Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt was born on February 20, 1924 in New York City. Gloria is the only child of railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880–1925) and his second wife, Gloria Morgan (1904–1965).
She was christened in the Episcopal church as Gloria Laura Vanderbilt (and after her father’s death, christened 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 is a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family of New York and mother of CNN‘s Anderson Cooper.
She became heiress to a half share in a $5 million trust fund upon her father’s death from cirrhosis when she was 15 months old. The rights to control this trust fund while young Gloria 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 young Gloria named “Dodo“, who would play a tumultuous part in the child’s life, and her mother’s identical twin sister Thelma, Viscountess Furness, 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. Whitney, a sculptor and philanthropist, wanted custody of the young heiress. 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.
Influenced by reports from private detectives as well as family servants and youngGloria (who appears by all published accounts to have been somewhat emotionally and mentally unbalanced and who testified on Mrs. Whitney‘s side at the trial). Some people heard weeping and wailing inside the court room. Members of the Vanderbilt family came to believe that Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt was a bad influence and neglectful of her daughter. A custody battle erupted that made national headlines in 1934.
As a result of the scandalous allegations of Vanderbilt‘s lifestyle—including a purported lesbian relationship with the Marchioness of Milford Haven, and a brief engagement to HSH Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (rumored to be a fortune-hunter)—led to a new standard in tabloid newspaper sensationalism.
Gloria‘s mother lost the custody battle and young heiress became the ward of her Aunt Gertrude.
Gloria was raised amidst luxury at her Aunt’s mansion in Old Westbury, LI, surrounded by cousins her age who lived in houses circling the vast estate.
When the celebutante came of age and took control of her trust fund, she cut her mother off entirely.
At 17 years old, Gloria went to Hollywood where she married agent Pasquale (“Pat”) DiCicco in 1941, they divorced in 1945.
Her second marriage, to conductor Leopold Stokowski in April 1945, produced two sons, Leopold Stanislaus “Stan” Stokowski, born August 22, 1950 and Christopher Stokowski, born January 31, 1952; they divorced in October 1955.
On August 28, 1956, she married director Sidney Lumet; they divorced in August 1963.
She married her fourth husband, author Wyatt Emory Cooper on December 24, 1963. They had two sons: Carter Vanderbilt Cooper (born January 27, 1965) and CNN news anchor Anderson Hays Cooper (born June 3, 1967).
Gloria supported her mother in later years. Her mother lived in Beverly Hills, with her sister and died there on February 13, 1965.
During the 1970s, she 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 name embossed in script on the back pocket, as well as her swan logo. Her jeans were more tightly fitted than the other jeans of that time.
Wyatt Cooper died in 1978 during open heart surgery in New York City. Carter Cooper committed suicide on July 22, 1988, by jumping from the family’s 14th floor penthouse apartment as his mother tried in vain to stop him. Gloria believed that it was caused by a psychotic episode induced by an allergy to the anti-asthma medical prescription drug Proventil.
In the rare interview, on Cooper‘s syndicated talk show, Anderson, the 87-year-old Vanderbilt heiress opened up to her son, who asked her: “Do you still think about that day?”
“All the time, I still run through it. There was a moment when…he did not jump,” explained the soft-spoken former fashion designer. “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.
“I kept begging him too…and then when he went, he went like an athlete and hung over the wall like this. I said, ‘Carter, come back,’ and for a minute I thought he was going to come back, but he didn’t. He let go. There was a moment when I thought I was going to jump after him. But then I thought of you and it stopped me from doing that.”
“There is this word ‘closure’ that they talk spoke so much about today, but there’s never closure on something that happens like that,” explained Vanderbilt.
“It’s a ‘TV word,’” Anderson agreed.
“You can never get over it but you learn to live with it,” concluded his mother.
“I had a brother that committed suicide and that was more than twenty years ago and I’m still trying to figure out why he committed suicide,” Cooper said. “I think anyone who survives suicide, that’s one of the horrible things about it, you can’t pinpoint one thing necessarily always that did it.
“You can’t put yourself in someone else’s mind,” Cooper said, “a mind that is not acting rationally or not thinking rationally.”
She maintained a romantic relationship with photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks for many years until his death in 2006.
Gloria is very close friends with comedienne Kathy Griffin, and while appearing as a guest on her son Anderson Cooper‘s talk show, Anderson on September 19, 2011, referred to Kathy as her “fantasy daughter.” Kathy refers to Gloria as “Glo“, as did her third husband, Lumet.