Gloria Vanderbilt was an heiress, an artist, a socialite, a businesswoman, a fashion designer, a writer, a bold lover and a devoted mother. She was all of those things in one elegant package, which fueled her status as one of the 20th century’s most talked-about figures.
Vanderbilt, who died June 17 at 95, was remembered by documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus as a woman with a healthy appreciation for her strengths and weaknesses, as befitting someone who lived in the public eye from her earliest years until her final days. Garbus directed and produced the 2016 documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper,” which chronicled her life and relationship with her son, the CNN news anchor who is the youngest of her four children.
“What stands out so much about Gloria is how simultaneously modern and old-world she was,” Garbus tells Variety. “She was this incredible combination of someone who felt like she was a time capsule of an era gone by and also someone who was forthright about sex and her love life, and she was someone who immediately embraced her son when he came out to her as gay.”
After Cooper introduced her to social media via Twitter, Vanderbilt planted her flag on Instagram. She’d been raised in such an environment of privilege that she didn’t know how to change a light bulb, but she had no trouble telling intriguing tales about her many lovers, from Frank Sinatra to Howard Hughes to Marlon Brando. Later in life, she had a circle of close female friends — including Joyce Carol Oates, Marlo Thomas, Gloria Steinem and Kathy Griffin — who regularly came to her Manhattan apartment for tea and dish.
“She had incredible love affairs, and she loved to talk about them,” Garbus says. “There wasn’t any sense of her being a woman who was supposed to be discreet about these things. She was totally surprising, and wonderful.”