|George Washington Vanderbilt III|
September 23, 1914|
Newport, Rhode Island
|Died||June 24, 1961
Mark Hopkins Hotel
San Francisco, California
|Education||St. Paul's School
|Spouse(s)||Louise Parsons (m. 1935; div. 1950)
Anita Zabala Howard (m. 1950; div. 1958)
Joyce Branning (m. 1958–1961)
Louise Mitchell Paine (m. 1961–1961)
|Parent(s)||Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt
|Awards||Legion of Merit|
Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he was the son of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and his second wife, Margaret Emerson. He was the brother of Alfred G. Vanderbilt II and a half-brother to William Henry Vanderbilt III from his father's first marriage to Ellen "Elsie" French. In 1915, when George was only a year old, his father perished in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. His inheritance was estimated as high as US$40,000,000 (equivalent to $967,631,579 in 2017). He received the first quarter of his inheritance at 21, then 25, 30, and the last at 35. His mother, Margaret, remarried two more times, first to Raymond T. Baker, with whom she had a daughter, Gloria Baker (1920–1975), and second, to Charles Minot Amory.
He was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Alice Claypoole Gwynne and was named in honor of his great-great-uncle George Washington Vanderbilt and his great-uncle George Washington Vanderbilt II. Vanderbilt's maternal grandfather, Isaac E. Emerson, was a very wealthy businessman who made a fortune in a variety of business ventures including patent medicines, the most notable of which was Bromo-Seltzer. A sailing enthusiast, Emerson instilled a love for the sport in young George from an early age and as an adult, he used his sailing skills and wealth for scientific research.
Vanderbilt did not attend college, but by the time he turned 21, he had already led two expeditions to Panama and Africa, with some lasting up to 10 months, bringing back various snakes, fish, insects and birds. In 1937, he went on a six month with the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences to the South Seas, bringing back 20,000 species of birds, fish and reptiles. He owned several yachts and used them to conduct scientific expeditions all over the globe. His voyages conducted important research in expeditions to Africa in 1934 and aboard the schooner Cressida, he made an ocean journey in 1937 to the South Pacific (visiting many islands with a wide geographic range) that carried out a systematic study of more than 10,000 fish specimens (434 species in 210 genera).
He established the George Vanderbilt Foundation, of which he was president, for scientific research around marine biology. However, outside of academic circles, his important work has mostly been overshadowed by the lavish lifestyles and the Vanderbilt mansions of some of the other members of the Vanderbilt family.
George Vanderbilt was married four times throughout his life. His first marriage was in 1935, when he married Louise "Lulu" Miriam Parsons (1912–2013). Lulu was born in Montclair, New Jersey and her father, J. Lester Parsons, founded the international re-insurance firm of Crum & Forster in 1896. Together, George and Louise had:
In 1946, the Vanderbilts divorced and in 1950, Louise married Ronald Bush Balcom (d. 1994), a champion skier who had previous attained celebrity when he became the third husband of Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers. Also in 1950, George Vanderbilt married Anita C. Zabala Howard at his home in South Carolina. She was a descendant of one of California's first Spanish families and the former wife of California sportsman Lindsay C. Howard. They divorced in 1958 after nearly 8 years of marriage.
In 1958, he married for the third time to Joyce "Josh" Branning, (1926–2016) daughter of Enid and Ralph Branning. They later divorced and, in 1963, she married Edward L. Doheny III (d. 1999), grandson of Edward L. Doheny.
On March 23, 1961, he married Louise Mitchell Paine in Scottsdale, Arizona. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Children’s Cancer Fund of America and was the daughter of Harold E. Mitchell and had previously been married to Edward Bragg Paine (d. 1951). Edward's widow later married Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton. They were only married for three months as Vanderbilt died in June 1961.
In 1935, he purchased the 32 acre Charles W. Sloane estate on Middle Neck Road in Sands Point on the Long Island Sound, shortly after his first marriage. In 1937, he had commissioned a home by society architects Treanor & Fatio on the property. He sold the home to Henry Lustig, founder of the Longchamps chain of restaurants, in 1945.
In 1946, he purchased 1,500 acres in Siskiyou County near Lake Shastina and the Shasta–Trinity National Forest in Northern California. In 1949, he built a large ranch house, known as "Shadow Valley Ranch" along with a guest cottage, carriage house, tennis court, riding trails, waterfalls and several barns. The home was host to many important people of the times, including overnight guests Harry Truman, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd and Ginger Rogers. The house was sold by his widow in 1990 and burned down in 2012.
On June 24, 1961, George Washington Vanderbilt apparently committed suicide by leaping from his 10th floor suite at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, California. His wife said he was despondent over unspecified business setbacks. Investigators found large amounts of alcohol in his blood stream.