13 August 2007

Brooke Astor Dies, Taking New York Society With Her

Brooke Astor has died. By the time this item is read (Tuesday morning), everyone will know that. She was a New Yorker through and through, but her death will be front page news in Wichita and Tallahassee. The name Brooke Astor was international shorthand for Old-style Rich Lady, the kind with good manners and jewels and fine hats, the kind who knew how to play the part.

Brooke Astor is one of those irreplaceable New Yorkers, like Bobby Short and Kitty Carlisle Hart. You won't find another like her, so don't bother to look. To my thinking, she was the last wealthy person in New York who understood the now-largely-forgotten ideal of Noblesse Oblige. She had money, and she knew that came with a catch. You had to try triply hard to justify your posh existence. And so she gave, and gave, and gave. She gave like a Carnegie, without Carnegie's motivation of having enormous sins against mankind to make up for.

With her passes the idea of New York high society—at least any version of it that still merits honor and respect from the man on the street. The folks who frequent the dinner parties along Park Avenue and the fancy benefits at the Met and Lincoln Center seem to me to be just well-fed, feckless moneymakers in garish dresses and badly fitted suits. They give money because they want their (usually ugly) name on some wall, or they want their friends to wonder at how grand and generous they are. They're place-holders, necessary plutocrats needed to keep the city's cultural infrastructure in place. Trouble is, no genuine article will be coming along to take their place. There's no Brooke Astor in New York anymore, and no one remotely like her.

1 comment:

Stushie said...

You hit the nail right on the head with this one. Brooke was a lady the like of which we will never see again.