Anderson Cooper is candid about how the birth of his son Wyatt inspired him to write a book about his family’s history, after he didn’t know much about the Vanderbilt dynasty for years.
The CNN anchor, whose mother was socialite and designer Gloria Vanderbilt, teamed up with historian and novelist Katherine Howe to write The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, due out September 21.
“In a way, I wanted this to be a letter to my son,” 54-year-old Cooper said People magazine of his motivation to publish the historical book.
Candid: Anderson Cooper, 54, shared how the birth of his son Wyatt inspired him to write about his family in his new book Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
Cover story: The CNN host covers the latest issue of People magazine, where he talks about his family’s ‘painful’ past
The journalist welcomed his one-year-old son Wyatt Morgan Cooper via surrogate on April 27, 2020 and named after his father, Wyatt Cooper, who died during heart surgery when he was 10.
History: Cooper co-wrote his upcoming book with historian Katherine Howe. It’s slated for release on September 21
Before he died, my father wrote a book about his family growing up in Mississippi. And because he died when I was so young, a lot I know about him came from that book,” he explained in the cover interview. “I wanted to write Wyatt about this crazy and unusual part of his family’s past.”
The Vanderbilts were once one of the most powerful dynasties in the US after rising to fame and fortune during the Gilded Age.
Cooper’s great-great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt amassed a fortune through his shipping and railroad empires.
Cornelius was America’s richest man when he died in 1877. He left behind an estimated $100 million, equivalent to $2.5 billion in today’s currency, but it was later wasted by his heirs.
“As a child, my mother didn’t really talk about her childhood. It was very painful for her. So I grew up not really knowing much about the Vanderbilts, and the little I knew was that they were very wealthy and built huge palaces, and some of them were museums, but a lot of them were gone,” Cooper said.
Looking back: Cooper admitted he didn’t know much about the Vanderbilts growing up because his mother Gloria (pictured in 2010) didn’t really talk about her childhood
Family: Gloria was the daughter of Reginald and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (pictured). Her great-great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt was once the richest man in America
Looking back: Gloria (pictured in 1938) became known as “the poor little rich girl” thanks to a widely publicized custody battle between her mother and her father’s sister Gertrude Whitney
“It was always this question in my head: How does a family in a hundred years go from having more money than anyone else in the world to having all their homes demolished because no one can afford them?”
Gloria, who has been in the public eye all her life, died at the age of 95 on June 17, 2019, after a brief battle with stomach cancer.
Cooper was rummaging through boxes in her apartment after her death when he found several family letters from relatives he had never met.
“There were very personal letters from her grandmother and her aunt and her mother, and all those people I didn’t really know, who I’d never met, but whose voices suddenly came alive in these letters,” he said. .
“It was really fascinating to see them as people and not just as historical characters or people I’d read about, people you can read about in history books.”
Parents: Cooper was raised by his mother Gloria and father, writer Wyatt Cooper (pictured in 1970)
Looking back: Cooper’s son was named Wyatt Cooper after his father, who died when he was 10 years old. He is pictured with his parents and brother Carter in 1972
Tragedy: Cooper’s brother Carter (pictured in 1976) died by suicide in 1988 when he was 23 years old
Cooper’s mother Gloria, born in 1924, was the only child of Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and his second wife Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
Her father was an alcoholic who died of liver cirrhosis when she was one, leaving her in the care of her mother Gloria Morgan.
Reginald left behind a mountain of debt that looted his wealth, but he did set up a $5 million trust fund for Gloria to share with her older half-sister Cathleen Vanderbilt, his only child with his first wife Cathleen Neilson.
Gloria Morgan, who was 20 at the time of her husband’s death and therefore considered a minor, was denied access to her daughter’s portion of her daughter’s trust fund.
Instead, she was given $4,000 monthly installments to care for her daughter, but she used it frivolously.
As a child, Gloria lived in France and was unaware of the Vanderbilts or the trust fund she would inherit at age 21. She was mainly cared for by her beloved nanny Emma Sullivan Kieslich, whom she called ‘Dodo’.
In 1934, when Gloria was 10, her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sued her mother for custody of her, claiming she was an unfit mother. The trial exposed the dysfunction of one of America’s wealthiest and most high-profile families at the time.
Whitney accused Gloria Morgan of being a lesbian. In turn, she claimed that Whitney’s art, which was full of nudism, would influence her daughter.
The tabloids raved about the lawsuit, calling it the “trial of the century” and nicknamed young Gloria “poor little rich girl.”
Gertrude eventually got custody of the child and the judge fired Dodo. Years later, Gloria recalled her heartache at the decision.
‘She was my mother, my father, my everything. She was my lifeline, she was all I had,” she told her son in an interview.
Growing up, she socialized in Manhattan and charmed film and stage directors until she made connections in Hollywood, where she would find three of her four husbands.
When she first arrived in Hollywood at age 17, her first boyfriend was… one of the greatest stars of all time, Errol Flynn.
In 1941, 17-year-old Gloria married Hollywood agent Pat DiCicco, a decision she immediately knew was a mistake, Cooper said. The couple were together for four years before divorcing.
She married her second husband, the conductor Leopold Stokowski, in 1945, when she was 21. He was 63 and she described it as love at first sight, despite the age difference.
They had two children together, Stanley and Christopher, and were married for 10 years before divorcing. She was later linked to a host of famous men, including Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.
In 1956 she married her third husband, the famous director and producer Sidney Lumet. They were together until 1963.
Her fourth marriage, to Cooper’s father Wyatt, began four months after her divorce from Lumet. Together they had Cooper and his brother Carter, who was two years older.
While raising her children, Gloria acted on Broadway and in films, wrote poetry and novels, and produced wildly popular art.
In the 1970s, she made a name for herself in the fashion industry with her denim line – Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans – which were decorated with a swan and her name.
But her life was not without tragedy.
Ten years after the death of Cooper’s father Wyatt in 1978, her son Carter jumped to death right in front of her from the terrace of her apartment.
Gloria remained close to Cooper and Stanley throughout their lives, but she and Christopher became estranged in 1978 when he accused her therapist of interfering with his love life.
When she died, the mother of four left most of her estate to Cooper. Her youngest son reportedly inherited all of his mother’s possessions, except her co-op apartment at 30 Beekman Place in Manhattan, which went to Stanley.
Gloria left nothing in her will for her estranged son Christopher.