From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Heiress and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt died in June at age 95. In 2016, she and her son, CNN’s Anderson Cooper were guests on The Diane Rehm Show.
Vanderbilt lived her life in the public eye. Her birth made headlines. The custody battle over her in 1934 was called the trial of the century. And she’s written several memoirs.
But despite her very public persona, Cooper, Vanderbilt’s youngest son, says there was much they never talked about. After Vanderbilt turned 91, they started opening up to each other about their lives and grief — including the suicide of Cooper’s brother.
Their correspondence resulted in a book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes.” Mother and son joined Diane for a conversation that covered life in the spotlight, suicide, money, and grieving for a parent and a child.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Heiress and designer, Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, journalist Anderson Cooper both lost their fathers at a young age. In a new memoir, they've written a series of frank letters to each other about their lives and how grief has changed them. The title of the new book is "The Rainbow Comes And Goes: A Mother And Son On Life, Love and Loss."
MS. DIANE REHMAnderson Cooper joins me in the studio. His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt joins us from an NPR studio in New York City. And you are, as always, invited to be a part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And it's good to see both of you.
MR. ANDERSON COOPERIt's an honor to be here. Thanks so much.
REHMThank you so much. Gloria, it's great to see you as well.
MS. GLORIA VANDERBILTIt's an honor to be here. I'm really thrilled to be here with both of you.
REHMThank you. You and I have actually talked together twice before, but we have not talked about or with your son, previously. I would like to know from you, Anderson, how this all started. Who had the idea?
COOPERWell, you know, when my mom turned 91, she sent me an email and it was a -- there was something about it that I just thought -- it was a short email, but it was very clever and funny and reflective. It was about turning 91 and something that her aunt had said to her when she turned 17. And her aunt had said, imagine you're 17 whole years old today and, anyway, it got me thinking about where my mom is in her life in being 91.
COOPERAnd when my father died when I was 10, I always imagined that he had written me a letter that would show up at some point after he had died.
REHMThat you would find it somewhere.
COOPERThat I would find that would arrive on my 18th birthday or my 21st birthday. And, of course, there was -- a letter never arrived, but I didn't want there to be that sense with my mom when she's no longer here. I didn't want there to be anything left unsaid between us or sense that there were things I didn't know about her, that she didn't know about me as an adult. And I thought, you know, why don't we take -- starting on her 91st birthday, why don't we start a new way of talking with each other?
COOPERWhy don't we try to have a new kind of conversation, putting aside any, you know, any of the old inhibitions or any of the old, you know, anything that exists between a parent and a child, you know, embarrassments, resentments, past anger, whatever it may be and just -- and we've always had a good relationship, but why don't we learn about each other as adults in a different way.
REHMBut did you want to put it in the form of letters or did you actually converse?
COOPERNo, we -- there was something about -- we started it over email and because I travel a lot, to do it in person just wouldn't have been possible.
COOPERAnd so we started this conversation over email and it was interesting because sometimes we would send emails to each other three or times a day. Sometimes, a few days would go by without respond, you know, without conversing. But there was something about doing it over email that kind of freed us, in a way, because it was almost like putting a message in a bottle and sending it out. And then, suddenly, a day later or an hour later or 10 minutes later, another bottle would come back with another message.
COOPERAnd about three months into doing this, I started telling my friends, you know, I'm doing this thing with my mom and it's actually really changing our relationship and it's -- I'm learning things about myself and learning things about her. And every one of my friends who I mentioned it to said, god, I wish I could've done that with my mom who's no longer here or my father or I wish I could do that with my partner or my friend. And so I suggested to my mom, after about three months, you know, maybe we should actually think about this as a book 'cause I do think this is something that a lot of people would like to change the way they converse, especially with an aging parent before it's too late.
REHMGloria, how did you feel about this idea initially?
VANDERBILTWell, I thought it was -- there's something, you know, about writing by email because usually when I'm writing a book, I write a sentence and then I agonize over it again and again and again and edit it and re-edit it. And when you're writing by email, you just kind of, you know, it's sort of off the cuff. And we would write to each other and it was so freeing because I would write to him and then I would, you know, press it to go and you notice that little zing when you know it's gone off and you can't change it. You can't get it back.
VANDERBILTAnd it was really an extraordinary kind of feeling of being able to communicate without any sort of fear of, you know, having to rephrase it or to really just say it absolutely honestly, the way I was feeling it.
COOPERI think something about email makes it, you know, there's not an embarrassment. There's not -- it just frees you in a strange way...
REHMI agree with you. I agree with you.
COOPER...that I hadn't realized.
REHMGloria, the conversation between you and Anderson begins with your life, your father died when you were an infant. You certainly were not close with your mother. Your nanny actually raised you. Had you, Anderson, not known any of this?
COOPERI knew, obviously, the sort of outlines.
REHMSome of it, yeah.
COOPERBut I had never really heard it from my mom and I had never, you know, at 91, 92, when we were writing this, you know, she has a very different perspective on her life than she had even, I think, 20 years ago or even 10 years ago.
REHMWhen she talked with me, yeah.
COOPERYeah. And so I think her perspective as a 92-year-old person now is she's got this incredibly perspective on her life and an incredible ability to talk about it. When we were growing up, we really didn't -- she never really talked about her past. She didn't really talk about -- my father was very communicative. He had grown up in a poor family in the South. He had told lots of stories. My mom, because of the conflicts of her past and, you know, the difficulty of her childhood, she really just didn't go into detail about it. It was something of a mystery to me.
REHMThere was, indeed, a huge custody trail and you said you were reminded of that, Gloria, when Anderson told you he was gay. Now, tell us why and how you reacted?
VANDERBILTWell, first of all, when he first told me, he said I think I'm gay.
REHMI remember that. I think I'm gay.
COOPERYeah, I regretted saying I think I am instantly 'cause I certainly knew I was.
VANDERBILTWell, I thought, you know, I mean, we all go through different phases in sexuality when we come and change and go and so forth so it sounded as if he wasn't sure yet. So I said, well, you know, just think about it. And then, he suddenly left the room without continuing on so it sort of left up in the air. But it...
COOPERWhat she said was, don't make any definite decisions.
COOPERWhich was not exactly the response I had anticipated. This was when I was 21. I had come...
REHMWhat did you think she was going to say?
COOPERYou know, I really wasn't sure. I mean, I had come out to my friends in high school and I told her, my mom, I think my last year of college when I was 21. And, you know, the thing about -- I had known -- I had grown up with gay people in our house all the time. My mom had tons of gay friends and had always said, you know, very supportive things about them. I remember her saying -- there was a famous director named Jose Contero who, you know, he and his partner, Nick, were always over at the house.
COOPERAnd I remember, I was 11 years old one time and it must've been 1979 and I, you know, I was asking my mom about them and she said, well, look, they're a married couple, which always stuck in my mind as an 11-year-old 'cause even when I was 11, obviously, I knew I was gay. And I remember thinking, oh, she views them as a married couple, you know, at a time in America when most people didn't view gay people as married couples.
REHMAnd in fact, Gloria, you saw your own mother as, actually, in a lesbian relationship.
VANDERBILTYes. Well, this was something that I had to -- it took me a long time to work out because in the custody trial, of course this was in 1934 that we're talking about, when it came out that she was seen in bed with Lady Milford Haven, the court was closed and it was an absolute, you know, terrible thing and it filtered through to me, although, of course, I wasn't allowed to see any of the newspapers or anything, but it filtered through to me. And it absolutely terrified me because I thought maybe I'm going to be like that, too, because I'll be like my mother and it's something terrible.
VANDERBILTAnd then, I was told Oscar Wilde was put in prison for it and people were killed for it and so forth so this was the only kind of -- I had no idea what it meant until then. And it was something that took me a long time to work out. But then, of course, when I came to realize that love between a man and a man and woman and a woman is exactly the same as love between a man and a woman, I mean, there is no difference at all. Love is love.
REHMLove is love.
VANDERBILTAnd this should not be in any way thought of in any other way except that because that is the truth of the matter. It really is.
COOPERYou know, I think just for listeners who may not be familiar with the custody case that my mom is talking about, when she was 10 years old, she was taken away from her mother and there was a custody battle between her mother and her aunt who was fighting for custody of my mom. And it's sort of almost hard to imagine, but essentially her grandmother and her governess came up with the plot to have my mother taken away from her mother and the courts did, ultimately, take my mother away from her mother and was called the Trial of the Century.
REHMAnderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Their new book, a series of letters titled, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt are with me. Their new book, a series of letters written together, is titled, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss." Gloria, you quote writer Mary Gordon, who said, a fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe. How did you interpret that?
VANDERBILTOh, that's absolutely true. When I read that, it was like a huge bell rang. It's absolutely true. I do think nothing is safe. And I think it's -- it comes from having -- my father died when I was 15 months old. And I was really raised by my nurse who I called Dodo. And she was really like my mother. And my grandmother Morgan, who was a very forceful person, I called her Nanny Napoleon, she was that forceful. And she was like...
COOPERShe idolized Napoleon Bonaparte.
VANDERBILTYeah, idolized Napoleon. And so she was really like my father. And there were no men around at all except my mother's friends, who I would sort of see fleetingly going in and out of the house where we lived in Paris. And so those were my sort of parents, really, when I was growing up. And I -- there was no kind of father image at all. And I think, because of that, a fatherless feels nothing is safe because they don't have...
REHMBut, you know, you saying nothing is safe, and yet you have got to be one of the biggest risk-takers I've ever heard of. I mean, risk-taking in your ventures at professionalism, your risk-taking with men. I mean, it does seem to me that beyond feeling not safe, you had the courage to make those risks.
COOPERWell, I also think...
VANDERBILTWell, I think this...
COOPERI also think on that -- the other side of that quote, that all things are possible, is actually what you're talking about.
COOPERAnd I think it actually...
COOPER...all things are possible, meaning terrible things can happen and that's what you learn when a parent dies. But also...
COOPER...you realize anything can happen, extraordinary things can happen. And I think my mom has focused on the potential extraordinary things that can happen. And I also think that quote applies to, you know, boys as well as girls. I think any child who loses a parent early on gets that feeling that all things are possible and nothing is safe.
REHMAnderson, would you be good enough to read for us on page 243 and going over to the end of that paragraph on 244?
COOPERThis is from -- this is from "The Rainbow Comes and Goes." And this is one of the conversations that my mom and I were having about -- early on about later -- much earlier in her life, my mom drank and this is part of the conversation we had about that.
COOPER"Do you think Mom is an alcoholic, Carter once asked me when we were in high school. Carter was my brother. I was so shocked he said that word out loud that I didn't know how to respond. We'd never spoken of it before. Each of us dealt with it in silence. I was so surprised to hear him use the word that I dismissed his question and never spoke with him about it again. Put off by my silence, he never attempted to either. Your drinking made it difficult to trust you. I never knew what I would find when I came home from school each day. I dreaded going anywhere with you, worried that you might start drinking -- on planes, at restaurants, parties.
COOPER"The person you became scared and angered me. I was never sure if you were aware of what you were doing. I assumed you were but I didn't know. The day after you'd drunk too much, it would be as if nothing had happened. It added another element of danger and fear to our lives and contributed to the feeling that we were somehow adrift. Even now, typing this out, I feel that fear. I can remember it and realize I've spent much of my adult life making sure I never feel that way again."
REHMGloria, when you read that, what did you feel?
VANDERBILTWell, I brought it up in writing this "Rainbow Comes and Goes" book, because it was something that was -- haunted me for most of my life because my father was an alcoholic. And I always had the fear that I might, too, have inherited that. I also was afraid that I might be a lesbian, which to me was something, in 1934, which was considered -- well, something that was, you know...
REHMOut of the ordinary.
VANDERBILT...and put you in a kind of category as a kind of freak. And those two things really haunted me for a long time. And when I had periods of drinking, it would be drinking and sobbing. And the sobbing was like a kind of waterfall that would kind of wash it away momentarily. And the next morning, of course, to have a terrible hangover. Also, vanity, vanity, vanity, I would look in the mirror and I would think, no, I'm going to stop this because I don't want to ruin my looks and my body and my system and my health and so forth. And then, of course, eventually, I did work it out and I have not had -- well, since Carter died, which is, what, 37 years ago?
REHMI want to ask about that because I know that Carter's death, your brother's, Anderson, how did that happen and what happened before and how it affected you both?
COOPERMy brother Carter died in 1988, July 22. And he had come to my mother's house, had woken her up from a nap and asked -- went into my mom's room and asked -- seemed disoriented, seemed out of it -- and asked her, said, what's going on? What's going on? My mom said nothing is going on. He ran out, through, upstairs -- it was a duplex -- through my room and out onto the balcony of our apartment.
REHMYou weren't there.
COOPERI wasn't. I was in Washington at the time.
COOPERAnd my mom was there and she followed him and tried -- he was sitting on the ledge of the balcony, 14 stories above the East River, and my mother was begging him to come in and he refused to. And a plane passed overhead and he looked up at the plane and then sort of flipped around so that he was hanging from the balcony by his hands and then let go. And that's -- that was -- he was 23 years old.
VANDERBILTWell, I think we ought to say, he really did not seem -- he seemed to be in -- almost like he was sleepwalking. He was not himself. It was like he was sort of shut in to some kind of thing that was going on. And when I ran after him and went upstairs and he was sitting on the ledge and I started -- I got down on my knees and I said, Carter. And he sort of put his hand up and said, no, no, don't. Get up. So I got up quickly because I thought it might send him over.
VANDERBILTAnd then he -- it was really like he did not know where he was. And then, of course, the plane came up and he looked up. And it was kind of like a signal. And then he just went and hung over for a minute. And I said, Carter, come back. And I thought for a moment that he was going to jump back over but he let go.
COOPERAnd certainly something...
VANDERBILTIt happened in seconds -- or in seconds, like running up the stairs. The whole thing happened fast. He had been asleep. And I -- it's my opinion now that I think he was possibly sleep walking, which he -- he never liked to sleep in the afternoon. And he'd fallen asleep and I think he may have...
COOPERIt's certainly something like that, I mean, it changes, you know, it changes everything, obviously.
VANDERBILTOh, it changes. I mean, from that moment on, your whole life is completely, irrevocably changed, in a blink. In a blink.
COOPERAnd sometimes I interview people on television and I, you know, people use the word closure.
COOPERAnd I think it's such a terrible TV word.
VANDERBILTThe worst word in the -- the worst word in the dictionary.
REHMI fully agree with you.
COOPERYeah. And whenever I hear a reporter ask somebody like, will this give you closure? I just -- I...
COOPER...I cringe because...
COOPER...it's the word used by somebody who hasn't experienced loss.
REHMHow do you think it has affected your life going forward, Anderson?
COOPERYou know, I mean, I, you know, it reset the clock of my life.
COOPERJust as my father's death reset the clock of my life. I think of time as before his death or after his death. And it certainly propelled me, you know, I became concerned about my own survival. It became, questioning about why do some people survive and other people don't? Why do two brothers grow up in the same family, this happens to one and not to another. And I set about, frankly, you know, I was suffering and I wanted to be around other people who were surviving. And it -- I started going to war zones. I started going to disaster areas, with a fake press pass and a camera. And that's ultimately what led me to become a reporter.
REHMAnd it affected your behavior differently, Gloria.
VANDERBILTYes. Well, it absolutely -- well, after it happened, so many friends, of course, came to the apartment. And Anderson's reaction was to withdraw. You really didn't want to -- you would come into the room and you -- it was very hard to communicate with you because you just didn't seem to want to talk about it. Whereas I reacted completely differently. I wanted really to do nothing else but talk about it. And for three or four weeks after it happened, all I did was cry and wanted to talk about what had happened with everybody that came in. And that helped me so much to be able to do that.
VANDERBILTAnd then later I joined a group called Compassionate Friends, which is a wonderful organization which you, I'm sure, know about.
VANDERBILTAnd that helped me so much to sort of go there and to be able to be with people who had experienced the same -- either with a loved one, a child or someone that they loved -- had experienced something and was able to talk about it and to not be afraid to talk about it and to be free to talk about it. And that was really one of the things that helped me get back into standing on my feet again, you know?
COOPERYeah, it's interesting. I learned, I mean, in the writing of this book and the conversation between my mom and I, I mean, we're very different in some ways in how we deal with things. I mean, my mom is much more communicative. She talks. I'm much -- in something like this, I get very quiet and I sort of have a conversation in my head. But I do find it hard to kind of talk about it.
VANDERBILTYou withdraw, I guess.
REHMBut, you know, that brings us to the title of the book, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes." Gloria, explain why you wanted that title.
VANDERBILTWell, actually, I think it really came from an email that -- Anderson, didn't you send me an email sort of way back before we...
COOPERWell, it comes from -- you, you're the one who said it.
COOPERIt's Wordsworth. It's from a Wordsworth poem.
COOPERAnd my mom had said it to me a couple times in an email. And it stuck in my head. And I found myself using the phrase all the time. Like someone would say, hey, how's it going? And I never know how to ask -- answer that question...
COOPER...well, I go, everything's great and...
COOPERSo I found myself saying, you know, the rainbow comes and goes.
COOPERAnd I like it because -- my mom and I both interpret it differently, which shows the difference between us. My mom, who's the most optimistic person, who believes the next great love is just around the corner, even now at 92, you know, she sees the rainbow comes and goes as, well, great things are always going to happen. I view it as, you know what? How do you know you're going to be there when the rainbow does come back?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Which brings me, Anderson, to ask you again to read for us from page 259, starting at the bottom, and going over to the next page.
COOPERYeah. This is about one of the things I realized in this -- changing the conversation between my mom and I, is how similar in many ways we are. That we're both kind of lost in our heads a lot and have very active internal dialogues. But my mom -- it's constantly replaying the past, her past. Whereas, I don't really look back to the past. I very much am planning for the future. My mom has never planned. She's never planned ahead. She's never -- it has no reality for her. I do nothing but plan ahead and I'm rarely present and that's something I'm trying to be. But -- so this is writing to her about that.
COOPER"I think about events that have happened. It's impossible not to. But more often than not, I'm imagining scenes from the future, unknowable as that future may be. I'm always planning, preparing myself for what comes next or what may come after that and after that. I find looking backward too painful. There's no reinventing the past for me. I have drawers full of photographs, snapshots from my childhood. And I keep telling myself that someday I'll go through them. But I haven't yet. It's as if I'm compiling evidence, as a reporter gathers facts for a story. But for now I find it too difficult to open the drawers."
REHMAnd now I want you to move to the bottom of page 259.
COOPERAnd, again, this is a note I wrote to my mom.
COOPER"Do you think about death a lot? Over the years, you've talked to me about dying many times. Plenty of people say they don't want to be burden. And they discuss a living will or a do-not-resuscitate order but with their children. But you've always been a bit more, shall we say, detailed. You've talked about ending your life on your own terms, taking pills if you were no longer able to enjoy your days. This used to make me nervous. But the more death I've seen over the years, the more I know that no one can predict how he or she will react as it approaches. In the abstract, people talk about how they want their lives to end. But as the time nears and the reality becomes clear, their perspective changes."
REHMGloria, how has your perspective on death changed as you've gotten older?
VANDERBILTWell, it actually changes quite a lot. Some days I feel -- I do think that everyone has the right to take their own life if they decide that the time has come to do it.
REHMI totally agree with you.
VANDERBILTYes. And I think that it should be made available to people who want to do it. And this is something that should be legal. It should not be something that there's a stigma against the person. And so I do believe in it. And I probably will at some point, if I do -- did get to the point that I felt that -- I mean, there is a time when it's ready, you know?
VANDERBILTWhen it's time to go, I think.
REHMHow would you feel, Anderson -- how do you feel, hearing your mother speak that way? How would you feel if she decided to end her own life?
COOPERI've been hearing my mom speak this way for my entire life. So nothing my mom says surprises me. And there's nothing she could possibly say that I haven't heard before. But, you know, I understand where she's coming from. And I do think, you know, people should have death with dignity and in the way that and the time and place, as long as they're of sound mind and not -- it's not depression speaking.
REHMAnderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Their new book titled, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss."
REHMAnd welcome back. Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, are with me. We're talking about their brand new book titled "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss." Here's a comment posted on -- by Humara on our Facebook page, saying such a remarkable woman to have endured so much, lived such a life and yet to have a son who is so grounded, polite, decent and dare I say normal. I hope they become closer, and Gloria continues to create.
REHMAnd an email from Vicky in Bethesda, Maryland. Please tell Anderson Cooper he's a hero for telling Trump he was acting like a five-year-old. And finally, I hope you'll shed on the enigmatic title of the book. I'm perplexed. Was this an internal struggle? Well, we've already said that the quote comes from Wordsworth, but what does the title mean to you?
COOPERWell, to me there's a slight note of resignation to it. With my mom, she believes the rainbow comes and goes, meaning there may be, you know, sadness and tragedy, but the rainbow's going to come back, and there's good times just around the corner, and my mom is ready to embrace that rainbow with open arms. I hear it a slightly different way, which was what I love about the title, which is the rainbow comes and goes. I'm not so sure it's going to come back.
COOPERI know in nature it always comes back, but I don't know that it's going to come back where I'm at. Maybe I'm in a different place, and I'm not going to be able to see the rainbow, so I actually want to prepare for all those days when the rainbow's not around. I want to, like, stock up on food, I want to have, you know, supplies, medical supplies ready, I want to have money in the bank. My mom believes good times, you know, good things are just ahead and sort of embraces that, that optimism.
REHMShe is the optimist.
COOPERYes, there's no -- I'm the catastrophist. I expect catastrophe to occur.
REHMLet's open the phones. We'll go first to Susan in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.
SUSANHi, thank you very much. I wanted to say thank you for being honest. It really means so much to me. All families have things that are said. I recently got a letter from a relative saying we've got to stop thinking of anything sad. We only want to remember the happy times. So you have to stop dealing with sadness, just keep going and just get up every day and say it's a wonderful day, and nothing bad happens. And so I really, really thank them for being honest. I think they've done a great thing for many families.
REHMI think that what you're saying is that you disagree with your friend, who said let's think only about the happy times.
REHMAnd I think you're so right. I mean, I think it's really important to -- you know, there are dark days, and there are sad things that happen, and I think it's important to honor that and to not feel that you just have to kind of put a smile on your face. And, you know, it's okay. You can move forward, and you can move through it, and certainly I think my mom has done that more than anybody I've ever met.
REHMGloria, tell me what your days are like now.
VANDERBILTWell, I'm lucky that my studio, where I paint, is on the floor below where I live. So I wake up in the morning, I go downstairs, and I paint, and I usually work until about 3:00, and then I -- that's about, you know...
REHMThat's a good long day, yeah.
VANDERBILTYeah, and then I go upstairs, and then I sometimes for sort of, what can I call it, totally taking out of myself as I watch Dr. Phil on the television.
COOPERThis is so funny. My mom has just, my mom has just discovered Dr. Phil and Judge Judy.
REHMOh, I see.
COOPERAnd she called me up recently, and she was, like, do you know about this Dr. Phil? He's fascinating. People reveal all their secrets to him. And have you heard Judge Judy? And I'm, like, it's so -- I literally was bursting out laughing when my mom told me this.
VANDERBILTWell, it takes me so completely away from where I've been, which is, you know, in the fantasy world of painting, which has nothing at all to do with...
COOPERI ran into -- I actually ran into Judge Judy recently, and I said, I went up to her, and I was, like, I just have to tell you, my mom has just discovered you, and she enjoys watching you very much, and she was thrilled. But, you know, what's interesting, we actually shot a documentary for HBO about my mom that's going to be premiering April 9. The book comes out April 5. The documentary is coming on HBO April 9. And it's called "Nothing Left Unsaid."
COOPERAnd the reason I wanted to do this documentary is I think my mom -- her life is so not what anybody would imagine her life to be. I think people -- I get tweets from people who kind of think she must be going out to parties and kind of a lady who goes out to lunches and stuff. You know, my mom, for her entire life, has been about work and been about creating and creating art and creating beauty around here. And so her life today is very much about continuing that creative spirit, that art spirit.
REHMTell me about why you, Anderson Cooper, did not want your name associated with the Vanderbilt name.
COOPERWell, I mean, I was just very happy that my last name was Cooper. You know, I grew up, my dad was from a poor family in Mississippi. I grew up with a lot of connection that side of the family. And my mom, who didn't really feel ever -- she always felt like an imposter in the Vanderbilt family. I think having that last name Vanderbilt comes with all sorts of baggage. People assume, you know, and the reason I didn't want people even to know who my mom -- that I was the son of my mom for a long time, when I started out in my career, is that people make these assumptions about oh, you must have, you know, a pot of gold somewhere, you must have a trust fund, none of which is true.
COOPERI mean, my mom and my dad both sat me down when I was a kid and said, you know, your college will be paid for and stuff, but after that, you're on your own. You have to make your way.
REHMYou're on your own.
COOPERAnd I was appreciative of that. I never wanted there to be a trust fund. I look at families who, you know, have trust funds and stuff, and a lot of times I think it sucks your initiative and...
REHMWhy do you think that was important, Gloria, for him to be on his own so young?
VANDERBILTWell, I lived with my mother in Paris after my father died until I was nine, and she never mentioned the Vanderbilts at all. I mean, I didn't even know that they existed until I was brought to America, and I met Aunt Gertrude Whitney and the whole Vanderbilt...
COOPERReally until the custody case.
REHMYeah because your name was Morgan.
VANDERBILTNo, no, my mother's maiden name was Morgan.
REHMYour mother's name was Morgan.
VANDERBILTNo, I mean, I knew, of course, that my name was Gloria Vanderbilt, but I didn't connect it with any well-known family or, you know. So it was a complete revelation to me when I discovered that the Vanderbilts were this incredibly, you know, rich family that lived in America and were part of American history and that I was related to them. But I always felt that I was an imposter, that I was really not related to them, that it was sort of that I kind of got there under false pretenses, and that's probably because I didn't know they existed until I was, you know, nine years old when I came to America.
COOPERAnd I think it's -- it's always been important for my mom, and certainly with my dad when he was alive, to, you know, to accomplish things on their own and to achieve things. And my mom has always been driven not by a desire for money but by a desire to make a mark and create beauty and create art. And so I think she wanted that for me, as well. She wanted me to feel like my own person and not have these expectations.
COOPERYou know, I think -- I think that inherited money, I think it changes who you are. It messes with your head. And, you know, I've been very lucky. I've not, money is not a driving force in my life, but I've been obviously, you know, very comfortable, and I'm very happy that I've been able to do the work that I continue to do.
VANDERBILTWell, the only money that has ever meant anything real to me is the money that I've made on my own, not money that I inherited. That's the money that's real.
REHMBut you did, Gloria, I gather when you turned 21, you were taken to the lawyer's office and told you had inherited $4.5 million, which you then shared with your mother, taking care of her, taking care of others, as well.
VANDERBILTYes, I took care of my nurse for many, many years, but...
COOPERThe amazing thing is no one had ever prepared mom -- no one had ever told my mom that she was going to be getting this money.
COOPERNo one had ever even, you know, suggested like a life plan for her. And so she suddenly at age 21 was literally brought into a bank vault and, you know, told you have all this money.
REHMBut then what happened?
VANDERBILTWell, then of course I met Leopold Stokowski.
VANDERBILTAnd fell in love.
COOPERWho was a famous, a world-famous conductor who, I should point, was 63 years old, and my mom was 21.
VANDERBILTAnd of course age had nothing to do with it except the fact that I do think that he -- I mean looking at it from the point of view of now and looking back, he did of course represent the father that I never had. And I thought he was a genius, and I thought he was kind of a god, you know.
COOPERI still don't get it.
REHMYou don't get it? But he became very controlling, Gloria.
VANDERBILTOh absolutely. I mean, I turned my life over to him. I was like a -- like a geisha wife, you know, and I traveled with him all over the world when he was conducting, and I was in his dressing room, you know, taking care of his -- helping him dress and so forth. And then of course when I children were born, and I didn't travel with him anymore, but I was totally dedicated to him. And I did, I did start painting them.
COOPERDid any of your friends ever say, like, wait a minute, you're 21, you're beautiful, you have money on your own, and you're going to...
COOPERMary this 63-year-old guy? Did anybody -- did any friend ever say, like, what's up with that?
VANDERBILTNo, I mean, it just never...
COOPERYou probably never asked their advice, either.
VANDERBILTBut you see, he was not -- he was not like a 63-year-old.
VANDERBILTI mean, I know it's hard to...
COOPERHe kind of looked like a 63-year-old.
REHMBut now Gloria, here's what I want to ask because this connection between you and Wyatt Cooper happened almost instantaneously. Tell me what happened.
VANDERBILTWell, I was married to Sidney Lumet, and we had been -- we were married for seven years, and it was during the time when I was an actress, and I worked a lot with Sidney directing. And that was my total focus in life, although I was still painting at the time. And Sidney and I went to Louinne McGrath's (PH) for dinner, and there was Wyatt Cooper. Afterwards Louinne said that, you know, the he was quite taken with me, and as I said to Ander, you know, I was quite taken with him, otherwise he wouldn't be here.
REHMAnd you have inherited your dad's blue eyes, which she was so taken with.
COOPERYeah, his are even -- were even bluer, but...
COOPERYeah, they were really piercing, but yeah, we look...
VANDERBILTDiane, Anderson is the spitting image of his dad. He really, really is.
REHMI understand, yeah. Go ahead, Anderson.
COOPERIt was interesting, actually there's an organization I think called Clock Tower Radio, which I'm not sure exactly what they do, but they restore old radio programs, and I got a tweet or a letter from them about a year ago that they had restored a radio interview my dad had done on public radio in 1976, and it was a radio interview about my brother and I and about families. And they put it online, and I heard my dad's voice for the first time since I was 10 years old.
REHMWow, that must...
VANDERBILTAnd that's in the documentary.
COOPERYeah, it's in the documentary, as well.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I think we have time for on more caller. Linda is in Virginia Beach, you're on the air.
VIRGINIAThank you so much for taking my call.
VIRGINIAThis is rare that I get to hear a program where I'm a big fan of all three of the participants. Anderson, I had the pleasure of seeing you at the Norfolk Forum several weeks ago, and I wanted to thank you for your donation of your fee to the Norfolk Police Department. And I was wondering if you could tell all of the listeners about your participation and the donation of the fee and why you decided to do that. I think it was a wonderful donation of your part.
COOPEROh, well, thank you.
VIRGINIAAnd a great opportunity for others to go out and clone that same opportunity.
COOPERWell, that's sweet. It's something I haven't talked about publicly, but since you asked, yeah, I was speaking in Norfolk and was, you know, given a fee to appear, and there was a police dog that was killed in the line of duty several days before I arrived.
REHMOh I remember that.
COOPERSo I was in contact with a friend of mine who is a former Navy SEAL who has an organization called spikescaninefund.org, and they provide ballistic vests for working dogs, for police dogs. So I donated enough money to buy ballistic vests for all the police dogs in not only Norfolk but in some surrounding counties, as well.
REHMI'm so glad.
COOPERSo I was very happy I was able to do that.
COOPERAnd we're hoping that nationally that will be something that a lot of police dogs don't have the protection that the police officers have.
COOPERAnd they're in the line of duty, as well.
REHMI hadn't thought of that. Gloria, tell me what writing this book with Anderson has meant to you.
VANDERBILTWell, it's really been a kind of extraordinary communication, something that we sort of just flowed back and forth between us without any editing.
REHMWhat do you think you've learned about Anderson or from Anderson that you didn't know before?
VANDERBILTOh my goodness. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
COOPERMy mom's not a tough critic of mine. She's always very, very supportive.
REHMYeah, pretty supportive.
VANDERBILTWell, I discovered that he has great warmth, which I think very often -- well, because of, you know, the profession you're in, you have to be objective, and so you are. We never discuss, you know, anything that he's doing on air or anything, although of course I'm always dying to question him. But I never do.
REHMTo get the backstory, to get the real story.
COOPERThe real deal.
VANDERBILTI remain absolutely zipper-mouthed, you know, and...
COOPERI mean, I think for me, one of the things that -- the thing that really came, I mean, for me this, I think, book was really -- this conversation we had was life-changing. It's why I really urge people to try to change the conversation they have, particularly with an aging parent because I think -- or a parent with their child because I do think -- with their adult child because I think it really -- it's made this past year really the most important year of life, and I've realized, I've always thought I was so much like my dad because we look much alike, but I realized through this new conversation that I really am my mother's son and how much she and I are alike and in good ways and bad but just how much we actually do share.
REHMAnderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, their new book, "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss." Congratulations to both of you.
REHMAnd thank you so much for being with us. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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