It Seems Like Yesterday: Mrs. Astor

“Where do you want to photograph me today, Mr. Benson? You’ve had me stretched out on a chaise looking, if I am to believe you, very glamorous, and in the reading room of the library. What next?” Mrs. Astor asked.

“I could ask you to do something outrageous—ride a motorbike or take your dachshunds for a swim in Central Park,” I said. “But what I would like is simply a happy photograph of you here in your apartment.”

Being with Mrs. Astor was not an unpleasant way to pass an afternoon. She saw the humor in every situation and though I only knew her as an acquaintance, she is the kind of person I always felt would have been a wonderful friend. Sometimes she would ask what magazine I was photographing her for that day and I could have said the Weekly Gazette instead of Architectural Digest, and she would have given me a smile. She was one who realized that her fame and good fortune should be shared with others. And share she did. As administrator of the Vincent Astor Foundation, she carried on her late husband’s legacy. Liz Smith concluded an introduction of Mrs. Astor at a charity awards extravaganza with something like, “I would have married Brooke Astor.”

When I learned that this issue of Quest would publish the annual “400,” the first person who came to mind was Brooke Astor. In this photograph, taken in 1980, she stands beneath a portrait of her husband, Vincent. Papers in hand, a twinkle in her eye, an edginess in her look, she was in good form that day. And to me, hands down, she heads the list.