“Fatherless girls think many things possible and nothing is safe.”
-Mary Catherine Gordon
The same of course can be true for boys who lose their fathers way too soon. Such was conveyed by Anderson Cooper on Charlie Rose’s PBS program this week. I thought it was a really powerful statement expressing just how much different this made the lives of all those now fatherless children. I know it originally read as “girls” not boys but I think the opposite actually rings more true. Thinking of all of those little boys who now had no one to use as an example of the kind of men they would grow up to be, especially if their fathers were extraordinary men. Anderson’s father, author Wyatt Cooper, fits right into that category. Wretchedly this is a feeling many can relate to, the first being his mother Gloria Vanderbilt.
A book written by this mother and son, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes”, debuted last week and been placed on The New York Times Best Seller list. The book is a project that came about after a year of emails Gloria and Anderson started writing to each other last year, shortly after Gloria turned ninety-one. Their email exchange lasted a year, as they finally spoke to each other as adults, filling in all the blanks of topics they had never discussed. As the last living member of his family, Anderson didn’t want there to be anything left unsaid, hence the name of the HBO documentary, “Nothing Left Unsaid”, which premiered last week as well. God what a great title and explanation all in one phrase.
This interchange between mother and son on the above mentioned PBS program perfectly sums up Gloria’s lifelong attitude about the positive things that are bound to come your way all throughout your life.
Anderson: “You still think some man is in a boat is waiting for you in the South of France.”
Gloria: “A boat?!! No, a yacht!!”
She is the internal optimist. She believes that there is a constant flow of good and bad in all of our lives and riding the wave is just part of the journey. Whereas Anderson believes that once the rainbow goes, so speak, it is gone forever. This is the biggest difference in their personalities and clarifies why they approached the tragedy in their lives so contrarily.
Gloria Vanderbilt married author Wyatt Cooper; he became her fourth and final husband. The marriage with her second husband would produce two boys, one who hasn’t spoken to the family in over twenty years and the other finally making some public statements during the documentary.
Gloria’s marriage to Wyatt produced two boys as well, Anderson, and Carter, his senior by two years. Carter sadly committed suicide at the age of twenty-three by jumping off a terrace in the family’s New York City apartment while Gloria watched in horror. About eleven years prior Wyatt died unexpectedly during heart surgery. That beautiful family of four was now reduced to two. Gloria has said before she would have followed Carter but she stopped when she thought of Anderson. That gets me in the gut every time. It is even more poignant when she says it in the film while pictures of her hugging Anderson at Carter’s funeral go by.
Sadly these were not the only tragedies Gloria Vanderbilt has had to endure in her life. It began at the age of eighteen months when her father, Reginald Vanderbilt, died leaving her seventeen year old mother unequipped to parent. In those days there were nannies and nurses in that social class so children were not always with their parents. Gloria spent the next eight or so years living in Paris wither mother although truly being raised by her nurse. Eventually Gloria’s aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (yes of the museum fame) who was her father’s sister took her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt to court to fight for custody. The media’s of so called “poor little rich girl” would be made to live in America with her aunt. This was the original “trial of the century” making headline news during the Depression as there were breadlines all across the nation; two rich families were battling over a child. Needless to say her after her aunt won and Gloria did not see her mother again until she was a teenager on the verge of adulthood herself. I read all about it in a fascinating book called “Little Gloria Happy at Last”.
As a fan of both Gloria and Anderson my travel has brought me places that were familiar to them as well. For instance when I visit Newport, Rhode Island there was no way to avoid the Vanderbilt estate known as a “summer cottage”. In fact visiting the mansions in that historic seaside town was the reason I went. “The Breakers” (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012/03/for-vanderbilts-summer-home-breakers.html) is a house that is always on the top lists for this and that. It is so magnificent as a work of art, architecture, and marvel it should be treasure forever. It makes Downton Abbey look like Alcatraz by comparison. The top floor still has some distant Vanderbilt relatives living there and is actually the place Gloria was taken by her nurse when her father died so suddenly. This way the adults could do what was necessary without her being in the way.
My love for Anderson has known no bounds for as long as I can remember. His prize winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina was particularly powerful as was his memoir “Dispatches from the Edge”. That is where I learned of his family’s heritage on both sides and how his background led him to his current career choices.
Clearly I have enough knowledge that I can recite off the top of my head, so naturally I am their unofficial spokesperson and biographer. In my mind I still feel like we have an intimate friendship and thus I cannot reveal their entire story that would be rude. Plus I don’t have the time!
Prior to this event last night, I have only seen Anderson up close two times and his mother once.
The first time I saw Anderson he was interviewing Gloria on his daytime television show (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2011/09/for-anderson.html), which has since been canceled. This was also the last time I saw either of them, or together, at that taping during the show’s first season.
The second time I saw Anderson Cooper I was at a Barnes and Noble event, another common stomping ground of mine, where he was interviewing Jeffrey Tobin about his latest book at that time. You undoubtedly know he had written the book of which FX’s O.J. Simpson show was based on.
As a proud and constant attendee at all things going on at 92Y I receive many emails about advance sales taking place. I also have to hold my breathe when reading their catalogs carefully searching to see which talks, book signings, etc. I will HAVE to attend. Usually there are too many so I have to narrow it down and pray I am free the night of something extra special. That is how I found out that Anderson and Gloria would be there talking about their new book. I was extra glad I got a front row seat and a pre-signed copy of the book. It seemed like it was way too good to be true. Having gone to the event last night I have to stay I still feel that way, peaceful but elated.
Here is a snidbit to hold you over until you see the documentary:
This is pretty much what it was like last night. But there it felt more intimate, more personal, and certainly more fun. I was right up front but that is not why I had those feelings. It was the way they spoke to each other and us the audience that created an atmosphere like we were all sitting in their living listening to the tales of their lives. They managed more than once to share some laughs even through the hard subject matters. Now I knew more than my fair share of the information they shared but still nothing compares to being there when they retell it.
The lyrics to Beyonce’s “Halo” explains it best:
“I swore I'd never fall again
But this don't even feel like falling
Gravity can't forget to pull me back to the ground again”
But this don't even feel like falling
Gravity can't forget to pull me back to the ground again”
To me it means that true love keeps you grounded unlike the puppy loves of our youth that create anxious buildups to moments that aren’t made of real love. This is how I feel about last night. I was finally in their presence hearing the answers to many questions I have had for years and instead of taking notes or worrying about getting a photo (92Y adamantly doesn’t not allow them) I choose to sit back and take them in. I was taking in their life lessons, how it felt to be so close to greatness, and how I was present in those moments. That is what I want to remember. I wasn’t jittery or nervous or planning what to do next. I was lucky to get to be a part of such an event that I will hold dear in my heart for the rest of my life. That is the greatest keepsake of all.
There is only a handful, less probably, of famous personalities that I feel truly have affected my life and who I would be floored to meet. Anderson is of course at the top along with Samantha Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Hillary Clinton, Annie Leibovitz, and Levi Kreis. Astonishingly I have completed this assorted bucket list with Anderson being the only hold out through no fault of his own. But I don’t feel jipped. I feel blessed.
Given that I do not know either of these famous people personally, I can still say with complete honesty that Anderson Cooper was one of the people who have changed my life, for the better that is. This past January, CNN had a program where the anchors answered that question while sharing who had influenced their life choices. I thought it was an interesting question so I began to think about who my answers would be, Anderson Cooper made the list for reasons you can read in that blog (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2016/01/for-person-who-changed-my-life_31.html).
I have always known that money doesn’t create happiness, it just makes life easier. But as we have seen the ways in which it makes it easier isn’t always so apparent.
Gloria Vanderbilt grew up as a relative of a large family she never knew. The simply life she craved was destroyed time and time again. However her vulnerability allowed her to be open for all of the great moments she has experienced during her last ninety-two years. It is a lesson for us all.
At the end of the talk, Gloria wanted to express the most important thing these projects with Anderson had given her. She started to speak and her voice cracked for the first time, with watery eyes she said “it all comes down to love. The love and relationship of a parent and a child is the most important thing. What else is there?” I am happy to say that the “Little Rich Girl” finally has the one possession money couldn’t buy, the one thing she wanted her whole life. No matter how long she lives I believe she now has her fairy tale ending.
For More Information on These Projects:
For More Information about Anderson:
For More Information on Gloria: