The secret lesbian history of The Vanderbilts, one of America’s most famous families

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The Vanderbilts have long been recognized as an American institution, so it’s telling that homosexuality is a part of their family history. The new Liz Garbus-directed documentary Nothing Left Unsaid, which premiered on HBO over the weekend, focuses on Gloria Vanderbilt, mother of out CNN anchor/reporter Anderson Cooper, and the life she’s lived in the public eye, mostly due to her difficult childhood which involved a highly-publicized custody battle fought by her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.

Gloria Morgan and GloriaGloria Vanderbilt And Her Mother Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt In 1939Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

“You know, it was interesting. I always knew one of the things that is talked about in the film and in the book as well is that my mom’s mom was accused of being a lesbian at the height of the Depression, at the height of this custody battle,” Anderson said during a panel about the film at TCA. “And it was so shocking and so disturbing, the court was shut down. Reporters were banned. And people knew something it was worse than a murder, almost, back in 1932.”

Gloria Morgan was 17 when she married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, and 18 when she gave birth to Anderson’s mother in 1925. Reginald died suddenly that same year, leaving Gloria a young widow and single mother. As Nothing Left Unsaid explores, Gloria Morgan enjoyed traveling, leaving her new child with a nurse and later taking her to Europe, where she was often taken care of by aunts and uncles. This wasn’t completely unheard of at the time, but when Gloria Morgan entertained a relationship with a German man, her mother and late husband’s sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, began to plot against her. They eventually prompted an investigation into Gloria Morgan’s parenting and a very public custody trial that had her defending her life’s choices, including her very close friendship with Nadezhda de Torby, the Marchioness of Milford Haven.

Lady Milford HavenNadezhda de Torbyvia Wikipedia

According to reports from the time, Gloria vehemently denied these claims, made by a maid on the side of the prosecution, who claimed she caught Gloria and Lady Milford Haven kissing. Gloria Morgan reportedly took the stand, wiping her face with a handkerchief, crying out, “It’s just so utterly false. I’m overwhelmed!” Character witnesses were called to support Gloria’s heterosexuality, including a male companion, but the Supreme Court eventually decided she was an unfit mother, lesbian rumors being a factor that was “so detrimental..and the evidence to support it so insubstantial that she was entitled to unqualified and complete exoneration.” 

Gloria and a friend in “Little Gloria, Happy at Last”gloria-2 gloria-morgan

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