WHAT WOULD MRS. ASTOR DO? with Dr. Cecilia Tichi, Pieter Roos and Donna Murphy, Mrs. Astor on HBO’s THE GILDED AGE

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April 5, 2022 • 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm


The Mark Twain House & Museum is delighted to have Vanderbilt University Professor Cecilia Tichi discuss her book, WHAT WOULD MRS. ASTOR DO? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of The Gilded Age. Who better to join Dr. Tichi than Mrs. Astor herself? Tony Award-winning stage, film and screen star Donna Murphy, who portrays Mrs. Astor on HBO’s hit series The Gilded Age, sits down with Dr. Tichi and The MTH&M Executive Director Pieter Roos for a mannerly conversation on how to put oneself over in Gilded Age society. 

Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. Between 1870 and 1900, the United States’ population doubled, accompanied by an unparalleled industrial expansion, and an explosion of wealth unlike any the world had ever seen. America was the foremost nation in the world, and New York City was its beating heart. There, the richest and most influential—Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, Edith Wharton, the Vanderbilts, Andrew Carnegie, and more—became icons, whose comings and goings were breathlessly reported in the papers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It was a time of abundance, but also bitter rivalries, in work and play. The Old Money titans found themselves besieged by a vanguard of New Money interlopers eager to gain entrée into their world of formal balls, debutante parties, opera boxes, sailing regattas, and summer gatherings at Newport. Into this morass of money and desire stepped Caroline Astor. 

Mrs. Astor, an Old Money heiress of the first order, became convinced that she was uniquely qualified to uphold the manners and mores of Gilded Age America. Wherever she went, Mrs. Astor made her judgments, dictating proper behavior and demeanor, men’s and women’s codes of dress, acceptable patterns of speech and movements of the body, and what and when to eat and drink. The ladies and gentlemen of high society took note. “What would Mrs. Astor do?” became the question every social climber sought to answer. An invitation to her annual ball was a golden ticket into the ranks of New York’s upper crust.  


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Copies of WHAT WOULD MRS. ASTOR DO? signed by Dr. Tichi are available for purchase through the Mark Twain Store; proceeds benefit The Mark Twain House & Museum. Books will be shipped after the event. We regret that we are NOT able to ship books outside the United States as it is cost-prohibitive to do so. 




A native of Steel City, Pittsburgh, Cecelia Tichi is an award-winning author and faculty member at Vanderbilt University. Her books span American literature and culture from colonial days to modern times, but recently draw upon the Gilded Age (1870-1914) that prompted her book on Jack London and another on seven activists in that tumultuous era. Tichi’s What Would Mrs. Astor Do? A Complete Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age (2018) segues to her new mystery series, A Gilded Death, together with Murder, Murder, Murder in Gilded Central Park, and A Fatal Gilded High Note. Cecelia is at work on a fourth historical mystery,  A Fatal Gilded Free Fall. She enjoys membership and posting in Facebook’s The Gilded Age Society. Cecelia’s books have been reviewed in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and elsewhere. Tichi’s five previous mystery novels (under Tishy), set in Nashville and Boston, have been praised by mystery guru Lisa Scottoline as “great reading,” and hailed by Booklist as “a real treat.”  She makes her home in Nashville, Tennessee. 



Award-winning actress Donna Murphy was named by New York Magazine as one of three living legends of the New York Theater. She can currently be seen as part of the star-studded cast of HBO’s new original series The Gilded Age, by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, playing Mrs. Caroline Astor. Ms. Murphy received the first of two Tony® Awards for Best Actress in a Musical, along with the Drama Desk and Drama League Awards, for her spellbinding creation of Fosca in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Passion. She received her second Tony® Award, as well as a Drama League Award, for her “resplendent, matchless” (New York Post) performance as Anna Leonowens in the 1996 Tony® Award-winning revival of The King and I. In 2004, she was the recipient of the Drama League Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theater. She was also honored with the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Awards, as well as another Tony® nomination, for her hilarious comic tour de force as Ruth Sherwood in the Broadway Revival of Wonderful Town. She returned to Broadway in 2007, receiving Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and a Tony® nomination for her mesmerizing portrayal of the legendary actress-singer Lotte Lenya in LoveMusik, directed by Harold Prince. Earlier that season, Murphy received raves for her “brilliant and sexy” (NY Post), “bravura, regal” (Variety), performance as Phyllis Stone in City Center’s Encores!’ production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies. That summer, Variety named her one of three “Legit Luminaries” along with Christine Ebersole and Joan Didion, in their Women’s Impact Issue. Other New York credits include Anyone Can Whistle and Follies (City Center Encores), The People in the Picture (Roundabout), Into the Woods (Shakespeare in the Park), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (original Broadway production), Hello Again (Lincoln Center Theatre), and many others. 


Ms. Murphy has been seen on film in Todd Solondz’ Dark Horse, Vera Farmiga’s 2011 directorial debut Higher Ground, opposite Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Insurrection, Spider Man 2, Nicholas Hytner’s Center Stage, and was the voice of Mother Gothel in Disney’s mega-hit Tangled, among many others. Murphy’s first television film, HBO’s  Someone Had to be Benny, earned her a Cable Ace Award as Best Actress in a Drama Special or Series, as well as a Daytime Emmy. Other TV credits include PBS’  Mercy Street, HBO Max’s Gossip Girl,  Starz’ Power, ABC’s Resurrection, Georgie on VH1’s Hindsight, Darlene Garretti on CBS’ Made in Jersey, Hack opposite David Morse, and her critically acclaimed comedic performance as the neurotic psychiatrist Dr. Ruby Stern on ABC’s sitcom, What About Joan,  starring Joan Cusack. She can also currently be seen on Netflix’s Inventing Anna. 


Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, and the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and its Travelers Arts Impact Grant program, with major support from The Travelers Foundation. For more information call 860-247-0998 or visit marktwainhouse.org. 


April 5, 2022
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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