Dear Friends and Readers,
This weekend I viewed a fascinating documentary of the life of Gloria Laura Vanderbilt. For those of you who do not know who she is here’s a thumb nail sketch of her life. She was born to Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt the only heir to a railroad fortune and Gloria Morgan a 19 year old. Within a year, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt was dead and baby Gloria Laura Vanderbilt inherited her father’s fortune. Gloria’s mother, also named Gloria became dependent on her infant daughter for support.
The story gets trickier. By the time Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was nine her grandmother, Laura Kilpatrick Morgan filed suit against her daughter, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt saying that she was an unfit mother. Are you lost? The bottom line was that Gloria’s birth mother lost custody of Gloria Vanderbilt and Gloria Vanderbilt became the ward of her Aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney until she was 17. Then Gloria married her first husband Pasquale di Cicco who allegedly beat the heiress and verbally abused her. Gloria divorced di Cicco, turned 21 inherited a five million dollar fortune and the next day married Leopold Stokowski who was 42 years her senior. Gloria Vanderbilt would marry Hollywood film director Sidney Lumet whom she would divorce to marry Wyatt Cooper who was the father of Anderson Cooper, the television journalist who was the impetus to create the documentary that I watched yesterday afternoon.
I write about this woman because in some ways she is a tragic figure. Despite her money and her fame and her beauty by the end of her life she seems lost and unfinished. Married four times and the mother of four children- one who committed suicide in front of her by jumping off of her penthouse terrace and another who for the past 35+ years has not spoken to her- at 92 Gloria Vanderbilt seemed to have regrets. In a perverse way this unfinished aspect of her life cheered me.
As I turn 60 this summer, I have at times felt that I have not accomplished all that I wanted to achieve by this milestone. I have been told by many that I should not be so hard on myself. Yet, in the wee hours of the morning, I am reminded that I am still editing my first novel. My children do not speak to me and I live from paycheck to paycheck. However, now I have a bench mark with which to gauge my life and my incomplete achievements. I will not likely create a 200 million dollar fortune by putting my name on the back pocket of jeans. I will hopefully not have a child commit suicide in front me and hopefully I will complete and share my first novel.
But here’s the thing- Gloria Vanderbilt’s financial success in the jean industry was not what she had aspired to. Like her Aunt Gertrude she aspired to be a painter- but from what I could see from the documentary this skill was left to wallow. I never knew that Gloria Vanderbilt had once been an aspiring artist. I have never seen, except for the in documentary, her work. This is true, despite the fact that her Aunt was one of the greatest art patrons of living American artists who would open the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. What this documentary taught me was without work and aspiration opportunity and access and money means nothing and creates nothing.
I must confess that I have often, without good reason or no reason disparaged the rich. This stemmed from my incorrect belief that money can fix almost anything- except death and old age. At the end of the documentary the viewers see Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Laura Vanderbilt -Di Cicco- Lumet- Cooper crying over the graves of her last husband, Wyatt Cooper and her son Carter Cooper who committed suicide. My heart went out to this fragile old woman who in the end says “It took me a long time to figure things out.” Yes, Gloria it took me a long time as well.
Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes