The Colourful Life of Gloria Vanderbilt
A tumultuous life from the start, Gloria was born to sportsman-playboy millionaire, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and socialite, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. As an infant, she already had a large inheritance to her name owing to her great-great grandfather, 19th-century railroad and steamship magnate, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Sadly, her father died when she was a baby. Her mother then left to travel around Europe, leaving her with a nanny whom she dearly loved and fondly called, Dodo. Called by the press “poor little rich girl”, her life was colourful material for tabloids and newspapers.
With a marriage to a man with ties to the mob (Charles Luciano), a conductor 42 years her senior (Leopold Stokowski), a film director (Sidney Lumet), and writer Wyatt Cooper, Gloria’s name was always on the frontpage of magazines and newspapers. She had two sons with Stokowski, Leopold and Christopher, and with Cooper, she had Anderson and Carter, the latter who tragically jumped from the terrace of her Manhattan apartment at the young age of 24.
She was often seen around the biggest names in art and society, including Diane von Furstenberg, Bobby Short, Charlie Chaplin, and Truman Capote who has said that he based the Breakfast at Tiffany’s character, Holly Golightly, on Gloria herself. Her love affairs were also stuff of legend, having been involved with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and even Howard Hughes. Everyone wanted to know everything about her, proof of an inimitable and enchanting command of society’s imagination.
Her professional life was as eventful as her personal one. Initially finding herself in the party circuit of Beverly Hills, Gloria invented ‘famous for being famous’ even before Paris Hilton was born. She capitalised on her fame (and what was left of her inheritance) to create a fashion line, which became quite successful and branched out to other stylish products like fragrances and linens. No longer living in the shadow of her family’s wealth, Gloria took on writing.
In 1985, she published a heartwarming memoir entitled, Once Upon a Time: A True Story, which became widely read and analysed by her fans and those in society. In 1995, she took to writing about her son’s suicide in the revealing biography, A Mother’s Story. Here she recalled how she could not stop Carter from letting go of the terrace railing of her 14th-floor East Side penthouse. Alongside these intriguing non-fiction works were a few poems, plays, and paintings that showcased Gloria’s immensely creative and intelligent mind.
Despite being the star of well-followed court proceedings during the Great Depression (a custody battle between her mother and aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney), Gloria always wanted to rise beyond the drama of her privileged lifestyle. Later in her life, she continued to be an icon in society and a well-loved writer and friend among her peers. She was also active on social media, particularly Instagram, where she had more than 200 thousand followers.
Of Gloria’s passing, her son Anderson Cooper had this to say, “love is what she believed in more than anything… [and she] died as she lived, on her own terms.” Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt was born February 24, 1924 and succumbed to late-stage cancer, June 17, 2019. She is survived by her children and their families. An inspiring and extraordinary icon, Gloria Vanderbilt's legacy is one of courage — to love, feel, and live despite whatever odds may come.