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The first time I met Gloria, it was at her apartment. I arrived with Anderson [Cooper, Vanderbilt’s son] and he rang the bell. She answered and greeted me incredibly warmly and then immediately put Anderson to work, asking him to go under a dining room table and figure out why a certain light wasn’t working in the room.
This was a metaphor for their relationship. Gloria was from another world and was not raised with the practical skills that most are raised with; changing lights was not part of her experience. After the passing of his father when he was young, Anderson became that person for her — a kind of nurturer, life organizer, in many ways. And she doted on him. She watched his show every single night and would send him texts with notes and compliments. She adored him.
Her whole life is a history book of New York society, and she had the best list of lovers of anyone in this century — everyone from Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn to husbands like Sidney Lumet and her dream partner (and Anderson’s father), Wyatt Cooper.
People are going to remember her for the Trial of the Century or for her jeans, but I like to think of her as a transplant from another world. Her strength and resilience gave her a power, and her modernity and acceptance of difference are what she should be remembered for. And her absolutely lovable and infectious soul.
Garbus, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker, chronicled Vanderbilt’s life, with the help of Cooper, in HBO’s Nothing Left Unsaid.
A version of this story appears in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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