Gloria Vanderbilt has been in the headlines for most of her life: a heated battle between her parents over her custody during the Great Depression, the loss of a son that haunted her for years, owing millions to the IRS, and now, upon her death on June 17, 2019 at the age of 95.
Vanderbilt was known for many things throughout her fascinating and storied existence. Indeed, she was an heiress, but she was also an artist, a model, an actress, a one-time jeans designer, and a mother. Her life is the stuff of legends. Read on to discover more about Vanderbilt.
She Looked Like A Vanderbilt And Was Rich Like One, Too
Gloria Vanderbilt was born to railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt and his second wife, Gloria Morgan, on February 20, 1924, in New York City. Vanderbilt’s father was so excited upon her birth that he exclaimed, “It is fantastic how Vanderbilt she looks! See the corners of her eyes, how they turn up?”
Unfortunately, Reginald Vanderbilt died from cirrhosis when Vanderbilt was just 18 months old. She and her half-sister Cathleen (from Reginald’s first marriage) thus inherited half a share each of a $5 million trust fund, worth over $71 million by today’s standards.
Her Mother Was Sued For Custody
Vanderbilt’s mother managed to convince the court to release $4,000 a month in order to care for her daughter. Instead, the elder Gloria squandered the trust money on trips to and from Paris, taking her daughter with her. This led to a heated custody battle between Vanderbilt’s mom and her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who believed the elder Gloria partied more than she cared for her daughter.
At times during the scandalous trial in 1934, the judge made everyone leave the room to hear what 10-year-old Vanderbilt had to say without anyone influencing her. In the end, Vanderbilt became the ward of her Aunt Gertrude.
They Called Her “Poor Little Rich Girl”
The custody battle between Vanderbilt’s mother and aunt was in the headlines so much that the public dubbed the 10-year-old at the center of it all “poor little rich girl.” The case was such a national sensation that in 1982, a movie based on the story was made.
NBC produced a mini-series called Little Gloria… Happy at Last based on the 1980 book of the same name by Barbara Goldsmith. Jennifer Dundas played Vanderbilt, while Angela Lansbury played Vanderbilt’s aunt. The movie was nominated for six Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award.
She Had To Cut Her Mother Off
As a result of being put under her aunt’s custody, Vanderbilt inevitably grew somewhat estranged from her own mother, who was granted weekend visitation rights. “I had no relationship with her at all and I just worshiped her from afar,” Vanderbilt said of her mother in 2016.
Despite missing her mother, Vanderbilt still cut her mother off financially when she turned 21 and gained control of her trust fund. By then, Vanderbilt had gone to Los Angeles where her mother was living but rarely saw her. Later in life, Vanderbilt supported her mother until Gloria Morgan’s death in 1965.
She Had A Thing For Older Men As A Teenager
Gloria Vanderbilt went to Hollywood as a teen in 1941. There, at age 17, she married acting agent and alleged mobster Pat DiCicco, who was 15 years her senior. DiCicco was reportedly physically and mentally abusive towards Vanderbilt. They had no children and divorced in 1945.
The same year, she married conductor Leopold Stokowski—41 years her senior—with whom she had two sons: Stan and Christopher. Vanderbilt and Stokowski divorced in 1955. Vanderbilt’s third husband was director Sidney Lumet in 1956. The third marriage lasted seven years and produced no children.
She Was Both The Artist And The Subject
Gloria Vanderbilt studied art at the Art Students League of New York, which sparked a life-long love of art early on. In 1948, She would put on one-woman shows of her oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels (which would come full circle later in her life when she turned to fashion).
Of course, her work introduced her to other artists, especially photographers, who loved to use Vanderbilt as a model. As a result, Vanderbilt had an early career in modeling and was featured in a spread in Harper’s Bazaar when she was just 17.
Vanderbilt Became An Actress
During the ’50s, Vanderbilt tried her hand at acting, having attended New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse where she studied under Sanford Meisner (Tender is the Night, Paradise Lost). She made her stage debut in a 1954 production of The Swan at the Pocono Playhouse in Pennsylvania, in which she was the lead.
She then went on to Broadway playing Elsie in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life alongside John Carradine, John Randolph, and Doris Roberts in 1955. The production closed after 15 performances and Vanderbilt subsequently took her acting talents elsewhere.
She Dated Howard Hughes
One of the men that Vanderbilt was involved with as a teen was business tycoon Howard Hughes. She was only 17 when she met then-36-year-old Hughes, who dropped by her mother’s house in Beverly Hills to offer Vanderbilt a screen test for a movie in 1941.
Instead of doing the screen test, Vanderbilt started dating Hughes. “I can’t reconcile the man I dated with the man he apparently became. When I knew him, he was thirty-six, wildly romantic, and gentle, yet he had the power to rule the world,” Vanderbilt later recalled. Though she was in love with him, Hughes never proposed.
She Was Involved With Frank Sinatra
Outside of her marriages, Gloria Vanderbilt was known to be involved with a string of famous men, including Frank Sinatra. They met through a mutual friend, songwriter Jule Styne, who told Vanderbilt that Sinatra wanted to meet her. At the time, Vanderbilt was still studying with Meisner but Sinatra offered her contracts for a few movies, including 1960’s Ocean’s 11.
But as Sinatra was jet-setting all over the world, Vanderbilt became involved with Lumet and was still devoted to Meisner. Eventually, she stopped working with Sinatra but they remained good friends. “I’ll always remain friends with men I’ve been in love with,” she once said.
She Inspired Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Throughout her life, Gloria Vanderbilt was considered a socialite, considering her careers in art, acting, and fashion. Her status within the New York social scene is said to have inspired Truman Capote to base Holly Golightly, the main character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, on her.
Indeed, Vanderbilt and Capote were friends in real life. “He was terrific, but you never trusted him. I would never have revealed anything to him that I didn’t want repeated because he was a terrible gossip about everyone,” she revealed to Interview magazine in 2014.
She Is Estranged From Her Oldest Son
Not much is known about Vanderbilt’s second-born son Christopher, who reportedly cut himself off from the family in 1978. Before Vanderbilt sued her therapist in 1993, she was reportedly heavily under his influence, which caused a riff between her and Christopher.
The incident is said to have affected Chris’s relationship with his former fiancée, which led him to stop talking to his mother and live as a recluse. In the HBO documentary of Vanderbilt’s life, Nothing Left Unsaid, Chris is unmentioned. “I think she respects his privacy and [not mentioning him] is out of love for him,” the former fiancée told Page Six.
Vanderbilt’s Final Marriage To Wyatt Cooper
Vanderbilt’s fourth and final marriage was to writer Wyatt Emory Cooper in 1963. In addition to being a published author, Cooper also found success as a scriptwriter in Hollywood and sometimes has small bit parts on television. On his part, it was Cooper’s first marriage in which he became the stepfather of Vanderbilt’s three sons from her marriage to Stokowski, who were 11 and 13 at the time.
Vanderbilt and Cooper had two sons, Carter and Anderson, born in 1965 and 1967, respectively. They remained married for 15 years until 1978, when Cooper passed away while undergoing open-heart surgery.
She Supported Her Son’s Coming Out Thanks To Her Mom
One can surmise that Vanderbilt was a supportive mother, especially when it came to her son’s sexuality. Anderson Cooper came out to his mom in college and grew up surrounded by her gay friends. Vanderbilt, of course, loved her son regardless, considering her own upbringing.
She once admitted that she was “terrified” when her mother was accused of being a lesbian during her childhood. “My mother was bisexual… That terrified me, because at the time it was considered a crime, a sin, and I thought I might have inherited it – though I had no idea what it was,” she wrote.
The Loss That She Can Never Unsee
Tragedy didn’t end with the elder Cooper’s passing. Ten years later in 1988, Carter Cooper plunged to his death from the 14th-floor penthouse terrace of his mother’s East Side apartment in what police called an apparent suicide. He was only 23-years-old.
Vanderbilt was reportedly there when her son took the plunge. “All the time, I still run through it. There was a moment when… he did not jump. He was sitting on the wall thirteen floors up, on the balcony. With one foot on there and one foot hanging down, he kept looking down,” Vanderbilt recalled her youngest son Anderson in a 2011 interview.
Vanderbilt Pioneered The Designer Jean
One thing that Gloria Vanderbilt will always be remembered for is her line of denim jeans, a business venture she says she fell into by accident. “How I got into fashion is Glentex produced scarfs done from paintings of mine,” she recalled to Los Angeles Times in 1978.
She then began designing blouses for Indian designer Murjani, who had tons of denim fabric in storage. Vanderbilt came up with the idea to create a great fitting jean with her name and a swan logo (an homage to her stage role) emblazoned on the back. Thus, the designer jean was born.
She Made A Fortune In Her Own Right
The success of Vanderbilt’s jeans line was hallmarked by the fact that she became a spokesperson for her own clothes. It led to a brand extension that included shoes, clothes, accessories, sheets, leather goods, and a perfume collaboration with L’Oreal called Vanderbilt for women.
Vanderbilt’s fashion line was at its height throughout the ’80s and generated more than $100 million in annual revenue. Additionally, she earned $10 million annually in royalties from selling the rights to her name to the Murjani Group, which added to her wealth.
Vanderbilt Became A Victim Of Fraud
While Vanderbilt’s fashion line continued to rake in millions, there were some people in the background who were, unfortunately, taking advantage of her. Because she gave her lawyer and her psychiatrist power of attorney, they stole millions from her by selling her business interests without her consent.
Vanderbilt sued them in 1993 and ended up winning the court’s favor. In 1995, she was awarded $1.79 million but didn’t see a dime of it because her lawyer passed away. At the very least, she was awarded $300,000 from the New York Bar Association from the Victim of Fraud fund.
She Owed Millions In Back Taxes
Despite receiving payment from the Victim of Fraud fund, Vanderbilt then discovered that she owed $2.5 million in back taxes after her crooked lawyer failed to pay the IRS. This all went down during the mid-’90s, by which time her fashion line wasn’t as popular as it was in the ’80s. Sales were on a steady decline yet Vanderbilt’s spending habits remained the same. After all, she had been wealthy all her life.
As a result, she was forced to sell her seven-bedroom Southampton mansion and five-story New York City townhouse for $2.7 million to settle her debts.
She’s A NYT Bestselling Author
Writing has always been something that sparked a fire in Vanderbilt. So it’s no surprise that in recent years she’s written several books that have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. She wrote about her trysts with influential celebrities in 2004’s It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, which remains one of her most popular works to date.
In 2016, Vanderbilt also co-authored a book with her son Anderson Cooper titled The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss.
She Drew On Her Life To Create “Dream Boxes”
As a self-proclaimed “intuitive artist” Vanderbilt created works using “found” images and artifacts and in 2001, she put it all together to open her first official art exhibition called “Dream Boxes.” Featuring striking creations in plexiglass boxes, the exhibit was a critical success.
“The first inspiration for the Dream Boxes probably started when, as a child, I became fascinated by those glass balls which, when shaken, cause snow to swirl, drawing me into a world that had order, one that wouldn’t change or disappoint, shutting out and obliterating the world around me, the world I was in,” she said according to Ontario Review.
Anderson Doesn’t Get An Inheritance
Gloria Vanderbilt may have had a multi-million dollar inheritance before she could walk, but the heiress isn’t giving her sons the same advantage. “My mom’s made clear to me that there’s no trust fund,” Anderson Cooper told Howard Stern in 2014.
He added, “I don’t believe in inheriting money. I think it’s an initiative sucker… We believe in working.” Cooper pointed out that his mother made more money in her own personal business ventures than she ever did from her family name. For his part, the journalist wouldn’t need an inheritance anyway thanks to his own success as a CNN correspondent and the host of his own news show, Anderson Cooper 360°.
She Live To Be 95
Gloria Vanderbilt lived an incredible life full of happiness. She became a major influence in the fashion industry and will not be forgotten. Near the end of her life, Vanderbilt was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Less than one month after her diagnosis, Gloria Vanderbilt passed away. After passing, Anderson Cooper said, “The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I would say, ‘I love you, Mom. She would look at me and say, ‘I love you, too. You know that.’ And she was right. I did know that.”
She Called Kathy Griffin Her Daughter
Gloria Vanderbilt spent her life in the upper echelon of society. Her sense of humor, however, was more grounded. One of her favorite comics was foul-mouthed icon Kathy Griffin. They may not have been related, but that didn’t stop Vanderbilt from calling her a “fantasy daughter.”
Griffin made her name with her mouth, eventually leading to a show in E! where she criticized the state of the world in the only way should knew how.
She Was An Author
As Vanderbilt’s legacy grew, so did her interest in writing. In 2009 her first novel came out, and it was rather racy. Obsession was a passion project of Vanderbilt’s that she said was easy to write.
More specifically, she said the words, “fell on the page” in the process. Her friends thought the novel would ruin her reputation, but Vanderbilt didn’t care. According to stories, when they told her how they felt, she had to stop herself from saying, “Oh, goody!”
Her Final Net Worth
At the time of her death, Gloria Vanderbilt was worth an estimated $200 million. As you know, none of that money will go to Anderson Cooper, who wouldn’t want it even if he was supposed to get it.
As for where that money is going, we don’t know. Most journalists who wrote about her passing focused on Cooper’s lack of inheritance. We imagine there is a plan for what will happen to all her money, and that it will be revealed when the time is right.
She Wrote About Her Relationships
Gloria Vanderbilt might have published her first novel in 2009, but her first memoir came five years prior. Titled It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, Vanderbilt spilled the beans on all her juiciest romances.
For as introverted as she may have appeared, Vanderbilt wasn’t afraid to be honest on the page about her experiences with Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and Gene Kelly. If you want to know all about them, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the book for yourself!
The Reason She Was Introverted
The main reason Gloria Vanderbilt was introverted was because of her dark past. Her childhood trauma made her, “shy in my relationships with most people.” She also admitted that past also made her terribly insecure.
Speaking further on her introversion, Vanderbilt said, “I’m terrified of rejection. If someone is interested in me, they must be the first to make the effort.” The fact that she overcame this fear to become so famous is a true testament to the kind of person she was.
Her Childhood Became A Movie
During the middle of her life, Vanderbilt let author Barbara Goldsmith write a book about her upbringing. Little Gloria… Happy at Last focused on her custody trial as a young girl and the scandal that followed.
In 1982 the book was turned into a mini-series that starred Christopher Plummer, Angela Lansbury, and Bette Davis. The mini-series received one Golden Globe nomination for actress Lucy Gutteridge (pictured). The young woman portrayed Vanderbilt in the series in one of her first major roles.
She Chose A Swan For A Reason
For near a decade in the ’50s, Gloria Vanderbilt honed her craft in the theater. The first play she was cast and appeared in was The Swan. Later, when she built her fashion empire, she began putting a swan logo on her jeans.
The logo is an incredible nod to where she got her start, even if she did not stay in the theater. Vanderbilt cared about where she came from and wanted to show respect to her roots.
Money In The Bank
As we already discussed, Gloria Vanderbilt’s jeans were most popular in the ’80s with revenue in the hundred millions. At the time, a pair of her jeans cost $40, which goes to show just how popular her brand was.
Today, you can buy a pair of her jeans about $10 less and department stores like JC Penny. Of course, that’s after a sales discount, meaning her jeans are still popular and slightly more expensive in 2019.
Vanderbilt Studied Dreams
Gloria Vanderbilt was obsessed with dreams. The fascinated her, and she wanted to know everything about them. Specifically, she wanted to know what her dreams meant, and even began seeing a dream analyst in her 20s.
There was only one topic off-limits during these meetings. Vanderbilt refused to speak about her mother. She needed to trust her analyst first, a task which took a long time. Two years after she first started going, she finally talked about her mother.
As strange as it may sound, Gloria Vanderbilt only wore nail polish on her left ring finger. She would not be caught with polish on any other finger, “In mythology and palmistry, the left hand is called the dreamer because the ring finger on the left hand leads directly to the heart.”
This belief would continue throughout her life. In 2014, she even held an art exhibit she titled “The Left Hand is the Dreamer.”
The Meaning Behind Her Paintings
Vanderbilt began painting at 14 and was inspired by all the events happening in her life. One of her strongest pieces was influenced by her guilt of not being at the deathbed of Dodo, her childhood nurse.
Using art to deal with her real life traumas was one of Vanderbilt’s coping mechanisms. Today, a lot of her amazing art work can be found an Instagram account belonging to her studio. Take a peek for yourself to get an amazing look inside the legacy.
Inspiration In Words
You never know what the secret behind an artist’s motivation might be. When Vanderbilt felt unmotivated to work, she would turn to an odd source: the dictionary. To get her creative juices flowing, she would turn to a random page and point to a word.
This simple exercise would be enough to get her thinking. After that, her creative juices would begin flowing and she would be able to finish whatever project she was working on.
Gloria Vanderbilt was 95-years-old when she finally got an Instagram account. It was her son, Anderson Cooper, who convinced to finally take the plunge into the world of social media. As soon as she posted her first photo, she became Insta-famous.
Almost as quickly as she signed up, Vanderbilt had over 200,000 followers. She fell in love with the app as a result, “I have such fun deciding what I am going to post.Of course, I am tempted to post all day long, but Anderson warned me I shouldn’t get carried away.”
She Dropped Out Of School
We’ve already discussed how Gloria Vanderbilt fell in love with art at a young age. We have not talked about how that love effected her education. She dropped out of school to pursue art, and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse.
Vanderbilt also took an interest in visual art and studied at the Art Students League of New York. The decision to pursue her dreams young paid off, and he found instant success licensing her work to Hallmark and Bloomcraft.
She Was One Of The First Public Fashion Designers
When Gloria Vanderbilt built up her clothing brand, fashion designers tended to stay behind the scenes. They were not public figures and let their clothing speak for themselves. Vanderbilt flipped the expected script when she became a public figure.
Vanderbilt loved making appearances in her clothing designs, showing off how much she cared for what she was doing. It was uncommon at the time, but opened the door for other, even more eccentric, fashion designers to do the same thing.
Before Gloria Vanderbilt started designing and selling form fitting jeans, she made scarves and women wore looser denim. When she switched gears from neck warming attire to hip hugging jeans, the world changed forever.
Vanderbilt released her first line of jeans in 1976. The jeans took the world by storm and were an instant success. Over the next decade she Vanderbilt would become queen of the largest fashion legacies in the world. Today, he jeans are still as common as Levis, another classic brand.
Her Third Marriage Was To Sidney Lumet
While Vanderbilt’s fourth marriage was the charm, her third marriage was anything but lucky. She fell in love with Sidney Lumet, the director of 12 Angry Men and Network. She was his second wife.
Their tumultuous marriage lasted for seven years. When they divorced in 1963 the had zero children together. The unfortunate pairing didn’t stop her from looking for romance. Luckily for Vanderbilt, her final marriage would provide her with great happiness and child would follow brilliantly in her footsteps.
One Of Her Husbands Was A Mobster
After moving to Hollywood as a teenager, Gloria Vanderbilt met Pat DiCicco. They eventually got married, although he treated her poorly (which we’ve already covered). Working as an agent for actors, there are rumors that DiCicco also worked for the mob.
If he was a mobster, he worked for Lucky Luciano, who rose to power during prohibition. Luciano had several connections in the film industry, and was even on his way to meet with a producer in 1962 when he suffered a heart attack at the Naples International Airport and died.