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John Jacob Astor VI

John Jacob Astor VI American socialite, shipping businessman, and unborn Titanic survivor

American socialite, shipping businessman, and unborn Titanic survivor
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American socialite, shipping businessman, and unborn Titanic survivor
Was Socialite
From United States of America
Gender male
Birth 14 August 1912, New York City, USA
Death 26 June 1992, Miami Beach, USA (aged 79 years)
Star sign LeoLeo
Mother: Madeleine Astor
Father: John Jacob Astor IV
Siblings: Vincent AstorAva Alice Muriel Astor
Children: Mary Jacqueline AstorWilliam Backhouse Astor
Harvard University
St. George's School, Newport
The details

John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI (August 14, 1912 – June 26, 1992) was an American socialite, shipping businessman, and member of the Astor family. He was dubbed the "Titanic Baby" for his affiliation with the RMS Titanic; Astor was born four months after his father, Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, died in the sinking of the Titanic; his pregnant mother Madeleine Astor survived the sinking.

Astor was known for his legal battles with the estate of his elder half-brother, Vincent Astor, to inherit a larger portion of their father's $85 million fortune (approximately $2.3 billion in 2019 dollars). He was also known for his many engagements and four marriages to prominent society women.

Early life

John Jacob Astor VI was born at 840 Fifth Avenue in New York City on August 14, 1912. He was the son of Colonel John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV (1864–1912) and socialite Madeleine Talmage Force (1893–1940). Jakey's parents' marriage, on September 9, 1911, had sparked much controversy both because of their 29-year age difference and since Colonel Astor had only previously been divorced from his first wife, socialite Ava Lowle Willing (1868–1958), one year earlier, on March 5, 1910.

The newlyweds were returning home aboard the Titanic after about three months of honeymooning in Egypt and Europe. Madeleine was five months pregnant with Jakey when her husband put her in one of the ship's lifeboats. She was rescued eight hours after her husband went down with the ship.

After Jack's death, Madeleine raised their son at the Astors' Newport, Rhode Island, mansion, Beechwood, as part of the Astor family. She married banker William Karl Dick (1888–1953) in 1916 and boxer Enzo Fiermonte (1908–1993) in 1933. With Dick, she had two more sons: William Force Dick (1917–1961) and John Henry Dick II (1919–1995). Fiermonte taught her sons boxing.

Jakey, who had become close to Dick, strongly opposed the union with Fiermonte and repeatedly tried to convince his mother to end the relationship. This caused a rift between the two, though they reconciled within several months of the marriage. When asked if his mother was marrying Fiermonte, he responded, "Unfortunately, it's true".

Jakey graduated from St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island and from Harvard University.


Under the terms of Colonel Astor's will, Madeleine received relatively little of her husband's $85 million estate (approximately $2.3 billion in 2019 dollars). This included his estate in Rhinebeck and his yacht, the Noma. William Vincent Astor (1891–1959), the Colonel's son from his first marriage, received $69 million (about $1.8 billion in 2019 dollars), while the Colonel's daughter from his first marriage, Ava Alice Muriel Astor (1902–1956), received a $10 million trust fund (about $260 million in 2019 dollars).

The Colonel's 19-year-old widow Madeleine received the annual income from a $5 million trust fund (about $130 million in 2019 dollars), supplemented by an annual payment of $500,000 (about $13 million in 2019 dollars), as well as use of his New York mansion at 65th Street & Fifth Avenue, all its furnishings, and his Newport mansion Beechwood and all of its furnishings, the pick of whichever luxury limousine she wanted from his collection, and five of his prized horses, provided that she did not remarry. While not listed by name, Jakey's father's will mentioned that any surviving child other than his children Vincent and Ava would receive a bequest of $3 million, to be held in trust until the child reached age 21. Jakey inherited the $3 million on his 21st birthday, which by that point had grown to $5 million (about $99 million in 2019 dollars). When Madeleine died in late March 1940, she left him a diamond solitaire ring worth $50,000 (about $910,000 in 2019 dollars) and a pearl necklace worth $1,525 (about $27,830 in 2019 dollars).

Elder half-brother Vincent's contempt for Madeleine led him to believe that Jakey was not even a biological Astor. Having despised his younger half-brother since birth, Vincent left him nothing in his will. Jakey felt cheated and said Vincent "had the legal, not the moral, right to keep all the money". After Vincent died childless in early February 1959, Jakey sued Vincent's widow Roberta Brooke Russell (1902—2007) for his inheritance. He was convinced that Vincent was "mentally incompetent" when signing his last will in June 1958 due to alcoholism, but Brooke insisted Vincent was "fully competent". While Vincent was hospitalized, Brooke often brought him liquor. Jakey accused her of using the liquor to influence the will in her favor. Jakey ended up settling for $250,000 (about $2.2 million in 2019 dollars). The rest of the money remained with the Vincent Astor foundation and Brooke.

Personal life

Astor became engaged to Eileen Sherman Gillespie (1915–2008), the elder daughter of Lieutenant Lawrence Lewis Gillespie (1876–1940) and Irene Muriel Augusta Sherman (1887–1972), in early December 1933. Irene's parents were businessman William Watts Sherman (1842–1912) of Duncan, Sherman & Company and Sophia Augusta Brown (1867–1947). They planned to marry on February 6, 1934, but she called the wedding off on January 22 after a bitter argument. Heartbroken, Astor went to Shanghai shortly afterward to grieve, returning to America in early May 1934. He blamed her parents for interfering with the relationship. He once suggested they could reconcile, saying, "I was willing to marry her, and if I were to think about it, I might still be willing to marry her." Eileen's daughter Marguerite "Margy" Slocum later said of him: "She felt that he had grown up lonely... He was a bit eccentric, and she felt he wasn't mature enough to get married."

A few weeks after returning from Shanghai, Astor became engaged to Eileen's close friend socialite Ellen Tuck "Tucky" French (1915–1974), the elder daughter of Francis Ormond "Frank" French II (1888–1962) and Eleanor Livingston Burrill (1891–1974). They married on June 30, 1934, at Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island. Tucky was a granddaughter of Amos Tuck French and a first cousin of Rhode Island Governor William Henry Vanderbilt III (1901–1981), and had been attracted to Jakey while he was engaged to Eileen. Along with Eileen's sister Phyllis, Tucky was to be a bridesmaid at Jakey and Eileen's wedding. The couple had one son before divorcing in May 1943.

  • William Backhouse Astor III (1935–2008), who was an investment banker. He married and later divorced Charlotte Ann Fisk (1936–2008), daughter of Earl Ellsworth Fisk and Florence Leavitt.

At the time of their son's birth, Astor was working at the International Mercantile Marine Co. Another of Tucky's sisters, Virginia Middleton French (1917–2011), married William Force Dick, Astor's half-brother through his mother, on December 18, 1941, before her marriage to Philip B. Pool. The two had respectively served as matron of honor and usher to Astor and Tucky's wedding. Astor served as an usher and Tucky was matron of honor to Virginia and William's wedding. Virginia and Vincent were appointed the godparents of William Backhouse Astor III.

On September 18, 1944, in New York City, Astor married for the second time, to Gertrude Gretsch (1923–1999), the daughter of Walter and Gertrude Gretsch. They divorced on August 2, 1954, after a four-year separation, though the Mexican divorce was ruled invalid in 1956. An American divorce soon followed. Before their separation and divorce, the couple had a daughter:

  • Mary Jacqueline "Jackie" Astor (b. 1949), who married John Rozet Drexel IV (b. 1945), a son of John Rozet Drexel III (1919–2007) and Mildred Sophia Noreen Stonor (1922–2012), in 1984. John is a 2x great-grandson of banker Anthony Joseph Drexel and a grandson of Ralph Stonor, 5th Baron Camoys.

On August 6, 1954, Astor married for the third time, to Dolores Margaret "Dolly" Fullman (born c. 1928) in Arlington, Virginia. It was the 26-year-old Dolly's second marriage. They separated soon after returning from their honeymoon and divorced.

Astor married his fourth and final wife, Sue Sandford, in 1956. They remained married until her death in 1985.

Astor died in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1992 at the age of 79. His body was returned to New York for burial with his parents in the Trinity Church Cemetery. He was survived by his son, daughter, three grandsons, and younger half-brother.


Through his son Astor was a grandfather to two boys, William Backhouse Astor IV (b. 1959) and Gregory Todd Astor (b. 1966), who portrayed Colonel Astor in Titanic the Musical in April 2012. Gregory married Robin Rhodes, and they have three children: Alexandra Ellen "Allie" Astor (b. 1997), Rebecca Charlotte "Becca" Astor (b. 1998), and Stephen William Astor (b. 2002).

Through his daughter Astor was a grandfather to Nicholas Astor Drexel (b. 1988).

Name confusion

Even though some sources refer to Jakey as John Jacob V, John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971) was born first and therefore is actually John Jacob Astor V. Sir Jakie Astor (1918–2000), youngest brother of David Astor, was John Jacob Astor VII; the 3rd Baron Astor of Hever is John Jacob Astor VIII. Jakey is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as John Jacob III.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 30 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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