“Who is the black fellow who is sitting next me?” Brooke Astor had asked former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a dinner at her apartment in January 2002.
“He is Kofi Annan,” Mr. Kissinger replied.
“Is he a distinguished fellow?” Ms. Astor asked.
In fact, the sitting secretary general of the United Nations was the guest of honor that night at the very dinner the late grande dame of Manhatthan high society was then hosting.
And so the parade of high-profile witnesses dishing embarassing tales of the esteemed socialite’s late-life forgetfulness and delusion continued on Thursday, May 21, in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Mr. Kissinger, wearing a stately black suit with a maroon tie, recounted the conversation in his much anticipated morning testimony at the trial of Ms. Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, who stands accused of raiding his mother’s estate for more than $60 million, through a series of will changes at a time when the wealthy society maven was battling Alzheimer’s. (Mr. Kissinger’s wife, Nancy Kissinger, testified earlier; next up: Barbara Walters!)
Three months after the Kofi Annan incident, at her 100th birthday party, Ms. Astor would fail to recognize Mr. Kissinger, too. He would not see her again before her death in 2007 at the age of 105.
Prior to her decline, the prominent pair had been friends for almost a quarter of a century, traveling to the Middle East together in the early 1980s, and making a series of holiday trips to the home of designer Oscar de la Renta and wife Annette de la Renta in the Dominican Republic, where the two would take long afternoon walks.
“We had a rule: Never discuss substance, only discuss people,” Mr. Kissinger testified. “It was great gossiping sessions.”
Mr. Kissinger nearly wrecked their friendship twenty years prior, when he mentioned Ms. Astor’s advancing age in a toast at her 80th birthday party. “That was a disaster,” he admitted on the stand. “She shot up from her chair, denying she was 80. A lot of the other guests got up and said I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about.”
After the party, “she wouldn’t talk to me, she wouldn’t take phone calls,” Mr. Kissinger testified. He finally sent flowers, and some kind of note about how the Chinese assign ages arbitrarily, which seemed to do the trick.
The former secretary of state was rather diplomatic in discussing Charlene Marshall, the much-maligned wife of the accused Mr. Marshall. “She was not fond of her daughter-in-law,” Mr. Kissinger said.
On cross-examination, Thomas Puccio, an attorney for Mr. Marshall’s co-defendant Francis X. Morrissey, seemed to pry for a little courtroom gossip about their close friendship.
“Would you care to tell me how a close a friend?” Mr. Puccio asked.
“I’m not sure how you mean that,” Mr. Kissinger replied.
On his way out of the courthouse, Mr. Kissinger was helped by a group of guards. “Dr. Kissinger, anything you want to say to the press?” one reporter asked.
“No, thank you,” he replied with a hearty smile. He then stopped, shook the hands of two reporters, and then kissed court officer Jennifer Morgan on the cheek before hopping into a black Audi.
“No one’s ever done that to me,” Ms. Morgan told the Daily Transom after returning to the courtroom. “I was embarrassed. I wasn’t expecting it! My heart’s still pounding.”