By David-Elijah Nahmod, April 2016 Web Exclusive.
Now in her early 90s, Gloria Vanderbilt has lived a life of extreme privilege and extreme hardship. In Liz Garbus’ new documentary Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt tells CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, her equally famous son, the story of her life.
The film made its debut on HBO April 9 and is now available for online and On Demand viewing.
From the very beginning viewers will see the deep love that this mother and son have for each other. Cooper has been a great comfort to his mom, who buried one son at age 23, and was disowned by another. As Vanderbilt speaks, the audience might be reminded of the old adage that money can buy anything, except happiness. In spite of all her successes, Vanderbilt remains haunted by the loss of her sons, and by her memories of the mom she herself had disowned decades earlier.
Shortly before Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt died at age 60, she was briefly reunited with her daughter. But as Vanderbilt recounts to Cooper, they engaged in nothing more than small talk – the elder Vanderbilt passed shortly thereafter. Her teary eyed daughter now tells Cooper that she wishes they’d said more to each other.
The film includes archival photographs and film footage of Vanderbilt’s childhood during the ’20s and ’30s, and goes into some detail regarding the bitter custody battle that she found herself caught in the middle of in 1934. Only 10 years old at the time, Vanderbilt was forced to divide her time between her aunt and mother, and saw her name splashed across the tabloids.
The film then follows Vanderbilt’s colorful, if sometimes difficult, life across the decades. Cooper hears about his mom’s marriages to Hollywood director Sidney Lumet and conductor Leopold Stokowski. Stan Stokowski, Vanderbilt’s eldest son with whom she retains a close relationship, participated in the making of this documentary.
Vanderbilt also recalls her years as an actress – she enjoyed some success in the theater and on television, finally becoming a household name as the creator of designer jeans.
Cooper listens intently as his mother speaks. Occasionally he asks questions as they examine old photos and family mementos together. It’s only towards the end of the film, when Carter Cooper’s suicide at age 23 becomes the focus of their discussions. Here Cooper opens up about his own feelings regarding his brother’s death as well as the early death of his dad.
Completely absent from the film is any mention of the fact that the CNN news anchor is an out gay man, though both he and his mom have discussed his sexuality – a non-issue between them, in other interviews. Also missing from the film are Vanderbilt’s recollections of a lesbian relationship she’d had as a teenager, which she speaks of quite openly in recent interviews for a new book she co-wrote with Cooper The Rainbow Comes And Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love and Loss was published on April 5.
Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper might perhaps be looked upon as a chance for Gloria Vanderbilt to make amends for the mistakes she made during her lifetime. Brutally honest with her son and with herself, she emerges as a woman of great strength. Vanderbilt is a survivor, who, at the end of the day, has a good heart.