In celebrating the HBO documentary 'Nothing Left Unsaid,' and the book ‘The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss,’ Gloria Vanderbilt and her CNN newsman son Anderson Cooper sat for a conversation on the stage of the 92nd Street Y. It was two years ago, and I was there.
They spoke about the tragedies and love that have come to shape their extraordinary relationship. Vanderbilt was candid about the story of her troubled mother Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, about the custody trial that shook America during the height of the Depression, and about her subsequent moving to grow up with her famous aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; she spoke about her glamour years in Hollywood, the multi-million blue jeans business, her marriages and love affairs with Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra, and about finally finding happiness with Wyatt Cooper. What I found mostly memorable was her young spirit and optimistic attitude at 92.
Gloria Vanderbilt was the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was a gambler and boozer who died at 43 of liver disease, and she moved in with her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 59, who founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, and who won custody of her niece. She emerged as a tastemaker and fashion icon, not only for the jeans company that she founded, transforming the identity of blue jeans into a fashion statement, but also because of impeccable taste. But, reading her son's tribute also reveals another dimension of her personality, one that brings this American royalty to a human level: Love.
'In the end, after all else is stripped away, there is only love,' wrote Cooper. 'My mom believed in love more than anyone. It was her guide, her solace, it’s what drove her, and in her final moments, it is what surrounded her. “i love you, you know that,” she would say to me, and i did, i knew it from the moment i was born, and i will know it till the moment i die. It was her greatest gift to me.'
Beautiful, extraordinary life.