This book is based on email correspondence between journalist Anderson Cooper and his nonagenarian mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Though perhaps not so well known today, Gloria was once a darling of the media. During her long and eventful life Gloria was an heiress, socialite, actress, artist, designer, fashion mogul, and author. She had numerous affairs with famous men and was married four times. All this made Gloria fascinating to the public.
Though Gloria had an enviable life in many ways - with ritzy apartments, beautiful clothes, celebrity friends, a fulfilling career, and so on - she was a troubled soul. Gloria was born in 1924 and lost her father when she was just 15 months old. Gloria's mother, a young and beautiful free spirit, had no interest in raising a child. Thus, little Gloria was brought up by her caregiver (Dodo) with the help of her grandmother (Nanny)...and later on her Aunt Gertrude (Auntie Ger).
Gloria's young life was chaotic. Her mother, wanting to attend all the best parties in Europe, towed little Gloria (and her caretakers) all over France and England. Thus the child was constantly moving from one hotel or apartment to another, packing, unpacking, meeting new people, etc. - with no stability in her life. Gloria considered Dodo and Nanny her 'mother and father' and the lack of a real dad had a lasting impact. From the time Gloria was 17 years old she tended to fall in love with much older men.
One of the most significant events in Gloria's life was a highly publicized custody battle when she was 10 years old and residing in the United States. Nanny and Auntie Ger went to court to wrest Gloria away from her mom, who they deemed an unfit mother who was squandering Gloria's support money. Nanny and Auntie Ger won custody, and mom got visitation rights. This apparently caused lasting bad feelings and may even have played a role in Gloria's first marriage. At 17 Gloria wed an abusive gambler named Pat DiCicco - a superficial charmer in his mid-thirties. According to Gloria, her mother quickly planned the (ill-considered) wedding to get Gloria away from Auntie Ger.
Reading about Gloria's life, I was struck by her odd behavior with men For example, Gloria was in the midst of a torrid affair with the billionaire Howard Hughes - whom she said she was going to marry - when she suddenly got engaged to (her previous beau) DiCicco. After Gloria's first divorce - at the age of 21 - she 'fell in love at first sight' with 63-year-old conductor Leopold Stokowski...and married him. When this union ended, Gloria 'fell in love at first sight' once again, this time with director Sidney Lumet...and they wed. Finally, Gloria fell madly in love with and married Wyatt Cooper - who fathered Anderson and his brother Carter. The book also mentions affairs with Frank Sinatra and an unnamed married man. Gloria attributes these impulsive relationships to the absence of a father in her life.
Sadly, Gloria and Anderson experienced two terrible tragedies, with the death of Wyatt Cooper in 1978 and the suicide of Carter Cooper in 1988. Gloria also had the misfortune of trusting people too much. She was defrauded by her psychiatrist and attorney - who 'managed' her business affairs and didn't pay her taxes. Gloria lost a fortune, but her spirit was never broken. She sued the crooks and won but - since the doctor was disgraced and the lawyer died - Gloria never recovered her money. Still, (over time) Gloria rebuilt her fortune and paid off the IRS.
Anderson is much more reticent about himself in the book, though he does mention the discomfort he felt about telling his mother he was gay. He also talks about feeling driven to establish a career, and choosing to become a foreign correspondent in some of the world's most dangerous regions.
It's interesting to learn a little about Gloria Vanderbilt's life, but - in all honesty (and making allowances for her difficult childhood) - I don't find her to be a completely sympathetic character. Gloria talks a lot about her loves, marriages, acquaintances, painting career, acting roles, etc. in the early 1940s - during World War II - but there's almost no mention of the fighting. It seems like Gloria and her social circle just partied on, unaffected by the cataclysmic event. I was also put off by some of Gloria's relationships with men. For instance, two months after the death of her beloved husband, Wyatt Cooper, Gloria was entangled in a serious romance with her former spouse, Sidney Lumet. Gloria also (rather shamefacedly) admits that she burned an unread letter from the nurse taking care of her beloved (now elderly) Dodo....just before the woman died.
Of course it's not for me to judge Gloria, and I did enjoy the peek into the lives of some privileged and wealthy people. I was also touched by the close relationship between Gloria and Anderson, who love and admire each other; have the same the drive to succeed on their own merits; and share the sadness of their early losses.
I'd recommend the book to readers who enjoy celebrity memoirs.
Rating: 3 stars