Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt is most famous for being a mother—and not a very good one at that. And don’t forget, without her we wouldn’t have overpriced designer jeans or news sensation Anderson Cooper. But, her headline dominating custody battle gave us something more: tabloid journalism. Here are some of the most infamous ripped-from-the-headlines facts about Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
1. She Arrived With Room Service
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s birth name was Maria Mercedes Morgan, and her identical twin sister got the less fancy-sounding Thelma. The two girls came into this world in a five-star hotel in Switzerland. It was 1904 and the Morgan sisters were set for a life of room service and cocktail parties—and they didn’t disappoint. But there was big trouble looming for Morgan Vanderbilt; something she could never have guessed.
2. She Had A Rich Education
As far as schooling goes, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s educational pedigree sounds like every girl’s dream—or perhaps nightmare. There were governesses and convents, in both Europe and America. There was also a finishing school. The last stop was at Miss Nightingale's School—an upscale college for women only. But her education suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
3. She Didn’t Need Her Parents
With finishing school finished, Morgan Vanderbilt and her twin sister stopped their education and started to really live. In 1922 they got a townhouse on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan—all by themselves. They were still teens but somehow two young girls living alone in the Big Apple didn’t raise any eyebrows in her family. But, as we’ll soon see, Morgan Vanderbilt was serious about being independent.
4. She Wanted To Be Glorious
For some reason, Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t care for her real name: Maria Mercedes. The glamorous car company Mercedes-Benz had only been using the name for a few years when she was born, so I guess it didn't yet lend that luxurious cache. Whatever the reason, when she was a teenager she chose to change her name to Gloria. And what was the first stop for Gloria? Show Business.
5. She Was Paid To Be A WallFlower
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her sister Thelma both had show business dreams. But even though they were from a rich family, they had to start at the bottom like anyone else. And that meant background talent. The two sisters took jobs as extras to what…pay for their Manhattan townhouse? I don’t think so. It was likely a lark. But just when Morgan Vanderbilt was getting her start in show biz, her life took a sharp turn.
6. She Was A Teenage Bride
It was a good thing that Morgan Vanderbilt sowed her wild oats early, because it was all about to come to an end. In 1923, at the tender age of 18, Gloria Morgan married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, who was 42 years old at the time. Yes, her father gave her permission, but what was the deal? Well, the deal was both financial and very very sad.
7. She Married Into A Fortune
The likely reason Morgan Vanderbilt’s father gave her permission to marry so young was because of the name she was marrying into. The Vanderbilts had come to America with next to nothing and were, by this time, the owners of next to everything. They were super rich because of railroads, but that didn’t mean that Morgan Vanderbilt’s fiancé was a business tycoon. If her father thought money bought respectability, he was in for a rude awakening.
8. Her Fiancé Was Trouble
The man Gloria Morgan was about to marry was an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, which doesn’t mean he raised a finger to earn it. No, like most heirs to a fortune, he was more interested in spending money than earning it. Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt was a big partier who couldn't care less where his money came from—as long as it kept coming.
9. She Had A Glorious Birth
In 1924, at the age of 20, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt gave birth to a lovely daughter. The young mom decided to name her child after herself. The girl became Gloria Vanderbilt: You know…the one who basically invented designer jeans and gave us Anderson Cooper. Well, once she’d finished with the annoying birthing, new mom Morgan Vanderbilt did something quite unmotherly.
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10. She Took A Vacation From Labor
Shortly after giving birth, most parents spend some time bonding with their newborn. Not the Vanderbilts. Mother and father immediately took off on a round the world tour without little Gloria— for ten months no less! Would baby Gloria even remember her mom and dad? And who would take care of baby Gloria? Well, the nanny of course.
11. She Out Partied Her Old Man
It turns out baby Gloria needn’t have wasted her time worrying about getting to know dad. He’d be dead before she was old enough to remember him. Some say it was a throat infection. Others called it what it was: alcoholism. Partying with a teenage wife might do that to you. Good thing he had a huge estate to pass on. He did have a huge estate right?
12. She Had A Problem With The Will
The problem with people who come into money instead of earning it is that they have little idea about how to keep it. Morgan Vanderbilt’s husband was a spender and not an earner. When he expired he had less than $500,000 to his name. This wasn’t enough for a girl born in a five-star hotel. But there was some money floating around that Morgan Vanderbilt could get her hands on—if she was willing to bend the rules a little.
13. The Money Went To The Wrong Gloria
It could be that Morgan Vanderbilt had money on her mind when she married the much older Reginald Vanderbilt. But when it came to his legacy there wasn’t much left to get. Thankfully Vanderbilt had set up a trust fund for his daughter Gloria. It left the toddler $2.5 million (that’s $36 million today). Of course, Morgan Vanderbilt was in charge of the trust. Lucky for her.
As you can imagine, with that kind of cash at stake, things were about to get messy.
14. She Kept Her Baby Near
Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t inherit a fortune—but her daughter did. So, as long as she was near baby Gloria, she was near the money. Because Morgan Vanderbilt was still a minor when she became a widow, the Vanderbilt estate decided to give her only a portion of the trust: $4,000 a month for child care. Morgan Vanderbilt packed up the child and headed to Europe. But what she did with the $4,000 is downright scandalous.
15. She Robbed Her Daughter Of Her Money
Morgan Vanderbilt had a whole scene going on in Europe. It was mostly her relatives and their various spouses. Her twin sister was, at the time, the secret mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales—you know the one who abdicated the throne. So Gloria’s $4,000 a month would help to keep the party going. Oh yeah, and would also buy the occasional toy for little Gloria.
16. She Was A Magical Stranger
Morgan Vanderbilt’s daughter Gloria had a nickname for her mother. It was: “Magical Stranger.” Not the best terms to remember your mother by. It turns out that little Gloria only saw Morgan Vanderbilt very rarely. She was “magical” because of the wonderful clothes she wore, but a stranger because she was always disappearing.
17. She Got Engaged To A Prince
Somehow, between all the martinis, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt fell in love with a prince. His name was Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe, and he was German royalty. Morgan Vanderbilt had already partnered with an American millionaire, now it was time to try a European royal. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but Morgan Vanderbilt’s mother’s reaction was out of left field.
18. Her Mother Snubbed Royalty
Morgan Vanderbilt’s mother, Naney Morgan, reportedly didn’t like Germans. That was the prince’s first strike. There were also rumors that Morgan Vanderbilt’s fiance wasn’t quite rolling in the Deutschmarks. In fact, Naney called him “a count of no account.” Naney needed her daughters to marry well—which meant with enough money to keep the family afloat in cash. Naney forbade the marriage and Morgan Vanderbilt ended the engagement.
19. They Ganged Up On Her
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s party lifestyle was flying under the radar thus far, but when her short engagement to the Prince became public, people began wondering about her fitness as a parent. Around this time, her late husband’s sister—Gertrude Whitney—took a great interest in getting young Gloria away from her mother. And she was willing to play dirty in order to do it.
20. She Had Spies On Her Tail
Gertrude Whitney decided to go after Morgan Vanderbilt's parenting skills. Whitney needed proof of Morgan Vanderbilt’s poor attempts at raising her child, so she hired private detectives to watch for evidence of child neglect and of Morgan Vanderbilt being a poor role model. But there was someone very close to Morgan Vanderbilt who was also plotting against her.
21. Her Mother Was No Friend
It was bad enough having Whitney plotting against her—but her own mother? Naney Morgan told Whitney that her daughter was squandering young Gloria’s trust fund on herself. Worse still, she helped sneak Gloria from Europe into the arms of Whitney. Naney took young Gloria to the USA on the pretense of tonsillitis. The young girl recovered from her surgery at Whitney’s home.
22. She Had Her Allowance Cut
Little Gloria was living in the United States. Mother Gloria was in Europe and didn’t seem to mind the situation at all—she didn't spend much time with her daughter anyway. But then a trustee of the estate decided that Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t need quite so much money anymore. She wasn’t caring for the child after all. The allowance was party money to Morgan Vanderbilt—it was all she had coming in. So what did Morgan Vanderbilt do when someone threatened that allowance?
23. She Came Back Begging For Money
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t return to the US to be with her convalescing daughter. She came in search of cash. She realized if she wasn’t living with her daughter, she wouldn’t keep getting the money to raise her. Once in the US, Morgan Vanderbilt clued in that her in-laws and her mother were conspiring to take Gloria away from her. So she sprung into action.
24. She Tried To Get Custody
Morgan Vanderbilt wanted her daughter back. Some say it was only for the cash the child brought in, but let’s not be too cynical. There must have been some parental bond in play here. Morgan Vanderbilt’s rationale for getting her child back was that she was Gloria's rightful parent—which to be fair, was true. But there were even more enemies fighting against Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
25. She Tried To Get Rid Of the Nanny
It was becoming clear to Morgan Vanderbilt that young Gloria’s nanny, Emma Keislich, was working with Whitney to take the child away from her. Years later, Gloria said that she remembered hearing her mother and twin sister Thelma talking about Keislich. She swears she heard one of them say: “First thing you must do is get rid of the nurse.” Yikes! Get rid of?
26. The Nanny Took Her Daughter
Morgan Vanderbilt wasn’t wrong in suspecting who her enemies were—and one of them certainly was the nanny, Keislich. Little Gloria told Keislich what she’d heard and Keislich freaked out. She then lied to Morgan Vanderbilt and said that she was taking young Gloria to feed pigeons in the park. But there were no pigeons or park for Gloria that afternoon.
27. Her Daughter Got Delivered To The Enemy
Keislich was certain that Morgan Vanderbilt was bad for her daughter, so she took the girl to Greenwich Village, where Auntie Whitney had a gallery. Young Gloria wasn’t shy about describing her horrible life in her mother’s hands. She told a shocked Whitney everything. Whitney had heard enough and started a custody trial that turned into the scandal of the decade.
28. She Was A Villain In An Scandal-Ridden Trial
With such huge personalities and even bigger bankrolls, everyone knew that it was going to be a media frenzy. Before the custody trial began the judge, out of concern for the child, begged Morgan Vanderbilt not to go ahead for the sake of the girl. He suggested that she have some pity for young Gloria. So what did Morgan Vanderbilt do?
29. She Fought For Her Daughter
To some, it might seem that Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t care about her daughter’s welfare. After all, she was willing to put her young child through a messy trial. On the other hand, Gloria was her child. What mother wouldn’t do anything to keep her family together? Morgan Vanderbilt wouldn’t listen to the judge's pleas—the trial would go on. But then Gertrude Whitney did something unexpected.
30. They Tried To Buy Her Child
Whitney was desperate to get young Gloria away from Morgan Vanderbilt. To avoid a scandalous trial and get Gloria away from her mother, she offered Morgan Vanderbilt $50,000 per year to take her child away and raise her herself. This meager sum didn’t impress Morgan Vanderbilt. She either really loved her daughter or she was in it for the big bucks and the prestige the Vanderbilt name brought her. Whichever it was, Morgan Vanderbilt said no to the cash offer.
31. She Was Indifferent To Vermin
Once the trial started, Whitney’s lawyers brought out various individuals who had witnessed Morgan Vanderbilt’s improper lifestyle when it came to raising Gloria. Morgan Vanderbilt’s former nurse described her as a "lazy, loose ... woman" who was "indifferent to rats and vermin that swarmed in her house and cruel to her child" on the witness stand. It did not look good.
32. Family Members Didn’t Rise To Her Defense
Included in the witnesses against Morgan Vanderbilt’s improper lifestyle was her older sister Laura Morgan—even though everyone seemed to know that she was emotionally and mentally unstable. Laura offered stories of Morgan Vanderbilt’s neglect of her daughter and also the poor example she was on her. Damaging testimony, especially when it comes from a sister. But there was something even worse coming from another family member.
33. Her Mother Got On The Stand Against Her
Naney Morgan testified that her daughter “slept until 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and from that time until the early hours of the following morning she was at cocktail parties, dinners and nightclubs.” According to Naney, her daughter put her own pleasure above Gloria's, sometimes even physically pushing Gloria away. “Little Gloria was like a poor orphan. She was not wanted,” said Naney.
34. She Taught Her Daughter An Odd Skill
Keislich, the nanny, corroborated what Naney Morgan said and added that Morgan Vanderbilt “devoted practically no time to the child.” But then Keislich added something particularly incriminating: She said that Morgan Vanderbilt only paid attention to the child when she was teaching her how to make a cocktail. Well, doesn't every family need a shared hobby?
35. Her Daughter Testified Against Her
Tensions were high the day young Gloria Vanderbilt took the stand to testify against her own mother. She complained that Morgan Vanderbilt had moved her around a lot and how she now enjoyed having a real home with Whitney. She said that she preferred going to a normal school and having friends her own age to play with. But onlookers may have noticed a certain stiffness to Gloria’s testimony...
36. They Told Her Daughter What To Say
It was pretty clear to anyone in the courtroom that Whitney's lawyers had coached Gloria on what to say. Her performance was a little too assured. Gloria kept to the script regarding the testimony against her mother. Some people allege that the script included a made-up story—one Vanderbilt never had to tell—about Prince Gottfriend purposely burning her.
37. She Started A Media Trend
All these sordid allegations against Morgan Vanderbilt whipped the media into a frenzy. It was the middle of the Great Depression and the public was starving for scandalous stories about the rich—especially when they were falling from grace. Years later, media experts said the trial was the first tabloid sensation. But there was still more scandal to come.
38. The Servants Squealed On Her
To prove that Morgan Vanderbilt was an unfit mother, Whitney’s team of lawyers even brought in servants from when Morgan Vanderbilt was raising Gloria in Europe. They reported all the usual stories; that she gave all-night parties, slept till six PM, and ignored her child. But then one maid reported something that stopped the trial in its tracks.
39. An Accusation Silenced The Courtroom
Maria Caillot, a Parisian maid who’d served Morgan Vanderbilt in Paris, made a far more scandalous accusation. She accused Morgan Vanderbilt of being in a lesbian relationship with Lady Nada Milford Haven. The maid claimed she had caught the pair in bed together, making love. The courtroom went eerily silent—and then all hell broke loose.
40. She Shut A Courtroom Down
The courtroom went from silent to the very opposite. In fact, no one could hear anyone speak. The story about the lesbian relationship caused the court to erupt in a din of disapproval. The judge was at a loss. How could he continue? He couldn’t hear the witnesses. He sent the public out and from then on it was a closed courtroom.
41. She Had Some Supporters
Some of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s siblings took the stand in her defense. They attempted to make Whitney the villain, calling her a mudslinger. Even Morgan Vanderbilt’s former fiancé, Prince Gottfried, and his wife stood up to defend Morgan Vanderbilt against what they called “the lies of malicious servants.” Actress Constance Bennett said the stories of all-night drinking and dancing parties were lies and called Morgan Vanderbilt an “ideal and perfect mother.”
But what about that lesbian affair?
42. Her Alleged Lesbian Lover Testified
Lady Nada Milford Haven took the stand and vehemently denied the claims of a lesbian affair with Morgan Vanderbilt. The alleged affair was a huge detriment to Morgan Vanderbilt’s custody case and after it was all over, it was mostly thought to be a complete lie with insubstantial evidence. Whitney and her lawyers were clearly playing dirty. But there were worse things to come for Morgan Vanderbilt.
43. The Trial Ended In The Worst Way
The trial and media frenzy went on for a year. With most of the witnesses describing Morgan Vanderbilt as an unfit mother, it’s not surprising that she lost. Gertrude Whitney would be the guardian of Gloria, and Morgan Vanderbilt would see her only on weekends. But what about the money? What was Morgan Vanderbilt going to live off?
44. She Was Childless And Penniless
With the daughter, went the trust fund. Since Morgan Vanderbilt’s million-dollar baby was now out of her reach, she had virtually no income—but not exactly nothing. The trust fund offered her $21,000 per year to live. Not much for Morgan Vanderbilt’s extravagant lifestyle. Ironically, it was an allowance coming from her own daughter.
45. She Got A Second Chance
Morgan Vanderbilt moved to California and saw her daughter rarely. But when Gloria was 17, she went to spend the summer with her mother. Morgan Vanderbilt got a second chance to make up for her previous mistakes, but motherhood just didn’t seem to be in her wheelhouse. Morgan Vanderbilt let Gloria do anything she wanted. It must have been such a disappointment for Gloria—or so you’d think.
46. The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
Remember, Morgan Vanderbilt’s daughter was now a teenager and she was a Vanderbilt. Seems she now enjoyed the partying and the freedom her mom gave her. She even dated a few famous names: actor Errol Flynn and millionaire Howard Hughes. When the summer ended she decided to forget about high school back in New York and stay in sunny California with her mother. But is there any chance at all this could turn out well?
47. She Raised Her Teenager Her Way
So Morgan Vanderbilt was allowing Gloria to have a great time in California. The young woman was dating around and enjoying being young. This was a different life than the one she had back with uptight Whitney in New York. But remember how Morgan Vanderbilt married a rich man at a young age? Well, she had the same plan for Gloria.
48. She Matched Her Daughter With A Crook
Morgan Vanderbilt liked having her Vanderbilt daughter around her in California. She even pushed her toward wedded life, but her choice of a husband was strange. He was Pat DeCicco: An agent who was also involved in gang life. He was 32, she was 17. Sounds like a perfect match, no? But Morgan Vanderbilt didn’t care. She had a plan and this marriage would help her succeed.
49. She Kept Her Daughter Close And Her Enemies Further Away
Morgan Vanderbilt wanted to keep her daughter close and especially away from Gertrude Whitney. So getting Gloria married—even to a crook—would keep her on the west coast. Did Morgan Vanderbilt really love her daughter that much? Or was she still chasing the money that the young girl brought with her? With Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, it’s hard to say.
50. Her Plan Backfired
Morgan Vanderbilt’s scheme to keep her daughter in California failed miserably. Gloria’s marriage to the gangster ended; Gloria said that it was abusive. Once again mother and daughter were on poor terms. Gloria left California and her mother for good. But young Gloria wasn’t through punishing her mother—not by a long shot.
51. She Received Her Punishment
Gloria had a bad taste in her mouth regarding the time she spent in California with Morgan Vanderbilt. Sure she’d had fun, but she ended up in a marriage with a gangster. So Gloria decided to punish her mother in a way she knew would devastate her: She cut off her allowance. So what was Morgan Vanderbilt supposed to do? Gloria said her mom could work, and she gave the allowance to charity. Ice cold.
52. She Had to Get A Job
Morgan Vanderbilt’s CV probably included experience as a socialite and...well, that was about it. Although she had been a movie extra oh so many years ago. That must be good for something? The international news maliciously suggested she could work as “a movie actress or a dancing teacher.” In the end, Morgan Vanderbilt, along with her twin sister, Thelma, started a dress company, did an ad for Pond’s cream, and even sold puppets.
53. She Lived A Double Life
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt spent the last years of her life in both New York City and Los Angeles. In both cities she lived with her twin sister Thelma. Together, the sisters wrote a memoir called Double Exposure: A Twin Autobiography. Of the book, critics say the two sisters “face the future with gallantry, humor, and without rancor or bitterness over the past.” Not easy after a life such as theirs.