Gloria Vanderbilt and her mother clashed and became estranged when she was very young. The pair's drama was a public mess, but they briefly reconciled when Gloria was an adult.
Gloria Vanderbilt's parents were Reginald C. Vanderbilt and Gloria Mercedes Morgan. He was a wealthy businessman, and she was much younger than him, and they tied the knot on March 6, 1923.
Morgan was Reginald's second wife at age 43, while she was a teenager at 17. According to Providence News, the couple was set to have 50 guests at their wedding.
Gloria Vanderbilt on “CBS Sunday Morning” on June 17, 2019, and her as a child on a merry-go-round on July 6, 1935 | Photos: YouTube/ CBS Sunday Morning & Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
Afterward, the pair traveled to Reginald's Newport estate of Sandy Point Farm. Less than a year after their marriage, Reginald and his wife welcomed their first child, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt.
Being so young, Morgan handed her daughter over to nurse Emma Keislich, and that's where she stayed as her parents took a ten-month trip around the world. The little girl was born at the consul-general in Buenos Aires.
Gloria Vanderbilt wearing a toweling robe in August 1954 | Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images
In her 2016 book, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes," Gloria revealed how her parents thought there was no point in spending time with her because she was a baby. Sadly, 15 months after her birth, Reginald died.
HOW HIS DEATH AFFECTED GLORIA
Reginald's death came not long after he and his wife returned to their Rhode Island home. He died from cirrhosis due to alcoholism at the age of 45, with his daughter recalling nothing about him and didn't miss him until she learned it was unusual not to have a father.
WHAT GLORIA GOT FROM REGINALD
Gloria's father died while in debt with his account holding only $423,761 and leaving almost nothing to his wife. In turn, his two daughters, Gloria and Cathleen, inherited $5 million that was kept in a trust created by their grandfather.
Cathleen was Gloria's much older half-sister, and the latter's share in the inheritance was half. It made Gloria much wealthier than her teenage widow mother.
QUOTE THAT WAS GLORIA'S FOUNDATION
Gloria's son, Anderson Cooper, later revealed that the quote his mother used as the foundation of her life was by Mary Gordon. The author said a fatherless girl thought everything was possible, but nothing was safe.
When Reginald passed away, his daughter's life began losing its stability. Little did Gloria know that a battle was about to start with her mother that would end in estrangement.
WHO CONTROLLED GLORIA'S INHERITANCE
Morgan took her daughter, her mother Naney Morgan, and Keislich to Paris. Being a teenager meant she couldn't control Gloria's inheritance, and a New York Surrogate Court Judge James Foley set up a $4,000 monthly stipend for Morgan to take care of her daughter.
Foley was the one who managed the trust fund. Gloria's mother was known for being a socialite who would attend dances, galas, and cocktail parties that cost a lot of money.
SPENDING GLORIA'S MONEY
Cooper told Forbes that his grandmother used child support money for her own needs. Morgan lived lavishly while expenses piled up and her daughter went neglected.
Gloria ended up seeing her grandmother and her nanny, who she called Dodo, as their family unit. The star wished to connect to her mother, but she couldn't get her attention.
THE DRAMA BEGINS
Things had already fallen apart for the family when Morgan decided to get engaged to the German prince Friedel Hohenlohe. While Gloria was living separately from her mother with Keislich and Naney, they tried to get her to bad-mouth Morgan.
They asked Gloria to write a letter to her grandmother, lying that Morgan had asked her not to pen it. In it, she called Morgan a "rare bease," instead of "beast," and claimed she'd be arriving in New York soon.
The letter was a part of the nanny and grandmother's plan to paint Morgan as an unfit mother to the Vanderbilt's. Naney even went as far as getting a court surrogate involved in the matter.
The monthly payments of the inheritance were reduced, and realizing she was in danger of losing her meal ticket, Morgan petitioned to become her daughter's guardian. Then Naney protested and filed a complaint claiming Morgan was an unfit mother.
THE START OF THE TRIAL
At age 9, Gloria happened to overhear her mother discussing the possibility of losing her. Morgan, whom Gloria called a "magical stranger," told her twin sister that the first thing they needed to do was to get rid of Keislich.
Gloria was hysterical as she ran upstairs to her nanny with the news. Keislich reacted by lying and taking the little girl to Greenwich Village, where Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, her aunt, had an artist's studio.
PETITIONING FOR CUSTODY
After hearing little Gloria's story, Whitney decided to petition for custody, and that's where the famous trial began. In April 2016, Cooper sat down with his mother for a CNN interview about her childhood.
While discussing her book "The Rainbow Comes and Goes," Gloria recalled having never had a father and mother figure growing up. Although they weren't close, she only had her grandmother and nanny but placed Morgan as beautiful.
THE CUSTODY TRIAL
Before the trial began, a judge urged Morgan not to put Gloria through such a public ordeal. Whitney even offered her $50,000 annually for life to give her custody of Gloria.
However, Morgan felt it wasn't enough and didn't want to lose her prime real estate. Naney turned against Morgan, and the central accusation was that money mattered more to her than love.
One of the testimonies against Morgan was that she slept until one or two in the afternoon. Then she had cocktail parties, dinners and visited nightclubs until the early hours of the following morning.
Former servants also claimed that Morgan ignored her daughter. She was also accused of drinking excessively, having a lesbian relationship, and owning "seven erotic books."
After almost a year of accusations, Whitney won primary custody, and Morgan was allowed to see her daughter on weekends and some holidays. However, a detective or nurse had to accompany them.
Sadly, the judge ruled that Keislich had negatively influenced the child against her mother, referencing the fake letter. The nanny was ordered to no longer care for Gloria.
Gloria saw her mother rarely over the next few years until they met again when she was 17 and visited Morgan for the summer in California. She never left the city as she loved the socialite life her mother introduced her to.
After dating Errol Flynn and Howard Hughes, Morgan urged Gloria to marry Pat DeCicco. The agent and mobster were much older than Gloria, and they stayed married for four years.
THE END OF THEIR BOND
Besides Gloria's marriage failing, amidst abuse accusations, in 1946, Cooper's mother stopped paying Morgan a portion of her trust. Reports said Morgan was offered two jobs after being cut off – a dancing teacher or an actress.
However, Morgan and her twin sister, Thelma, had a dress business. They'd also done an advert for Pond's cream and even sold puppets, and Gloria and Morgan reunited again 15 years later but never connected.