IT SEEMED IMPORTANT AT THE TIME
A Romance Memoir
by Gloria Vanderbilt
Simon & Schuster
161 pages, $22
Starting with the sensational trial in which heiress/actress/fashion designer and artist Gloria Vanderbilt's mother and aunt fought for her custody 70 years ago, the press and other media have always given Gloria a great deal of attention.
Now at 80, she must have thought that if speculative name dropping about her many loves were to go on after she is gone, she would do well to do her own dropping for the sake of accuracy.
The list is long and prestigious.
It includes her husbands, other women's husbands and an assortment of famous personalities.
Her revelations about these men and her view of her relationships with them are, gossipy, witty yet subtle, but tasteful in this autotobiography.
Their importance seems to have faded enough over time so that she can now look at them in a somewhat philosophical perspective. An incurable romantic, her life was and still is, she says, searching for the fulfillment of her "secret heart."
Gloria was in many ways an adult before her time. She began her romantic adventures at 17 with actor Van Heflin during a visit to her mother in California.
Then she was found by producer, director and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes. He not only offered her a screen test, but himself as well.
She chronicles her marriage that same year to handsome gambler and gigolo Pat De Cicco as "like walking on a tightrope, never knowing what would set him off on one of his violent spells when for no apparent reason he'd turn and vent his anger on his longing-to-please, docile wife."
Her search for a father figure, perhaps, was her attraction to world famous symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski, more than 40 years her senior.
During their marriage, which produced two sons, she was kept in a luxurious prison. Although she thought of him as "God" for a long time, she never could penetrate what she calls the "glass wall" that was between them.
Next in the lineup were Frank Sinatra, actor Lawrence Tierney, actor Franchot Tone (a Niagara Falls native) and a one-night stand with Marlon Brando, overshadowed by a huge photograph of himself observing their activities.
In the meantime, she became a friend of the Tiny Terror, writer Truman Capote - a friend until he wrote his tell-all book "Lunching at La Cote Basque."
And there were the other women's husbands. Bill Paley, then head of CBS, chased her around his living room, and she had a brief fling with author Roald Dahl, whom she described as "a very dry lemon."
Then there is a lengthy romance with a famous but married photographer whose identity is never revealed, although she is not shy about her relationship with photographer Gordon Parks.
Her third venture into matrimony was with director Sidney Lumet, who wanted children when she did not. That collision of wills led to what she calls "le divorce."
The love of her life was her fourth husband, writer Wyatt Cooper, who died of cancer at age 50, and by whom she had two sons, Anderson Cooper, now with CNN, and Carter Cooper, who leaped to his death from the terrace of their New York City apartment as she watched.
In her epilogue, she mentions that there are others who are not mentioned, imagining their sighs of relief. Although she has known tragedy and much unhappiness, there still is a buoyancy in her spirit, as she concludes,
"Today may be the day you meet someone who will change your life, and this time it might last for a long time. Why not? Dreams sometimes do come true."