I knew of Gloria Vanderbilt growing up because she made great jeans and she was the “poor little rich girl,” Little Gloria – a Vanderbilt.
It wasn’t until I read her new memoir, co-authored with her son, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, that I saw the woman behind the myth: the young woman at the center of one of the most notorious custody battles in history; the much-married mother of four boys who drank too much while they were growing up; the mother who was home when her son, Carter, decided to leap off the terrace of her Manhattan apartment; and the 92-year-old woman who has come to peace with her past, who – in spite of everything – believes she is a “hopeless optimist.”
Cooper and his mother based this book on their ongoing email correspondence that began as Vanderbilt turned 91.
“I decided to start a new kind of conversation with her, a conversation about her life. Not the mundane details, but the things that really matter, her experiences that I didn’t know about or fully understand.”
While her first responses to Anderson were “one or two lines long,” as she got more familiar with the format, Vanderbilt poured out her heart to her son, pulling no punches, with remarkable candor and insight.
I was particularly interested in the life Vanderbilt made with Wyatt Cooper. With him, she had two boys, Carter and Anderson. He died of heart failure in 1978.
Vanderbilt writes: “There are times even now when dark thoughts take over. Instead of fighting or pushing them away, I pursue each to its final destination. Entering the tunnel, I know I will circle back, as always, to the place I started from; wishing it had been me who died instead of your father. How much better he would have been at guiding you and Carter, far better than I could.”
Cooper answers: “I hope you know that I do not feel this way. . . . You opened my mind early on to the idea that I could achieve anything I wanted if I were willing to work relentlessly for it. It was by watching you that I began to imagine what my own life could become, and I love the life I have now.”
Genuine tenderness between two people who are bound by blood, respect and love – a lot of love.