Vanderbilt, Gloria 1924–

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VANDERBILT, Gloria 1924–

(Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt)


Born February 20, 1924, in New York, NY; daughter of Reginald Claypoole (a financier) and Gloria Laura Mercedes Vanderbilt; married Pasquale DiCicco (an actor's agent), 1941 (divorced, 1945); married Leopold Stokowski (a conductor), April 21, 1945 (divorced, October 1955); married Sidney Lumet (a film director), August 27, 1956 (divorced, August 1963); married Wyatt Emory Cooper (a writer), December 24, 1963 (died January 5, 1978); children: (second marriage) Leopold Stanislaus, Christopher; (fourth marriage) Carter Vanderbilt (deceased), Anderson H. Education: Attended Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, New York, NY, 1955-58.


Artist, textile and fashion designer, actress, and author. Riegel Textile Corp., New York, NY, former director of design, beginning 1970; former designer of fabrics for Bloomcraft Co.; former designer of stationery and greeting cards for Hallmark Co.; also designed bed linens, table linens, jeans, china, glassware, scarves, and perfume; Gloria Vanderbilt, Ltd., chair, 1976—. Acted with numerous stock company productions during the 1950s, including productions of The Swan, 1954, and Peter Pan, 1958; made Broadway debut in The Time of Your Life, 1955; has also appeared on television programs, including Kraft Theater, National Broadcasting Co. (NBC-TV), Studio One, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS-TV), and U.S. Steel Hour, CBS-TV. Exhibitions: Painter, with exhibitions in several one-woman shows, including Rabun Studio, New York, NY, 1948; Bertha Schaeffer Gallery, New York, NY, 1954; Juster Gallery, New York, NY, 1956; Cord Gallery, New York, NY, 1966; Hammer Gallery, New York, NY, 1966, 1968; Washington Gallery Art, Washington, DC, 1968; Neiman-Marcus, Dallas, TX, 1968; Vestart Gallery, New York, NY, 1969; and Parish Museum, Southampton, NY; has also had exhibits in group shows at Washington Gallery Art, 1967, and Hoover Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 1971.


American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Federation of Arts, Authors League of America, Actors Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild.


Sylvania Award, 1959; Neiman-Marcus Fashion Award, 1969; Fashion Hall of Fame Award, 1970; Fashion Home Sewing Award, 1973; Frederick Atkins Certificate, 1974; San Francisco Beautiful Citation, 1975; American Mart Pacesetter Award, 1976; Gold Medal of Merit, National Society of Arts and Letters, 1976; Euster Award, 1977; Talbot Perkins Children's Services Mother of the Year Award, 1977; Woman of Achievement Award, Anti-Defamation League, 1981; Citation of Merit, National Arts Club, 1982; Distinguished Women of Achievement Award, Northwood Institute, 1985; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1986; Silver Spirit of Life Award, City of Hope; D.F.A. from Moore College of Art and International Fine Arts College of Arts.


Love Poems, illustrated by Ann Bridges Groth, World Publishing (Cleveland, OH), 1955.

Three by Two: A Play Taking Place at the Perdita Hotel, 1961.

(With Alfred Allen Lewis) Gloria Vanderbilt Book of Collage, Van Nostrand Reinhold (New York, NY), 1970.

(With Phyllis Hingston Roderick) Gloria Vanderbilt Designs for Your Home, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1977.

Woman to Woman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

Once upon a Time: A True Story (autobiography), Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Black Knight, White Knight (autobiography), Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Never Say Good-Bye (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

A Mother's Story (autobiography), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of play Cinamee. Contributor to periodicals, including McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, New York Times, and Saturday Review.


Once described in Life magazine as "an up-to-date and very feminine version of the many-faceted Renaissance man," the multi-talented Gloria Vanderbilt is known throughout the world as a gifted artist and successful businesswoman. The great-great-granddaughter of financier Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gloria Vanderbilt became a public figure at an early age as the subject of a custody dispute involving her mother and an aunt. Since then her name and face have frequently appeared in society columns, for she is now a prominent hostess and fashion trendsetter. She is often on lists of best-dressed women, and she heads a ready-to-wear clothing company bearing her name. At times she has tried to dodge publicity in an effort to separate her artistic work from her celebrity status.

Designing collages and painting have long been the focus of Vanderbilt's interest in the visual arts. Exhibitions of her work have been held in numerous major cities in the United States. After a producer saw her perform in a charity pageant in 1954, Vanderbilt briefly turned to acting as a creative outlet. She made her formal debut in a summer stock production of The Swan. In Variety, a reviewer observed of her performance: "Vanderbilt reveals a personal theatricalism that is lovely to see. Her poise, savvy, expressive beauty, as well as her dignity and reserve all add up to a new personality to be reckoned with theatrically." Over the next several years Vanderbilt appeared in a number of television dramas and summer stock productions and had a small part in a Broadway play.

Vanderbilt's first book, Love Poems, was published in 1955. This collection of twenty-seven poems describing her search for love and happiness was drawn from the diary Vanderbilt has kept since she was a young girl trying to deal with her feelings. Gloria Vanderbilt Book of Collage and Woman to Woman later followed Love Poems. In collaboration with Alfred Allen Lewis, Vanderbilt wrote Gloria Vanderbilt Book of Collage in an attempt to share the pleasure she finds in visual arts and to motivate readers to make collages out of scraps and mementos. In Woman to Woman Vanderbilt expresses her ideas and philosophy of personal growth and encourages others to explore their own growth through creativity. Of Woman to Woman, J.S. Green commented in Library Journal that "this fascinating glimpse into the wellsprings of talent is also a celebration of love and sharing."

Once upon a Time: A True Story, Vanderbilt's first of several autobiographical works, covers the first seventeen years of her life. This book, written in the voice of a young girl, chronicles Vanderbilt's early childhood with an elusive, jetsetting mother, an ambitious grandmother, and loving nanny, as well as the painfully public custody trial between her mother and her aunt. " Once upon a Time is an impressionistic, almost childlike exercise in naive writing, but the choice of style serves her purpose," stated Merle Rubin in the Christian Science Monitor. Rubin continued: "Vanderbilt wants the reader to understand what it felt like to be the 'poor little rich girl' at the center of the maelstrom of publicity around the custody trial where young Gloria denounced her own mother." In the Globe and Mail, Joy Fielding described Once upon a Time as "a poignant childhood memory of innocence lost and betrayed. It is the age-old story of a woman given everything but what she needed most, as seen through the fresh eyes of a child, and told from the heart." Fielding further wrote: "Anyone interested in an intimate glimpse of a childhood torn apart by bitterness, and lived under the constant threat of abandonment and loss, could do no better than this heartfelt autobiography."

Black Knight, White Knight, the second volume in Vanderbilt's autobiographical series, covers her life from the age of seventeen until just before she turned thirty. In this book, Vanderbilt recounts her life as a young woman dating a number of eligible men (including Howard Hughes); she then goes on to describe such events as her first marriage to Pat De Cicco, her divorce from De Cicco (after he nearly beat her to death) and subsequent marriage to conductor Leopold Stokowski, the birth of her two oldest sons, and her brief affair with Frank Sinatra. As with Once upon a Time, the stories in Black Knight, White Knight are told in a much more naive and younger voice.

In a Detroit Free Press review, Barbara Stanton reported that even though this second volume of autobiography "describes thirteen more years of miserable treatment by people [Vanderbilt] trusted," it ultimately "fail[s] to deliver the emotional jolt or inspire the empathy for her that one might expect" because it is "too gushy [and] too elusive." In short, maintained Stanton, "a woman of Vanderbilt's style and intelligence might have produced a touching and thoughtful book about her passage to adulthood and independence." On the other hand, Anne Chamberlin wrote of Black Knight, White Knight in the Washington Post Book World: "Gloria Vanderbilt has an artist's eye, and her book is a kind of verbal sketch pad, where she traces events in quick and shadowy strokes, without hindsight or guile, as they appeared to her at the time…. Vanderbilt is a gifted and poetic writer."

Vanderbilt's third autobiographical volume, A Mother's Story, focuses on one of the most painful episodes in her life—the suicide of her son Carter Cooper, who in 1988 took his own life by jumping from the terrace of his mother's fourteenth-floor New York City apartment, cursing her when she tried to coax him back to safety. Library Journal reviewer Wendy Knickerbocker called A Mother's Story a "haunting portrayal," and further reported: "In spare, unadorned prose Vanderbilt relates 'the loss that had no echo' and her own survival." The book also recounts the sudden death of Cooper's father in 1978 and Vanderbilt's struggle to recover from that loss. It is "a paean to one woman's strength and faith," declared Patricia Hassler in Booklist. "Vanderbilt offers … assurance that every tragedy harbors hope." Martha Weinman Lear affirmed in the New York Times Book Review: "This is about survival. As for that which she has survived, if she does not say all there is to say, surely she says all that she can bear to know, or bear for us to know, in this small, brave, heartbreaking book."

With It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, Vanderbilt takes a more playful look back at her life, this time reminiscing about her many loves and often very public romances and affairs. Vanderbilt admits here to an "uncountable" number of romances, but she relates the details of a particularly notable thirteen of them. For example, she tells of an affair with a debonair Howard Hughes when she was still a teenager, and confesses that she would have married the once-dashing recluse with little hesitation. She describes a one-night flight with Marlon Brando, and her reaction to discovering that the actor kept a huge portrait of himself in his bedroom. She had an enjoyable fling with crooner Frank Sinatra, even though some friends warned her that Sinatra had a darker side—but if he did, she admits she never saw it. She tells of a tryst between herself and the very-married president of CBS, William Paley, and how the meeting turned into the comic and clichéd "chase around the sofas" as seen in many old, bad movies. Vanderbilt also notes how author Truman Capote based his famous novel, Breakfast at Tiffany's, on Vanderbilt and life at her New York brownstone apartment. She discusses her four marriages, and is particularly wistful about her fourth husband, Wyatt Cooper, whom she considered her soul-mate.

Vanderbilt attributes her keenly developed interest in men to the bitter custody battle between her aunt and her mother when the heiress was still a child. By the time she became an adult, "Gloria gained her share of the Vanderbilt fortune, but she lost what she really wanted: a relationship with her mother. It started her, she says, on a life-long search for love," noted a CBS News Online biographer. Vanderbilt's "tales of sex and romance are a little shocking, but it may be because we are more familiar with her tragedies." Critics responded well to the good-natured naughtiness and dishy, gossipy feel of the book. It "reads like zippy postcards from a colorful romantic journey," noted Francine Prose in People. A reviewer in O, the Oprah Magazine noted that the book and Vanderbilt's "intoxicating company will thrill female readers." A Kirkus Reviews reviewer concluded that Vanderbilt "is still as dewy-eyed about romance as any dreamy adolescent, asserting that there's always a chance of meeting someone who will transform her life and that dreams often do come true."

Vanderbilt has also written fiction, publishing such novels as Never Say Good-Bye and The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull. The former tells the tale of four sophisticated New York City women, each contributing to the narrative, and their emotional struggles. "The blurred voices and constant chopping and switching among subplots lead to a numbingly cryptic effect," complained Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg. A Booklist contributor dismissed the book as "weird stuff, indeed—not particularly readable and awfully esoteric." The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull was better received. The real-life Starr Faithfull was, like Vanderbilt, a child whose privileged upbringing hid a terribly unhappy life. In 1931, at the age of twenty-five, she threw herself from an ocean liner near Long Island. A socialite's suicide was already a juicy news story, but Faithfull's death became even more sensationalized when reporters, searching her apartment, found diaries detailing an often bizarre and promiscuous sex life. Although it was not widely reported, the diaries even indicated that Faithfull had carried on a sexual liaison since the age of eleven with Andrew J. Peter, a cousin more than thirty years her senior—and a man who had once been the mayor of Boston.

As a child, Vanderbilt was fascinated by newspaper accounts of Faithfull's death. She developed an abiding interest in the case, and, in her novel, she attempts to recreate the journals that shed so much light on Faithfull's lurid life and death. Several reviewers judged Vanderbilt successful in recreating the voice of a young girl, yet found that the narrative ultimately becomes tiresome. David R. Slavitt reported in the New York Times Book Review that "the schoolgirl jabber" eventually becomes an "endless cadenza of banality … at first hypnotic, then repellent and then boring." A Virginia Quarterly Review contributor was more generous, observing that " Memory Book is an entertaining read with its historically accurate portrayal of an era of flappers, bathtub gin, and Atlantic crossings," but mentioning that "Starr's own voice is monotonous and repetitive." Joyce Johnson also found Vanderbilt's writing more compelling than her protagonist, noting in the Washington Post Book World that "Starr is more interesting as a case than a character: a drearily self-obsessed victim lacking any generosity of spirit or any inclination to struggle against her predestined destruction." Tribune Books writer Judith Wynn had no reservations about Vanderbilt's accomplishment, however. She found the seduction scenes "creepily erotic" and believed the book is important because it shows how easily neglected children can be seduced. Furthermore, she reported that "Vanderbilt's Starr … possesses an earnest, bright-eyed, questing air that keeps us hoping for a last-minute rescue."



Vanderbilt, Gloria, Once upon a Time: A True Story, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Vanderbilt, Gloria, Black Knight, White Knight, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Vanderbilt, Gloria, A Mother's Story, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Vanderbilt, Gloria, It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.


America's Intelligence Wire, November 26, 2004, Bob Thomas, "Gloria Vanderbilt Tells (Almost) All about Her Many Romances in New Book," review of It Seemed Important at the Time.

Booklist, August, 1989, review of Never Say Good-Bye, p. 1923; May 15, 1996, Patricia Hassler, review of A Mother's Story, p. 1153; September 15, 2004, Barbara Jacobs, review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 192.

Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1985, Merle Rubin, review of Once upon a Time, p. 30.

Detroit Free Press, May 3, 1987, Barbara Stanton, review of Black Knight, White Knight.

Entertainment Weekly, May 24, 1996, Alexandra Jacobs, review of A Mother's Story, p. 88.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 25, 1985, Joy Fielding, review of Once upon a Time.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1989, review of Never Say Good-Bye, p. 1197; March 15, 1996, review of A Mother's Story, p. 437; August 1, 2004, review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 735.

Library Journal, February 1, 1979, J.S. Green, review of Woman to Woman, p. 398; May 1, 1985, Rebecca Sturm, review of Once upon a Time; August, 1989, Michele Leber, review of Never Say Good-Bye, p. 166; May 1, 1996, Wendy Knickerbocker, review of A Mother's Story, p. 104; September 1, 2004, Rosellen Brewer, review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 163.

Life, October 7, 1968, profile of Gloria Vanderbilt.

Newsweek, April 29, 1985, review of Once upon a Time, p. 69.

New Yorker, May 13, 1985, review of Once upon a Time, p. 147.

New York Times Book Review, March 11, 1979, Caroline Seebohm, review of Woman to Woman, p. 15; April 14, 1985, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, review of Once upon a Time, p. 9; May 25, 1986, review of Once upon a Time, p. 24; May 31, 1987, Nora Johnson, review of Black Knight, White Knight, p. 22; November 5, 1989, Joan Mooney, review ofNever Say Good-Bye, p. 24; November 6, 1994, David R. Slavitt, review of The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull, p. 37; May 26, 1996, Martha Weinman Lear, review of A Mother's Story, p. 9.

O, the Oprah Magazine, October, 2004, "Hallelujah, Gloria! An Effervescent Toast to the Famous Men Who've Shared Gloria Vanderbilt's Champagne," review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 222.

People, October 11, 2004, Francine Prose, review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 58.

Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Never Say Good-Bye, p. 48; April 1, 1996, review of A Mother's Story, p. 63; July 12, 2004, review of It Seemed Important at the Time, p. 51.

Time, May 6, 1985, Stefan Kanfer, review of Once upon a Time, p. 92.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 11, 1994, Judith Wynn, review of The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull, p. 5.

Variety, August 18, 1954, review of Vanderbilt musical performance.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1995, review of The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull, p. 90.

Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1985, review of Once upon a Time, p. 3.

Washington Post Book World, April 28, 1985, Anne Chamberlain, "A Child's Garden of Hurts," profile of Gloria Vanderbilt, p. 6; May 24, 1987, Anne Chamberlain, "Gloria Grows Up," review of Black Knight, White Knight p. 8; October 23, 1994, Joyce Johnson, "The Beautiful and the Damned," review of The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull, p. 2.

online, (November 20, 2004) "Gloria Vanderbilt's Love Live—So Many Men, So Much Time …," review of It Seemed Important at the Time.

CBS News Online, July 31, 2005, "Gloria Vanderbilt's Many Loves," review of It Seemed Important at the Time.

Gloria Vanderbilt Home Page, (September 10, 2006).

Internet Movie Database, (September 10, 2006), biography of Gloria Vanderbilt.

NNDB, (September 10, 2006), biography of Gloria Vanderbilt.*

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Vanderbilt, Gloria 1924–

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