Vanderbilt in 1959
|Born||Gloria Laura Vanderbilt
February 20, 1924
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Other names||Gloria Vanderbilt|
|Occupation||Artist, actress, fashion designer, socialite|
|Children||4, including Anderson Cooper|
|Parent(s)||Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt
Gloria Laura Vanderbilt (born February 20, 1924) is an American artist, author, actress, fashion designer, heiress, and socialite. During the 1930s she was the subject of a high-profile child custody trial in which her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, and her paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, each sought custody of the child Gloria and control over her $5 million trust fund. Called the "trial of the century" by the press, the court proceedings were the subject of wide and sensational press coverage due to the wealth and notoriety of the involved parties, and the scandalous evidence presented to support Whitney's claim that Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt was an unfit parent.
As an adult in the 1970s, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt became known in connection with a line of fashions, perfumes, and household goods bearing her name. She was particularly noted as an early developer of designer blue jeans.
Vanderbilt was born on February 20, 1924, in Manhattan, New York City, the only child of railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880–1925) and his second wife, Gloria Morgan (1904–1965). When Gloria was born, her father was heard to exclaim in delight, "It is fantastic how Vanderbilt she looks! See the corners of her eyes, how they turn up?" She was baptized in the Episcopal church by Bishop Herbert Shipman as Gloria Laura Vanderbilt. After her father's death, she was confirmed and raised in the Catholic Church, to which her mother belonged. From her father's first marriage, to Cathleen Neilson, she had a half-sister, Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904–1944).
She and her half-sister became heiresses to a half share each in a $5 million ($69.8 million today) trust fund upon her father's death from cirrhosis when she was 18 months old. The rights to control this trust fund while Vanderbilt was a minor belonged to her mother, who traveled to and from Paris for years, taking her daughter with her. They were accompanied by a beloved nanny – Emma Sullivan Kieslich, whom young Gloria had named "Dodo" – who would play a tumultuous part in the child's life, and her mother's identical twin sister, Thelma, who was the mistress of the Prince of Wales during this time. As a result of frequent spending, her mother's use of finances was scrutinized by the child Vanderbilt's paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. A sculptor and philanthropist, Whitney wanted custody of her niece, which resulted in a famous custody trial. The trial was so scandalous that at times the judge would make everyone leave the room so as to listen to what young Vanderbilt had to say without anyone influencing her. Some people heard weeping and wailing inside the court room. Testimony was heard depicting the mother as an unfit parent; Vanderbilt's mother lost the battle and Vanderbilt became the ward of her aunt Gertrude.
Litigation continued, however. Vanderbilt's mother was forced to live on a drastically reduced portion of her daughter's trust, which was worth more than $4 million at the end of 1937 (over $68 million today). Visitation was also closely watched to ensure that Vanderbilt's mother did not exert any undue influence upon her daughter with her supposedly "raucous" lifestyle. Vanderbilt was raised amidst luxury at her aunt Gertrude's mansion in Old Westbury, Long Island, surrounded by cousins her age who lived in houses circling the vast estate, and in New York City.
The story of the trial was told in the 1980 Barbara Goldsmith book, and the NBC 1982 miniseries, Little Gloria... Happy at Last, which was nominated for six Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. Actress Jennifer Dundas played Gloria.
Vanderbilt attended the Greenvale School on Long Island; Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut; and then the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as the Art Students League in New York City, developing the artistic talent for which she would become increasingly known in her career. When Vanderbilt came of age and took control of her trust fund, she cut her mother off entirely, though she supported her in later years. Her mother lived for many years with her sister, Thelma, Lady Furness, in Beverly Hills and died there in 1965.
Vanderbilt studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse with teacher Sanford Meisner and studied art at the Art Students League of New York. She became known for her artwork, giving one-woman shows of oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels. This artwork was adapted and licensed, starting about 1968, by Hallmark Cards (a manufacturer of paper products) and by Bloomcraft (a textile manufacturer), and Vanderbilt began designing specifically for linens, pottery, and glassware.
From 1954 to 1963, Vanderbilt applied herself to acting. (Her first stage vehicle, The Swan, inspired the logo she later used as a fashion designer.) During this time in her life, she appeared in a number of live and filmed television dramas including Playhouse 90, Studio One in Hollywood, and The Dick Powell Show. She also made an appearance in a two part episode of The Love Boat in 1981. Other TV programs on which she appeared include Person to Person with Edward R. Murrow, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Live! with Kelly and Michael, and CBS News Sunday Morning.
Vanderbilt was also a top international fashion model. Beginning with the custody trial during her childhood, appearing at age 17 in Harper's Bazaar, being the public face of her clothing and fragrances lines, and noted for having inspired Richard Avedon, she has been a popular subject for photographers her entire life.
During the 1970s, Vanderbilt ventured into the fashion business, first with Glentex, licensing her name for a line of scarves. In 1976, Indian designer Mohan Murjani's Murjani Corporation, proposed launching a line of designer jeans carrying Vanderbilt's signature embroidered on the back pocket, as well as her swan logo. Her jeans were more tightly fitted than other jeans of that time. The logo eventually appeared on dresses and perfumes, while Vanderbilt also launched a line of blouses, sheets, shoes, leather goods, liqueurs, and accessories. Vanderbilt was one of the first designers to make public appearances, which was a difficult thing for her because of her shyness.
In 1978, Vanderbilt sold the rights to her name to the Murjani Group. She then launched her own company, "GV Ltd.," on 7th Avenue in New York. In the period from 1982 to 2002, L'Oreal launched eight fragrances under the brand name Gloria Vanderbilt. Jones Apparel Group acquired the rights to Gloria Vanderbilt jeans in 2002.
In the 1980s, Vanderbilt accused her former partners in GV Ltd. and her lawyer of fraud. After a lengthy trial (during which time the lawyer died), Vanderbilt won and was awarded nearly $1.7 million, but the money was never recovered, though she was also awarded $300,000 by the New York Bar Association from its Victims of Fraud fund. Vanderbilt also owed millions in back taxes, since the lawyer had never paid the IRS, and she was forced to sell her Southampton and New York City homes.
In 2001, Vanderbilt opened her first art exhibition, "Dream Boxes," at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester; it was a critical success. She launched another exhibition of 35 paintings at the Arts Center in 2007. Two years later, she returned to the Arts Center as a panelist at its Annual Fall Show Exhibition, signing copies of her latest novel, Obsession: An Erotic Tale.
As of late May 2016 Vanderbilt had written two books on art and home decor, four volumes of memoirs and three novels, and was a regular contributor to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Elle. In November 2010, Vanderbilt was the subject of a new book chronicling her life, titled The World of Gloria Vanderbilt, written by Wendy Goodman, New York's design editor. The book, published by Abrams, featured many previously unreleased photographs.
On April 5, 2016, HarperCollins Publishers released a new book, coauthored by Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper, titled The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss. The book was described as: "A charming and intimate collection of correspondence between #1 New York Times bestselling author Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, that offers timeless wisdom and a revealing glimpse into their lives."
On April 9, 2016, HBO premiered Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper, a two-hour documentary, produced and directed by Liz Garbus, that featured a series of conversations between the mother and son, covering the mother's storied life and family history in the public eye.
Vanderbilt was married four times, divorced three times, and gave birth to four sons in all. She also had several other significant relationships.
Vanderbilt maintained a romantic relationship with photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks for many years until his death in 2006. Other notable lovers included Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, and Roald Dahl.
Vanderbilt is very close friends with fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg. While appearing as a guest on her son Anderson Cooper's television talk show, Anderson on September 19, 2011, Vanderbilt referred to comedian and actress Kathy Griffin as her "fantasy daughter".
When Vanderbilt celebrated her 90th birthday on February 20, 2014, her collections of many drawings, paintings and collectibles were placed on display in the 1stdibs Gallery at New York Design Center in New York City.
Vanderbilt was baptized into the Episcopal Church as an infant, but was raised Roman Catholic and as a child was particularly fascinated with St. Theresa. Although religious in her youth, she no longer practices Catholicism and identifies more with a Zen Buddhist ideology.
Art and home decor:
Reggie was anxious to have his child baptized a Protestant. [His elder daughter] Cathleen had been christened in the Catholic faith; he wanted this baby christened in his own, and I consented. This ceremony was performed by Bishop Herbert Shipman in our large, formal, seldom-used drawing room. ... She was named Gloria after myself and Laura after my mother. ... James Deering was the baby's godfather and Gertrude Whitney was made her godmother ....
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