In the world of surnames, it doesn’t get much more iconic than “Vanderbilt.” Or, if you’re from this neck of the woods, “Vanderbilt Whitney” or simply, “Whitney,” for that matter. Today (June 17), the American royal lineage mourns the passing of another one of its famous names, Gloria Vanderbilt, an artist, author, fashion designer, heiress and socialite. She was 95.
Contemporary audiences will best remember Gloria Vanderbilt as the mother of CNN journalist and TV personality Anderson Cooper, who first announced his mother’s passing live on the air. But people of a certain age will remember her as the central character in a child custody battle—dubbed the “Trial of the Century”—between her mother, also named Gloria (née Morgan), and aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, following the death of her husband Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt. The scandalous trial snaked throughout the Great Depression, making the family (and young Gloria) headline fodder for years. Gloria’s custody was eventually granted to her aunt Gertrude. (The story was turned into an Emmy-nominated TV miniseries in the early ’80s.) Or you might remember her for her line of designer jeans. Or even the song Sir Paul McCartney reportedly wrote about her.
For locals trying to place how Gloria Vanderbilt fits into Saratoga Springs’ historical Vanderbilt-Whitney line, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt’s sister, Gertrude (the same one embroiled in the child custody battle over Gloria), married Harry Payne Whitney in 1896. The couple would have three children, including Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, who would later make Marylou Whitney his fourth wife. And every Saratogian knows how that conscious coupling worked out for the city at large.