Astore had been born "Roberta Brooke Russell" in New Hampshire -- my home state. Suddenly she made complete sense to me. 'No-nonsense' is in New Hampshire's water supply and earnest pragmatics are taught in pre-school.

This realization -- in those first crazy months in the City -- was supremely comforting to me. The fact that a skinny girl from Portsmouth could impact this great city in such a profound way made it seem conceivable that this chubby gay boy from Manchester might also have a shot.

Despite my best efforts, I haven't yet been able to land an Astor husband, which seems crucial to the successful implementation of the "Brooke Astor Masterplan." I thank each of you in advance for any leads in this regard.

Although they would not be my first choice, I will entertain inquiries from Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, as well.

1 comment:

Cali said...

Hi, honey, it's ME!!! Lusty!

I came by because Tank has pronounced us "Hag and Fag," and I thought you'd want to know. I accepted. Now it's up to you.

As for a cute, maga-rich boy, that Anderson Cooper is pretty hot. I'd do him, if I were the right gender for him. Plus, his Mom is Gloria Vanderbilt. (God, I love her jeans.) If you marry him, you can send your hag Mother Vanderbilt's jeans! YAY!!!

P.S. You are already one up on EVERYONE except my best friend because you know of my Blogger split-personallity! I'll let you in the semi-private one, too, if you want.