Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, June 17, 2019

Gloria Vanderbilt Dies at 95; Built a Fashion Empire

GloriaGloria Vanderbilt, society heiress that revamped fashion merchandising and whose life was full of tabloid scandal, has passed away at the age of 95. Her death was confirmed by her son, Anderson Cooper. 

Gloria was the great-great-granddaughter of the 19th-century railroad and steamship magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and she used her illustrious last name to sell fashion items during the 1970s. Even her early life was smeared with infamy, with her father dying when she was a baby and eventually her mother and aunt pitting against each other in a sensational child-custody case that would leave the 10-year-old traumatized. Gloria would be followed by the American gossip seekers that devoured the stories of her affairs the Hollywood royalty, such as Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Howard Hughes and Marlon Brando. It was rumored that Holly Golightly, the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany's, was modeled after Gloria.

She divorced three men, was widowed by one man, and had four sons. Her son, Carson Carter, committed suicide by jumping from his Manhattan penthouse terrace, witnessed by his mother whom had pleaded with him.

Gloria was born into the most elite inner circle of American families, and inherited her own trust fund infancy, though she could not touch it until she was 21. But with Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, she was earning her own money (through exploiting the family name, though) so that she was no longer spending inherited funds. But with competition from other brands, her brand faded but her lavish spending did not. in 1995, she was hit with federal and state liens for back taxes totaling $2.7 million, and had to sell her East Side townhouse and her home in Southampton to satisfy the judgments. She denied being broke, but in her later memoir critics found parallels between the privileged child and the Broadway character of Little Orphan Annie. Though Little Gloria was born rich, as a child she was poor in love from her parents.

See Robert D. McFadden, Gloria Vanderbilt Dies at 95; Built a Fashion Empire, New York Times, June 17, 2019.

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