Anderson Cooper spoke about the strong bond he has with his mother at the premiere of the HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper, last week at the Time Warner Center.
Directed by Academy Award nominated director Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone,” “Bobby Fischer Against the World”), the doc about the life of his mother, who was born into one of the wealthiest families in America, is a loving portrait that chronicles her colorful life, including her many lovers and marriages, her children, her triumphs (in art and fashion) and her tragedies (her husband, the love of her life, Wyatt Cooper died at age 50 of a heart attack, and her adored son Carter committed suicide at age 23).
Anderson Cooper on Nothing Left Unsaid and a Meaningful Conversation
Cooper said he was aware of the basic facts of his mother’s life that everyone else knew. Her life was well covered in the press, including the battle between his grandmother and paternal aunt for custody that earned her the nickname “poor little rich kid” – also that his grandmother was probably a lesbian – and his mother’s numerous divorces, scandals and love affairs. But when his mother turned 91 he decided he needed to have a meaningful discussion and dig deep into his mother’s life because he knew there wasn’t always going to be time for these conversations, he told me. “Her ability to survive is something that has always impressed me.”
What Cooper also marveled about his mother, who at age 92 still has a shiny dark bob and a girlish air, is her continual optimism, he told reporters. “At 92 she still thinks love is right around the corner.” And she looked pretty terrific at the premiere in a satiny pearl-grey pantsuit and perfectly applied make-up.
There is a lot of sly humor in the film, including Cooper asking his mother about her first marriage at age 17 to a man in his 30’s who may have murdered his first wife. Vanderbilt also married famed composer Leopold Stokowski, 43 years her senior, and director Sidney Lumet. There were many affairs with famous men, including Frank Sinatra and possibly Errol Flynn.
Anderson Cooper on That Time Gloria Vanderbilt Showed Up in a Purple Beaver Coat
As a kid, the CNN journalist said he used to be embarrassed when his mother came on school nights. He wished she were more conventional. “I used to try to get her in and out of the school as quickly possible,” he said, noting that people always checked out what she was wearing. One year she arrived at parents’ night in a purple beaver coat. “Who even knew there was such a thing as a purple beaver coat?” he said. “Can’t you like tone down the wardrobe?” he asked her. “Next year she’d wear a tweed suit,” he laughed. He said he realized later what he thought was “embarrassing” was actually “cool.” Cooper reminisced about how his mother took him to Studio 54 when he was 11. “Highly illegal, but fun.”
Several years ago Cooper taught his mother how to use email and their back and forth conversation became the core of the book “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss,” which was timed for release at the same time as the documentary, which aired April 9 on HBO. The book was inside the goody bags given to guests as they left the swanky after party at Porter House in Columbus Circle, where waiters served filet mignon, champagne and creamy cheesecake.
On the red carpet, Liz Garbus told me the many things that intrigued her about this subject. “There’s a lot of loss in their lives,” she said. “Gloria is still trying to make sense of her son’s suicide. She talked about it a lot with us.”
But primarily what drew her to this subject, she told me, was that “different projects call me in different way. I guess it’s connecting with different parts of people’s humanity. I think what struck me about Gloria and about Anderson is the universality, the relatability, and accessibility of those emotions,” she said. “In these various lives that we think are so extraordinary, we find these pieces of ourselves. I found that in Nina Simone, I found that in Gloria Vanderbilt, I found that in Bobby Fischer. They’re all very, very different iconic individuals. At the end of the day, they’re all human, have their flaws, have their triumphs. I learn from that.”
That her subject is still very much alive presented Garbus with a unique challenge. “I’m very conscious at the end of the day there’s going to be somebody with their eye on this who’s there and especially with someone like her, who’s so discerning and has been around the block. But honestly, their trust in me and their lack of judgment and their kind of rejoicing in the process and giving me that space is something I couldn’t have predicted, and I’m so happy about that.”
“She’s one of the most modern women I’ve met,” Garbus told me of Gloria Vanderbilt. “Is she a feminist? I think in her soul this is a person who’s so resilient and strong and lived live without apology, took lover after lover. I think she’s a feminist in that way, and she was an incredible business woman. She carved a life for herself that wasn’t expected for a little Vanderbilt girl.”
A-listers at the premiere included Ellen Burstyn, Andy Cohen, Carolina Herrera, Kelly Ripa, Mark Consuelos, Gay Talese and Gayle King.