One soon learns, and then takes for granted, that Newport is seemingly at the epicenter, in an understated way, of many newsworthy events. Case in point…Tuesday night, in a filled-to-capacity gilded Newport ballroom, more than 200 movie-goers enjoyed a highly sought-after ticket: the HBO Films Production preview of Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper which screened at “The Breakers,” the Vanderbilt’s former summer cottage. Other than Newport, only Sundance and Miami International Film Festival will be previewing the documentary before it’s debut on HBO.
The sold-out event proved to be another feather in newportFILM’s cap. What a coup to bring this preview to Newport and how fitting to screen it in a setting where young Gloria would visit her grandparents. I talked with newportFILM’s Executive Director, Terri Conners, to offer my kudos and inquire as to how newportFILM made this wonderful pairing of film and venue happen.
Terri offered, “Each year at the Sundance Film Festival, we usually see at least one film that has Newport written all over it” (the other half of the “we” is newportFILM’s founder and artistic director, Andrea van Beuren). “This year, Nothing Left Unsaid was the one. As soon as an image of a very young Gloria Vanderbilt appeared on the screen, on the lawn of The Breakers with her beloved nanny, I knew The Breakers had to be the venue! Luckily the Preservation Society understood our train of thought and very generously helped us realize our vision.”
The director of the film, Oscar nominated Liz Garbus, is a friend to newportFILM. Terri recounted an August morning Cliff Walk excursion Andrea spearheaded with Liz while she visited Newport to screen her highly acclaimed film What Happened, Miss Simone? “Liz mentioned she was working on ‘a Vanderbilt documentary,’ so we naturally pointed out the Vanderbilt properties as we passed them, and casually mentioned what an ideal setting one of them could be for a future screening. So even before there was a film to see, we were planting the seeds to get it here. It seems to have worked!”
Having heard about the film in mid-February through the Newport grapevine, it was doubly informative to have my current issue of Vogue featuring details of this mother-son collaboration. The article, entitled “Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper Find Common Ground in Nothing Left Unsaid,” explores Ms. Vanderbilt’s glamorous ups and devastating downs through the interview conducted by her son, Anderson Cooper (of CNN fame).
While reading through Vogue‘s piece, I couldn’t help but think, “What hasn’t this woman been through?!” Cases in point: absent parents, a very public custody battle, young marriage, modeling, celebrity friendships and relationships, multiple marriages and divorces, early deaths, affairs, alcoholism, society, New York’s Studio 54-filled 70’s, an excruciating suicide, passion, regret, art, design, authorship, and business acumen (ie. the first to introduce designer jeans).
Born into one of the wealthiest families in American history, Gloria Vanderbilt has lived in the public eye for more than 90 years. In fact, Anderson Cooper puts a fine point on that, commenting…
“My mother has been famous for longer than anyone else alive.”
The poignant and revealing feature-length documentary features a series of candid conversations as Vanderbilt and Anderson look back at her remarkable life where she has unapologetically pursued love, family, career, and has experienced extreme tragedy and tremendous success side by side. The film shows how stories of loss and survival repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.
Ms. Vanderbilt is extremely open in the film offering up years upon years of “stuff.” Apparently, she doesn’t throw a thing away (something with which her son is quite concerned), but we reap the benefits. For this is the ‘stuff’ of the film, Gloria Vanderbilt’s private archive of letters, home movies, photos and artwork created by her over the years. These private treasures, along with vintage news footage and newspaper clippings, Nothing Left Unsaid journeys through a very unique life.
Cooper explains, “She’s got this public face, but the reality of her life is so different.”
I was touched by the mother/son relationship. It seemed Mr. Cooper was learning of certain aspects of his mother’s life right alongside us, the viewers. For example, at one point when they were sifting through pictures, Cooper asks his mother how old she was when she was married for the second time to a man decades her senior. She answered, “Twenty.” And Cooper seems genuinely surprised to hear it, asking if her friends thought it was strange. It appeared as if their relationship grew deeper over the course of the film, which was quite moving.
Also, asked by her son, how she has overcome the tragedies in her extraordinary life, Gloria Vanderbilt, ever resilient, says, “I have inside me the image of a rock-hard diamond that nothing can get at, and nothing can crack, and I’ve always known that about myself.”
Ten Things About Gloria
Even though we have all seen glimpses into Gloria Vanderbilt’s complicated life, I bet there is quite a bit that might surprise you here (from New York Daily News):
1. In 1934, at 10 years old, Gloria was thrust into a nationally publicized custody case where her aunt Gertrude and mother fought bitterly over her guardianship.
2. The first fashion photograph of Gloria appeared in a major magazine when she was 15. Diana Vreeland, then editor of Harper’s Bazaar, met Gloria at her aunt’s Old Westbury home, where Gloria had decorated a small room with an Egyptian theme. Vreeland, like others, was totally captivated by Gloria.
3. So, too, was Howard Hughes, who wanted to marry her when she was 17. Gloria’s Aunt Gertrude, her legal guardian (who had a studio on Cliff Walk in Newport and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1954), quashed the idea, speaking to Hughes directly.
4. Gloria was married four times, the first time at 17; the second time to the composer Leopold Stokowski, who was 41 years her senior and with whom she had two sons. The third time was to director Sidney Lumet, who made “Serpico” and “Network.”
Her last marriage was to the writer Wyatt Cooper (below), with whom she also had two sons (one is CNN anchor Anderson Cooper). The other son, Carter, died tragically at age 23, about which Gloria wrote candidly in her book, “A Mother’s Story.”
5. She named some of her houses. A Southampton estate was titled Summertime; a stone cottage in Connecticut on the Mianus River was called Faraway. In one photo that appeared in Vogue, she is standing on a rock in a stream under a parasol with the stone house behind her. It’s storybook pretty.
6. Always in tune with the times, Gloria took a doctor-monitored LSD trip.
7. Gloria’s great-great-grandfather was Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Staten Island native ran the first ferry to Manhattan before starting his railroad business and with it, the building of Grand Central Station.
8. A disciplined hard worker, Gloria tirelessly promoted her line of jeans.
9. She once dated Frank Sinatra, was labeled a “Swan” by one-time friend Truman Capote and has been shot by the leading photographers of their time: Richard Avedon, Edgar de Evia and Annie Leibovitz.
10. Today, her artwork includes dream boxes, glass cubes measuring 72 feet on all sides, filled with objects like oversize baby dolls, broken mannequins wearing black chiffon and glass red hearts. Her spirit, as you can imagine, remains forever young. In Wendy Goodman’s biography of Vanderbilt, she notes that Gloria is one of the kindest, most gracious people she’s ever met.
To that point, over the years I have come across a favored quote of Ms. Vanderbilt, so favored in fact that she painted it on the fireplace and in her studio:
“Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”
Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper will appear on HBO April 9 and on CNN April 30. You can watch a preview here.
Featured image: Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt in Vanderbilt’s art studio. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy, Vogue March 2016