It Seems Like Yesterday

Mrs. William Vincent Astor was up-to-date in every way when I photographed her at the Madison Avenue Bookstore for a story on New Yorkers in their favorite places. Charming and a bit flirty, she was in fine form when I casually asked how she started her day. Mrs. Astor told me she kept up with everything by reading the morning newspapers and said that was all she needed to know. As I began my career as a Fleet Street newspaper photographer, I was happy to hear her say,  ”I have read the papers all my life.” 

The photography went well as I had photographed Mrs. Astor several times and afterward had always received a lovely hand-signed thank you note on her signature blue Dempsey and Carroll stationery, engraved with only her street address…no city or zip code needed.

Choosing Brooke Astor for this month’s issue was influenced by my wife, Gigi, who has been watching with amusement the television series The Gilded Age, which is chock full of “New York Society with a capital S.” The popular HBO drama presents with great flair the “dos and don’ts” and the gossip surrounding New York’s firmly established vs. the nouveau society, circa 1870 to 1890.  And of course the driving force in the television series is Mrs. John Jacob Astor III who, with the snap of her finger, could make or break a woman’s hopes for a place in the social order. 

An amusing side to the television series is when someone mentions that East 61st Street was so far uptown that only upstart social climbers dared to live that far north, especially since my first New York apartment when I arrived with The Beatles in 1964 was on the corner of 63rd and Third.

Brooke Astor is missed by those who knew her;  she was special…one of a kind…and I am happy to remember her today with a look back at her extraordinary life.