Last of a dynasty: The story behind 'poor little rich girl' Gloria Vanderbilt ...

Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, above in a file photo from January 2016, died on Monday at age of 95 from stomach cancer

Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, above in a file photo from January 2016, died on Monday at age of 95 from stomach cancer

‘The poor little rich girl’ and grand dame of society, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 95 Monday from stomach cancer. Vanderbilt was born into unimaginable wealth on February 20, 1924 as the heiress to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune; her life story is one marked by privilege, glamour, powerful friends, famous lovers, and penetrating sadness.

‘She wanted to feel it all, she wanted to feel life’s pleasures, its pains as well,’ said her son, Anderson Cooper.

Gloria was a mother, designer, philanthropist, writer, artist, and actress – a veritable Renaissance woman.

Scandal defined Gloria's early life after her father Reginald Claypool Vanderbilt, a drinker and gambler, frittered away his inheritance and died when she was just 18 months old. Too young to control of her trust, her mother, Gloria Morgan, spent the the money on herself, partied her way across European soignee circles, including with the Prince of Wales, and funded her extravagant lifestyle by pilfering her daughter’s $2.5 million trust fund.

In 1934, Gloria was just a little girl when she became the center of a sensational lawsuit that was heard and reported around the world, it was dubbed as ‘The Trial of the Century.’ Gloria’s paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney sued for custody of little Gloria citing the neglect and immoral influence of her mother as cause. Salacious details from behind the curtain of America’s richest family captivated the poverty-stricken public during the Great Depression. Whitney slammed Morgan with reports of her ‘alleged erotic interested in women,’ while the defense argued that Whitney's work as a celebrated sculptor featured nudes.  

Custody was eventually awarded to Gertrude Whitney, but Gloria was left traumatized and even more isolated from the event. 

Years later, Gloria would write in her autobiography: ‘If you've never had a mother or a father, you grow up seeking something you're never going to find, ever. You seek it in love and in people and in .’

This raison d’etre set the stage for a lifetime of romantic interests with some of the 20th century’s most celebrated men: Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando. Vanderbilt was married four times and had four children, most famously her son Anderson Cooper who has devoted his life to chronicling her immense life and in his words, ‘I always felt it was my job to try to protect her.’

Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was born on February 20, 1924 to one of America's most prominent families. She died on Monday at the age of 95 from stomach cancer and is seen above at aged 13 in a photo that was taken sometime in 1937

Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was born on February 20, 1924 to one of America's most prominent families. She died on Monday at the age of 95 from stomach cancer and is seen above at aged 13 in a photo that was taken sometime in 1937

Gloria was only 18-months-old when her father Reginald Claypool Vanderbilt, a drinker and gambler, frittered away his inheritance and died . Too young to control of her trust, her mother, Gloria Morgan, spent the the money on herself, partied her way across European soignee circles, including with the Prince of Wales, and funded her extravagant lifestyle by pilfering her daughter’s $2.5 million trust fund. Above, Gloria at age 30 in 1954

Gloria was only 18-months-old when her father Reginald Claypool Vanderbilt, a drinker and gambler, frittered away his inheritance and died . Too young to control of her trust, her mother, Gloria Morgan, spent the the money on herself, partied her way across European soignee circles, including with the Prince of Wales, and funded her extravagant lifestyle by pilfering her daughter’s $2.5 million trust fund. Above, Gloria at age 30 in 1954

Gloria Vanderbilt had several careers throughout her life, including actor, and is seen above in a costume for the play, The Swan, in an undated photo

Gloria Vanderbilt had several careers throughout her life, including actor, and is seen above in a costume for the play, The Swan, in an undated photo

Gloria Vanderbilt and her first husband, Pasquale 'Pat' di Cicco, sometime in 1955. They were married from December 28, 1941 until April 20, 1945

Gloria Vanderbilt and her first husband, Pasquale 'Pat' di Cicco, sometime in 1955. They were married from December 28, 1941 until April 20, 1945

Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, above, built the family's fortune with his shipping and railroad empire and at the time of his death on January 4, 1877 and left his fortune – estimated to be $100 million – to his eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt

Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, above, built the family's fortune with his shipping and railroad empire and at the time of his death on January 4, 1877 and left his fortune – estimated to be $100 million – to his eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt

While the Vanderbilts would become one of America’s most illustrious families, their roots stretch back to a humble Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in the Netherlands who came over to the colonies as an indentured servant in 1650, according to Wikipedia. The ancestor, Jan Aertszoon or Aertson, settled in what was then known as New Netherland, a swath of the East Coast that now includes New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut, and the village’s name was likely added, to create ‘Van der Bilt,’ according to Wikipedia.

The man who built the family fortune wasn’t born until the next century: Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt. Born on May 27, 1794, in Staten Island, he was one of nine children. Growing up he worked on his father’s ferry, and quit school when he was 11-years-old. His empire started with on boat after he decided to start a ferry service like his father, according to Wikipedia.

Such was his love of boats that those around him called him the Commodore, a nickname that stuck to him throughout his life. From ferries, he expanded to steamboats in the 1830s, and after dominating that business, turned his attention to the railroads – a natural extension of his transportation empire.

By 1863, he had taken control of what was then known as the Harlem railroad and merged later that decade the Hudson River and New York Central Railroads. This led him to commission a new station, the Grand Central Depot, which would later be finished by one of his descendants to become the Grand Central Terminal of today. The Commodore bought up real estate in his native Staten Island and Manhattan and also built other businesses.

Cornelius Vanderbilt died on January 4, 1877 and left his fortune – estimated to be $100 million – to his eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt. William Henry reportedly doubled the family’s wealth, and built its first mansion on Fifth Avenue, according to Wikipedia. The opulent homes continued with his son, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, with the construction of 1 West 58th Street, which had over 100 rooms. His brother, William Kissam, turned to philanthropy, giving $1 million to build ‘tenement houses in New York city, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University, the YMCA, the Vanderbilt Clinic and Vanderbilt University,’ according to Forbes.

During the Gilded Age, the family collected art and homes: 10 magnificent residences on Fifth Avenue, and houses in Newport, Rhode Island, according to Forbes.

The lavish lifestyle and charitable giving caught up to the family, and when William Kissam died in 1885, he had not grown the family’s fortune, according to the article.

Leopold Stokowski, above in an undated photo, was a well-known symphony conductor and Gloria Vanderbilt's second husband

Leopold Stokowski, above in an undated photo, was a well-known symphony conductor and Gloria Vanderbilt's second husband

By the time Reginald Claypool Vanderbilt – Gloria’s father and Cooper’s grandfather - was born on January 14, 1880, the family’s ‘inheritance was dispersed between more and more descendants,’ according to Forbes, and his brother, Cornelius ‘Neily’ Vanderbilt III, ‘spent vast sums on maintaining a high society appearance. Meanwhile, the railroad empire built by Cornelius was changing, and the family’s role would continue to dwindle until the 1970s when it would go bust.

‘Every Vanderbilt son... has increased his fortune except me,’ Niely once said, according to the Forbes article.

Gloria Vanderbilt, above, wearing a polka dot dress, while she was still married to Leopold Stokowski in an undated photo

Gloria Vanderbilt, above, wearing a polka dot dress, while she was still married to Leopold Stokowski in an undated photo

After splitting from her husband, Leopold Stokowski, Vanderbilt dated crooner Frank Sinatra, and they are seen above at a musical opening at the tail end of 1954

After splitting from her husband, Leopold Stokowski, Vanderbilt dated crooner Frank Sinatra, and they are seen above at a musical opening at the tail end of 1954 

Gloria Vanderbilt was married to Leopold Stokowski from April 21, 1945 to October 29, 1955, and had two children together: Christopher, who was born on January 31, 1952 and Leopold, who was born on August 22, 1950. Above, Vanderbilt and her lawyers on their way to a custody hearing with Stokowski on June 5, 1959

Gloria Vanderbilt was married to Leopold Stokowski from April 21, 1945 to October 29, 1955, and had two children together: Christopher, who was born on January 31, 1952 and Leopold, who was born on August 22, 1950. Above, Vanderbilt and her lawyers on their way to a custody hearing with Stokowski on June 5, 1959

Vanderbilt then married television director Sidney Lumet, who she is seen above in 1956

Vanderbilt then married television director Sidney Lumet, who she is seen above in 1956

Vanderbilt and Sidney Lumet were married from August 27, 1956 until August 27, 1963. Above, famous director Elia Kazan, Vanderbilt and Lumet in 1955 at the movie premiere of 'East of Eden'

Vanderbilt and Sidney Lumet were married from August 27, 1956 until August 27, 1963. Above, famous director Elia Kazan, Vanderbilt and Lumet in 1955 at the movie premiere of 'East of Eden'

Reginald Claypool Vanderbilt, who was known as ‘Reggie,’ was a

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