updated 5/1/2009 2:31:17 PM ET 2009-05-01T18:31:17

They had been friends for 60 years, but socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor had no idea who Louis Auchincloss was when they met at a luncheon in 2001, the author-attorney testified Thursday.

Auchincloss, a witness in the trial of Astor's son Anthony Marshall and lawyer Francis Morrissey, said it "was great shock" when he realized at a luncheon at Manhattan's Knickerbocker Club that Astor didn't recognize him. She was then 99.

Marshall, 84, and Morrissey, 67, are on trial in Manhattan's state Supreme Court on charges of looting the society doyenne's $198 million estate. Astor died in 2007 at age 105.

Prosecutors said they exploited Astor's debilitated mental state to fraudulently add three amendments to her 2002 will — on Dec. 18, 2003, on Jan. 12, 2004, and on March 3, 2004 — which gave Marshall most of his mother's estate.

Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann asked Auchincloss, a trusts and estate lawyer for decades, whether he considered Astor competent to make a will.

"I would have decided it was impossible for her to have clear testamentary capacity if she didn't know who I was," he replied.

Auchincloss, 91, testified that he said as much to Morrissey at a party at least two years before the defendant was involved in helping fashion the third change to Astor's will.

"I told him it was no point in seeing her since she didn't recognize me," Auchincloss said he told Morrissey.

"You told him she didn't recognize you?" Seidemann asked Auchincloss, author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books.

"I did tell him that," he replied.

Will in spotlight
The will changes were made after Marshall had already siphoned off millions of dollars in cash and property without the knowing consent of Astor, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, prosecutors said.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Loewy told jurors in opening remarks that Astor's signature on the Jan. 12 amendment is actually a forgery by Morrissey, a lawyer Marshall hired after he had fired Astor's previous lawyer.

Earlier in the day, Baird W. Ryan, the vice president of the Gerald Peters Gallery, testified about the consignment and sale of the Childe Hassam painting that Marshall had gotten from his mother.

Ryan said Marshall left the painting, "Up the Avenue from 34th Street, May 1917," to be sold for $12 million within 45 days. He said Marshall presented Astor's power of attorney as his authority to sell the artwork.

Ryan said the canvas did not sell so the gallery bought it from Marshall for $10 million. Prosecutors say Marshall then paid himself a $2 million commission.

Loewy said in opening remarks the gallery sold the painting a year later for $29 million.

More on: Brooke Astor

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