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One On 1: Gloria Vanderbilt Looks Ahead At 87

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Gloria Vanderbilt has lived a long, storied life and expects even more excitement in the years to come after 87. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One On 1" report.

There is a lot of history in Gloria Vanderbilt's studio.

Even in a door that Vanderbilt says once belonged to a friend of Greta Garbo's.

"Greta Garbo touched this, so if you want to touch it you will know that Greta Garbo’s hand has touched that,” says Vanderbilt.

Gloria paints in her studio, which is a few floors beneath her apartment.

"This represents very much my colors that I love," says Vanderbilt.

Her work is everywhere, even on the bathroom walls.

"This was great fun to do, all my friends and my family," says Vanderbilt.

She is a descendant of the Vanderbilt family that was long a symbol of wealth in America: they had a railroad empire, Fifth Avenue mansion and hobnobbed with royalty.

But Gloria says she's never seen herself as a Vanderbilt.

"I grew up with an adored nurse, a nanny and my grandmother,” says Vanderbilt. “My father was dead, I rarely saw my mother, when I came to live with Aunt Gertrude, that’s when I realized I was from a well-known family, but I never felt like I belonged to them or was related to them."

The feeling is perhaps understandable considering that when Vanderbilt was only 10, she was the subject of a custody battle between her mother and Aunt, a battle that played out on the front page of the newspaper.

"Because I had publicity as a child, I knew very early on that if I was going to make something of my life,” says Vanderbilt. “I didn’t want to read anything about myself, I wanted to remain clear."

Vanderbilt says trying to define herself was like trying to bite her own teeth. She is often referred to as a socialite, but Vanderbilt is a painter and the author of several books. Several years ago, she acted, and in the 1970s her name was synonymous with designer jeans.

It's been a long and rich life, and it was chronicled in "The World of Gloria Vanderbilt," a 2010 book authored by Wendy Goodman.

"You know, there is a wonderful line in Tennessee Williams’ Play “Orpheus Descending,” the girl[‘s line], and it says, ‘I want to be seen, heard, felt,’ and I think we all have that in us," says Vanderbilt.

Gloria has written memoirs and novels, short stories and even an erotic book entitled "Obsession."

“She rips the mask off the other woman's face,” reads Vanderbilt. “As this happens, the two women clasp their arms around each other."

Not everyone was crazy about the idea.

"I of course showed it to my son, Anderson Cooper, and he cautioned me not to publish it, of course, and then I said come on, lighten up,” says Vanderbilt.

Indeed, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is Vanderbilt’s son, and there’s even a large cardboard cutout of him in her studio.

She recalls being interviewed once by her son.

"At the end, he asked me ‘what have you done that you admire most and think is the best thing that you have ever done?’ and I said ‘you,’" says Vanderbilt.

It is the fate of another son, Carter, that represents perhaps the lowest moment in a lifetime of joy and sadness.

In 1988, Carter Cooper jumped to his death, right in front of his mother.

Vanderbilt believes it was prompted by a psychotic episode induced by a prescription allergy drug. She wrote about it in her 1996 book A Mother's Story.

"There’s this word ‘closure’ which is very banded about today, and I don't think there is ever closure,” says Vanderbilt. “I think when someone dies that we have loved, everybody says ‘have you had closure?’ You never have closure."

Gloria Vanderbilt says she's always loved being photographed, especially when she was young.

“It gave me a sense of who I was and who I was becoming, so that was always very important to me,” says Vanderbilt.

As a young woman, she moved to California. Pictures of that time capture a moment of the once sheltered young heiress enjoying club life in Hollywood.

"Imagine you’re a bird, okay, and you’re in a cage, and suddenly the door is opened and you fly out,” says Vanderbilt. “[It felt] fantastic for a while.”

Speaking to an audience recently, Vanderbilt said that "nobody should let their daughter get married at 17, and certainly not for the reason to get away from home."

She had four marriages in all, and other loves, as well.

"The divine Frank Sinatra, who came along at a time in my life when I needed a white knight to rescue me, and he did," says Vanderbilt.

It's all in "It Seemed Important at the Time," what Vanderbilt calls her romance memoir.

Perhaps most compelling of all is her long relationship with photographer and author Gordon Parks.

They met in the 1950s, at a time when interracial couples were a rarity. Vanderbilt says the two never discussed race, but even something as simple as going out to dinner was an issue.

"We never discussed it, but we didn’t put ourselves in the position of being rejected, so to speak," says Vanderbilt.

Gloria says everything she writes is autobiographical. It's been a life filled with words, paintings and pictures, plus romance, the joy of family and the intense pain and then dull ache of tragedy.

At 87, Gloria Vanderbilt says she still looks forward to what might be on the horizon.

"I think something better and more exciting is going to happen,” says Vanderbilt. “I really believe that the phone rings and your life changes in a blink."

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