Gloria Vanderbilt – the story behind the sex-mad heiress and inspiration for Breakfast At Tiffany’s who has died age 95

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SHE was the sex-mad society heiress who bedded Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly and Errol Flynn.

New York socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who died yesterday aged 95, was also said to be the inspiration for Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn’s iconic girl-about -town character in the classic film Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

Gloria Vanderbilt enjoyed wild affairs and lavish spending sprees but had a weakness for alcohol
Time & Life Pictures

Although she had millions to her name, Gloria later made her own wealth selling the idea to Seventies women that they could wear jeans and look fashionable.

Following the announcement of her death, her son, US TV news anchorman Anderson Cooper, said: “Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman who loved life and lived it on her own terms. She was a painter, a writer and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife and friend. She was 95, but ask anyone close to her and they’d tell you she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest and most modern.”

Anderson, 52, could have been referring to the erotic novel, Obsession, that his mother wrote at the age of 85, and which was described by one reviewer as “pure, elegant, unadulterated smut”.

Or it could be a nod to the eye-catching book he wrote with her three years ago, recounting a lifetime that was touched by tragedy, scandal as well as the bed-hopping antics.

Gloria was said to be the inspiration for Holly Golightly, who was played on screen by Audrey Hepburn
Alamy

The mother of four told a journalist in 2004: “I’ve had many, many loves. I always feel that something wonderful is going to happen. And it always does.” She once even boasted of a lesbian experience in a four-poster bed at her aunt’s New York mansion.

Dark haired, tall and ultra-thin, Gloria repeatedly appeared in gossip columns for her liaisons after dropping out of school and moving to Hollywood aged 17 in 1941.

She had affairs with Hollywood actors Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Clark Gable, crooner Frank Sinatra, dancer and film star Gene Kelly and film director Howard Hughes.

Gloria said: “Every night I went out on dates with movie stars. To attract my attention, they had to be famous and much older. It was totally inappropriate, not to mention dangerous.”

Gloria at an exhibition dedicated to her in New York in 2012
Rex Features
The socialite signed a deal with manufacturer Mohan Murjani to sell women’s jeans, seen here modelled by Kate Moss
Image Courtesy of The Advertising Archives

With Hughes, 19 years her senior, she later said that the “sex not only worked, but it was the first time that I didn’t have to fake an orgasm”.

She had a one-night stand with Godfather star Brando when they were 30, with the heiress meeting him for dinner at his Los Angeles home in 1954. Gloria later revealed he had a framed photo of himself on his bedside table.

Of her three-week romance with legendary lothario Sinatra, Gloria said: “As a lover, he made me believe I was the most important person in the world to him.” The British author Roald Dahl was even said to have tried, unsuccessfully, to get her into bed.

Gloria was born to the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt family during the Roaring Twenties. Her alcoholic dad, Reginald, was heir to a family fortune made through steamships and railroads.

Gloria had a turbulent love life and sex was never far from her mind
AFP or licensors

But her life was always seemingly touched by problems, leading newspapers to brand her the original “poor little rich girl”. Reginald gambled away £17million before dying of liver cirrhosis aged 45, when Gloria was 18 months old. She inherited a £2million trust fund, equivalent to £28million today, which she could not touch until she was 21.

During a chaotic childhood, her mother, also called Gloria, left her with a nanny and partied across Europe. Her mum’s twin sister, Thelma, moved to Britain and was a mistress of the future King Edward VIII. She also fatefully introduced the then Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson.

Aged ten, after living a relatively anonymous life in Paris, Gloria was thrust into the era’s most sensational child custody case, when her mum and an aunt sued each other. The 13-week New York court battle in 1934 transfixed the nation and gave Depression-era America a window into the lives of the absurdly wealthy.

Gloria’s aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, said to be America’s richest woman, exposed her mother’s raucous, reckless behaviour and she won custody of the child. Little Gloria even testified against her own mother in the trial.

Her circle of friends included novelist Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Alamy

From there she grew up in vast, airy Manhattan mansions. Later she would dabble with careers as an artist, fashion model, poet, playwright and an actress of stage, screen and TV.

But it was her turbulent love life that created the biggest stir — and sex was never far from her mind. She was married four times and divorced three.

At 17, Gloria married her first husband, Pat DiCicco, an agent for actors and also an alleged mobster said to be an associate of the mafia kingpin Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

DiCicco’s first wife, Hollywood actress Thelma Todd, had died in mysterious circumstances in 1935, and was found slumped over the wheel of her car. Gloria and DiCicco divorced in 1945 and she later accused him of being abusive. She said: “He would take my head and bang it against the wall. I had black eyes.”

The socialite inherited a £2million trust fund, equivalent to £28million today, which she could not touch until she was 21
Getty – Contributor

Within weeks of divorcing DiCicco, Gloria married British conductor Leopold Stokowski. The long-time lover of actress Greta Garbo was 63 and Gloria was 21. He built her a house on a mountain in Santa Barbara, California, where she said they “lived cloistered like a sexy monk and nun”.

That marriage ended in divorce in 1955. A year later, she married director Sidney Lumet, but they divorced in 1963. She married a final time, to author Wyatt Emory Cooper, the same year. That lasted 15 years and ended with his death in 1978 while undergoing open-heart surgery.

Gloria’s circle of friends included Charlie Chaplin, designer Diane von Furstenberg and novelist Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Capote was said to have modelled Holly Golightly on Gloria.

She went from being a pretty little rich girl to a woman of business in the mid-Seventies. Back then, jeans were cut mostly for men but clothing manufacturer Mohan Murjani signed Gloria to market them for women with her signature on the back pocket.

The ’70s marked Gloria’s transformation from pretty little rich girl to a woman of business
Getty – Contributor

She promoted the jeans in TV ads and her in-store tours were like movie-star appearances. Gloria Vanderbilt jeans became an £80million-a-year business, with skirts, sweaters, jackets, linens and fragrances joining her product lines.
In 1985, she said: “I’m not knocking inherited money, but the money I’ve made has a reality to me that inherited money doesn’t have.”

As competition from other designer labels increased in the Eighties, her fashion fortune began to wane, yet she continued to spend lavishly. A partnership she formed with her lawyer and a psychiatrist turned sour, leading to her suing them and winning £1.2million in 1993.

Two years later she was hit with a tax demand for £2.1million and had to sell her East Side townhouse in Manhattan and her home in Southampton, New York. She denied being broke but moved into a small apartment in Manhattan owned by son Anderson.

The 95-year-old’s death was announced by her son Anderson
AP:Associated Press

Gloria, who like her father had a weakness for alcohol, was traumatised after her 23-year-old son Carter jumped off a 14th-floor terrace at the family’s Manhattan home in 1988 as she begged him not to do it.


She later poured her time into writing. A 2004 memoir told of the wild affairs and offered an explanation on her lifelong fascination with sex, which she pinned on her neglectful mother’s spurning of her.

Gloria died in Manhattan of stomach cancer, according to Anderson, and was survived by him and her two other sons.

Anderson, through tears, presented an obituary on CNN which included a video of her laughing in her hospital bed. He said: “She was ready to go. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mum and what an incredible woman.”


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