NEW YORK — Television personality Barbara Walters and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger testified Thursday that in her final years socialite Brooke Astor was unable to recognize people she had known for decades.
Walters, host of ABC's "The View," said when she and another Astor friend visited the socialite several months after her 100th birthday bash March 30, 2002, they used a photo album to help her recognize party guests.
"She didn't recognize them," Walters testified. "She was asking, 'Who is that? Who is that?' She was happy to be looking at the photos, but she was asking, 'Who is that?' That was disturbing."
Earlier in the day, Kissinger testified that when he greeted Astor at the party she did not recognize him, though they had been close friends for more than 25 years.
Astor's mental condition is a central issue at the trial of her son, Anthony Marshall, 84, and his trusts and estates lawyer Francis Morrissey, 66. They are accused of taking advantage of Astor's decline due to Alzheimer's disease to plunder her $198 million estate.
The socialite and philanthropist's last will, created Jan. 30, 2002, left millions of dollars to her favorite charities. But three changes in the will, which prosecutors call frauds by the defendants, gave Marshall most of her estate.
Marshall is charged in Manhattan's state Supreme Court with grand larceny and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Morrissey is charged with forgery and faces up to seven years. They have pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyers contend that Astor, who died in August 2007 at age 105, was lucid and rational when she changed her will.
Walters testified that during her visit with Astor, which occurred nearly two years before the will was changed, the socialite did not appear to recognize her, either.
"I said, 'I'm Barbara, Brooke.' I just knew she was being polite and really did not know who I was," Walters said.
Walters said Astor told her she wanted the money of the Vincent Astor Foundation, created by her late husband, to go to charity. She said she never heard Astor say she wanted it to go to her son.
Walters, who said she first met Astor in the 1960s, said her "special memory" of Astor's 100th birthday party was the socialite's reaction to daughter-in-law Charlene Marshall. All sides have conceded Astor did not like her daughter-in-law.
Walters said that after Astor's son toasted his mother, Charlene Marshall presented Astor with flowers sent by Britain's Prince Charles.
"When Mrs. Marshall gave her the flowers, she (Astor) made a terrible face," Walters said. "She was not happy, even though she loved flowers."
Kissinger, secretary of state to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, testified that Astor didn't recognize Kofi Annan at a January 2002 dinner party she was throwing for him, wondering "who is that black fellow sitting on the other side of me?" Annan was secretary-general of the United Nations at the time.
Kissinger said Astor then asked him to toast Annan because she didn't know what to say.
Kissinger also testified that before her mind deteriorated Astor told him "wealth should be devoted to philanthropic activity."
The trial before Justice A. Kirke Bartley continues on Tuesday.