Gloria Vanderbilt was only seventeen in the summer of 1941 when she met business tycoon, aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes at the Beverly Hills villa where she was spending the summer with her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
The older Gloria, a Swiss-born American socialite, was expecting the much sought-after Hughes when little Gloria swept by her on the staircase and was on her way out to meet a man she was seeing.
Just as she touched the doorknob, the front bell rang.
‘I opened the door, and there, standing before me, was a very tall, very thin, very very sensitive-looking man who made me weak in the knees’, Gloria recalled in a conversation with her son, Anderson Cooper in their new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes, Harper.
Gloria only learned the next morning that Hughes had arranged to meet with her mother to discuss a screen test for her daughter – not to ask the older Gloria out.
‘Of course, I told him it was out of the question’, her mother stated.
Gloria Vanderbilt was only seventeen in the summer of 1941 when she met business tycoon, aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes at the Beverly Hills villa where she was spending the summer with her mother
‘When I think of Howard Hughes, I imagine him as a recluse living in the penthouse of the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, using tissues to protect himself from germs, Gloria writes. ‘I can’t reconcile the man I dated with the man he apparently became. When I knew him, he was thirty-six, wildly romantic, and gentle’
‘What makes you think you could ever be an actress’?
Little Gloria actually had thought of it — but instead of the screen test, she started dating Howard. She had already dated swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn.
‘Something had passed between us when I opened that door and saw him, and wild horses couldn’t have prevented us from seeing each other again’.
‘When I think of Howard Hughes, I imagine him as a recluse living in the penthouse of the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, using tissues to protect himself from germs’.
‘I can’t reconcile the man I dated with the man he apparently became. When I knew him, he was thirty-six, wildly romantic, and gentle, yet he had the power to rule the world’.
He was extremely masculine, but there was a fragility about him, as if he were made of fine and tawny flesh; and a reticence, a shyness, which was extremely appealing.
Gloria, now 92, writes that had never met anyone like him.
‘He was extremely masculine, but there was a fragility about him, as if he were made of fine and tawny flesh; and a reticence, a shyness, which was extremely appealing’ – after being with the man she had been dating and would marry, Pat DeCicco, a 33-year old tough guy and gambler who worked for Hughes in some minor capacity.
Their time together felt like ‘wild joy’.
Howard was possessive, secretive about their relationship and adventurous.
He picked her up in a shabby Oldsmobile and off they’d go – she never knew where in advance.
Sometimes they’d fly to Catalina, a Channel Island twenty-six miles southwest of Los Angeles,where they dined at a seaside restaurant.
Some nights in his private screening room he showed her films he produced and directed.
‘Best of all, sex not only worked, but it was the first time since I started having sex that summer that I didn’t have to fake an orgasm’.
They grew closer every time they were together but Howard never proposed and Gloria thought that marriage would have been a great escape from her mother.
At the end of summer, she had to return to New York to finish high school.
On the flight back East, she kept hearing his voice in her head, ‘I love you, Gloria’.
‘He meant it. There was no question in my mind that it was the truth.
When the two Glorias arrived at the Hotel Marguery, on Park Avenue, there was a massive bouquet of yellow roses in a crystal bowl – sent by Howard.
Frank Sinatra rescued Gloria from her second husband, renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski whose possessiveness became overbearing along with the deceit about his background
Gloria, 92, wrote a joint memoir The Rainbow Comes and Goes with son Anderson Cooper, 48
Later that evening, at a party at the Pierre Hotel, Pat DeCicco was there and insisted they get married and Gloria consented.
At seventeen, she felt unworthy to be loved by a man like Howard who treated her like a queen.
Gloria’s mother had many affairs with handsome, dashing, titled men but she was also a lesbian.
Her one great love was His Serene Highness Prince Friedel Hohenlohe, a great grandson of Queen Victoria.
‘He had a monocle in one eye and carried himself as though a rod had been rammed up his behind’.
‘Every time I saw him was scarier than the time before’, Gloria wrote in her book Once Upon A Time: A True Story.
Gloria’s mother would have become a ‘Serene Highness’ had she married Prince Friedel but more importantly she would have lost her trust fund. The engagement was ended.
Fascinating, glamorous, mesmerizing in her zaftig splendor, Nada had a mop of tousled red and orange hair and lacquered her nails the same shade of mahogany as my mother.
Her mother’s most passionate and longest relationship was to follow – with Lady Nada Milford Haven, who was related to the Russian royal family as well as to a great-grandson of Queen Victoria.
‘Fascinating, glamorous, mesmerizing in her zaftig splendor, Nada had a mop of tousled red and orange hair and lacquered her nails the same shade of mahogany as my mother’.
‘She wore dresses of soft, flowing fabrics and carried a cigarette in an ivory holder’.
The older Gloria, shy and passive appeared happy now to the seven-year old girl.
‘I didn’t know it then, but I realize now it was because they were madly in love’.
Once during a stay in London, little Gloria spied on them through a half-open door and saw them ‘sitting together on a sofa, arms around each other, laughing and whispering in front of a glowing fire’.
Her mother caught her daughter staring and told her there was a draft coming in and run on out and play.
The lesbian relationship became public in 1934 when being gay was a terrible scandal, considered evil and a crime that warranted imprisonment or institutionalization.
It was viewed as heinous as murder.
‘The allegation that my beautiful mother was a lesbian, clamped down on my ten-year-old heart, squeezing it hard… Pain scrambled my brain, sucking me in a whirlpool of vile thoughts. I didn’t understand what it meant.’
Little Gloria had no one to speak about it with and ‘I became obsessively worried that I, too, would grow up to be like my mother: a lesbian’.
That floated in and out of her mind along with her terror as a child that she might have inherited her father’s alcoholism that killed him when she was only fifteen months.
Gloria climbed under the covers with a classmate of hers from Miss Porter’s School, a private preparatory school for girls in Farmington, Connecticut.
Her best friend reminded her of her cherished Irish nanny, Dodo and she just wanted to please her.
It was during an Easter vacation at Gloria’s Aunt Gertrude’s house on New York’s Fifth Avenue. The girls cuddled down in the four-poster canopied bed and started to fondle.
Gloria and her mother Gloria Morgan-Vanderbiltin in Los Angeles on December 6, 1939. Gloria was the grand-daughter of the tycoon Cornelius and the daughter of Reginald Vanderbilt
Gloria’s mother’s most passionate and longest relationship was to follow – with Lady Nada Milford Haven, who was related to the Russian royal family as well as to a great-grandson of Queen Victoria
‘It was great. Of course, I didn’t quite know what it was, but I didn’t want it to stop’. But she did and when she ran into the girl years later on Madison Avenue, the girl had transitioned to a man. Gloria hurried by and pretended she didn’t know her.
In her thirties, Gloria confesses to Anderson that she secretly wished she had been born gay.
‘My closest friends have always been women, and I certainly understand them more than I do men, but it was not to be’.
Frank Sinatra was one lover she wouldn’t have given up for any woman.
‘As a lover, he made me believe I was the most important person in the world to him. As a friend, I knew I could always depend on him.’
Sinatra rescued Gloria from her second husband, renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski whose possessiveness became overbearing along with the deceit about his background.
Sinatra appeared as a ‘knight in shining armor’ who stayed for only three weeks ‘but it gave me a gigantic boost to suddenly have him in my life’.
Gloria had many erotic love affairs with wildly exotic men.
One such lover she described to her son as ‘the Nijinsky of c*********s’.
Anderson loved hearing about his mother’s sex life but felt embarrassed that it was more interesting than his own.
In February 1945, Gloria, at age twenty-one, was escorted into the vaults of Bankers Trust by a team of guardians and lawyers. A whopping $4.5 million dollars was now hers. She had no idea what to do with it.
Anderson recalls in one of their conversation that Gloria and his father, author and screenwriter Wyatt Cooper, Gloria’s fourth husband, told him that he would not be inheriting any money and would be financially on his own after college.
‘I’m thankful for that. I never wanted a trust fund, and it has always bothered me when people assumed I had one.
He’s proud of his mother’s success and her ability to earn a fortune on her own besides her vast inheritance, but he wasn’t given a trust fund.
‘And it has always bothered me when people assumed I had one’.
‘I wanted to achieve something on my own.’’
‘But had I believed there was a financial cushion to fall back on, I probably would have made different choices, and I doubt I would have been as driven’.
‘I certainly wouldn’t have started working when I was twelve as a child model in order to save up money, calling an agent every day after school to see what auditions or ‘go sees’ there were for me’.
‘Knowing I would have to find my own way financially is another reason I paid more attention to the Cooper side of our family history than I did to the Vanderbilt side. I didn’t feel like any good would come of thinking of myself as a Vanderbilt, and I still don’t’.