August 19, 2007

The Late Great...

I never knew Brooke Astor. I never even saw her in person, but I've been fascinated by her for years. What I knew about her I discovered in the pages of the NY Times.

I never read the NY Times until I started to date my husband, Paul, about thirty-two years ago. I hadn't even touched a copy of the paper until our third date when Paul suggested we go to a park and read the Sunday papers. I think I was reading the SF Chronicle that day, but when a gusty wind blew all the papers across the grass, I touched my first copy of the Times.

In my twenties it was my naive perception that very few people living on the West Coast read the NY Times. In the years before the Internet and the advent of the national edition of the Times, the only way to read it was through a mail subscription (which arrived two days late) or by purchasing it at a newstand. The newstand copies were a very early edition with old news and no sport scores--that part drove Paul crazy--but the tradtional sections of the paper were always included.

I became a regular reader of the Times when we moved to Washington, D.C. I didn't read the entire paper as Paul did, only the Style section. I was especially fond of the Sunday editions which included lengthy wedding announcements about people I didn't know, fashion commentary and most importantly society photographs frequently featuring the hatted and gloved Brooke Astor. I loved her sprightly appearance, designer clothes, heirloom jewelry, and her dashing tuxedoed escorts.

She was ubiquitous. I learned I could anticipate her appearance in the paper if I read a reference to a NY Public Library event or a Metropolitan Museum of Art gala. I became mildly obsessed with her. I checked each week to see if she was on display and felt a little cheated when she wasn't photographed. I sadly had to accept the fact that as she entered her late nineties her appearances became considerably less frequent. Her 100th birthday occasioned lots of coverage, but it also marked the the last I time I saw a picture of her.

The obituaries and tributes published last week were interesting reading, but today I was delighted to see significant pictorial coverage of Brooke, again. Bill Cunningham posted fashion pictures of Mrs. Astor and another page of photographs of Brooke with her friends and family at NY social events spanning decades. Today I learned about her fetish for white kid gloves. She wore a fresh pair each day and then sent her soiled gloves to be Paris! I love little eccentricities like that. I also learned that Brooke Astor, with the assistance of her french maid, always dressed to please men--not exactly a liberated perspective, but I like the image of a flirty woman of a certain age.

No one else in the years I've been reading the Times has caught my attention like Brooke Astor. I've been interested in reading about Nan Kempner (saw an exhibit of her wardrobe at the DeYoung Museum) and Patricia Buckley but somehow they weren't as fascinating to me--they lacked the depth and history of Mrs. Astor. I suppose I have to accept the fact that there may never be another Brooke .

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