A famous socialite from the old guard, Vanderbilt is also the woman who gave us ironic lifestyle jeans and our most coveted national news-reporting treasure: Anderson Cooper.
Born the only child of railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt, Gloria Laura Madeleine Sophie Vanderbilt was just 15 months old when her hard-living playboy father died of alcohol poisoning, leaving her with a multi-million dollar trust. Following a peripatetic few years in the care of her recklessly spendthrift young mother, she became the subject of a tabloid-dominating custody battle between her mother and her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of Art. When the tug-of-war was over (and with her fortune diminished), the 10-year-old was placed with Gertrude at her house in Old Westbury, Long Island.
Fleeing to Hollywood years later, she made waves for having a slew of high profile lovers, including Howard Hughes, Gene Kelley, and Marlon Brando. Vanderbilt's romantic dalliances are as well-known as her son Cooper's are hush-hush. She's been married four times-to abusive Hollywood agent and mobster Pat DiCicco, conductor Leopold Stokowski, director Sidney Lumet, and writer Wyatt Cooper. Vanderbilt had two sons with Stokowski and two with Cooper. Her first son with Cooper-Anderson''s brother, Carter-committed suicide in 1988 by jumping from the window of his mother's the 14th floor penthouse at 10 Gracie Square.
In the 1960s Vanderbilt cut back (a bit) on the frenzied socializing and worked as an artist-several of her designs were used commercially by Hallmark and other brands. Although she'd been a staple of society columns for decades, she only became internationally famous in the 1970s when a clothing manufacturer suggested using her name on their products, and she unwittingly got in on the ground floor of the designer jeans craze with the wildly successful Gloria Vanderbilt denim line (followed by Gloria Vanderbilt fragrances and dresses). In the 2000's, she penned a racy memoir re-living her early romances: It Seemed Important at the Time, and published the racy novel, Obsession. She also maintained a romantic relationship with photographer and film maker Gordon Parks until his death in 2006.
She's continued her artsy pursuits into the present, albeit with less commercial success, and while her days of being an out-and-about social butterfly are long over, Vanderbilt's dramatic life is one for the socialite record books. She lives on a quiet street on New York's Upper East Side.
[Image via Getty]