Monday, April 11, 2016

Nothing Left Unsaid

Spring making its way to Central Park. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, April 11, 2016. Chilly, partly wet weekend in New York, with bright sun on Sunday and temperature about 50 degrees mid-afternoon. Spring will be a little late this year, is what it still feels like. I’m an impatient child, but it’s true.
Saturday afternoon on the quiet East River with the storm clouds hovering.
Sunday afternoon, same spot, sunny day and warmer in the bright sun.
I don't know the species but it is white and pink and gossamer-like in Carl Schurz.
Along the same pathway there are lilacs. This is the first time I've seen lilacs in the park.
This one of my favorite trees which I've photographed several times before. Because in its process, until it is in full bloom, the sight of it has a pointillist quality that reminds of the Impressionists.
This past Saturday night, everyone who was interested, and at home, and had HBO, could see “Nothing Left Unsaid,” the documentary of Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper.

Gloria, who turned 92 last February 24th was the original “Poor Little Rich Girl,” a label assigned to her by the New York tabloids during the Great Depression when there were millions of little American girls out there who were actually living in poverty. Gloria’s story was an antidote, a palliative in the press -- "you think you got it bad?!" -- similar but different from the Hollywood stories about the very rich.

Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.
Books have been written about her – most famously Barbara Goldsmith’s 1980 biography, “Little Gloria, Happy at Last.” Still a great read. Multi-marriages – first to a would-be gangster named Pat DiCicco when she was 17, then Maestro Leopold Stokowski three years later when she was 20 (and he was 63), with whom she had two sons, Chris and Stan; and then marriage  to a stage and film director Sidney Lumet who was “age appropriate” (he was actually four months younger than she), and finally to a Southern boy, Wyatt Cooper (who was three years her junior) and came to the Big Town from Mississippi to seek his fortune – or his future – and met it when he met her.

It was a life created in what we now call the media and used to be called the press. It was a combination of innocence and naivete reacting to the elements in her life, as well as a shrewdness that perhaps can be referred to her great-great grandfather Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who established the family name. Her credentials were that name, established by the man  who when he died in the last quarter of the 19th century was the richest man in the world.

If you don’t know the story of her childhood, it is an interesting one but has been told so many times there is no point in repeating it here. As a figure in 20th century American culture, Gloria Vanderbilt’s life can be qualified as a fable, the denouement of American Society of the Gilded Age. The “Sunset Boulevard” of society stories. For there is no one like her. There have been lots of heiresses, and many far richer, but none who could make a nine-decade life into a motion picture story with a shelf life to rival the classic myths.
Gloria had a natural yen for public attention (which we call publicity) that was borne of a childhood lived under photographer’s flashbulbs and newsreels. This was an accident of the Fates, but by her teenage years, she longed to be an actress, to be worthy of attention (that she’d been getting publicly as a child) and the presumed subsequent adoration of the public (everybody). Her marriage to Sidney Lumet was possibly motivated by that yearning although despite his being a distinguished director, he couldn’t turn Gloria’s longing into a great talent. That she would have to do for herself.

And she did. This film, when you can’t stop watching with a sense of wonder and beguilement, is the result.
Sidney Lumet and Gloria Vanderbilt wedding, 1956.
The film. Last Monday was another busy night but I didn’t want to miss it. First of all, I knew it would be a social event of the kind that rarely exists in Manhattan anymore. For the simple reason that many of the main characters have moved on to celestial havens. Lee Radziwill was there with her close friend Hamilton South. Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera were there. Kenny Lane, Fred Eberstadt, Marti Stevens, and many others who have known Gloria for much if not all of her life.

Another reason that it interested me was that I know Gloria. Although not what I would call “well.” I’ve spent time in her company, alone and with others. We have and had several mutual friends. She has a quality, a kind of charisma that is almost like a fragrance in the atmosphere. Not the air, the atmosphere. Yet she is entirely accessible to whatever you’re talking about in conversation, because she’s curious. And she’s ambitious.
Anderson Cooper, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller.
Benjamin Maisani, Kelly Ripa, and Mark Consuelos. Ellen Burstyn.
So I went. And I sat there watching the theater fill up. And then the lights dimmed and the film began. It’s a life story. A glamorous one. Even the tragedy is glamorous. It’s the money in all its fourth and fifth generation decadence -- though her inheritance left by a dissipated father who basically squandered his vast inheritance through booze and gambling (and then died in his mid-forties) left it substantially reduced. And there’s this somber-faced little girl who was already famous in the tabloids because of a courtroom battle over her custody between her widowed mother without a sous except for her little daughter’s trust, and her very rich and powerful fraternal aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

Anyone who is halfway familiar with Gloria’s life, whether or not they’ve known her personally, knows this story or the gist of it. The documentary recounts that drama with archival film clips, and explains how out of that very early childhood drama, a personality was created. This personality required attention, and it got it, and still almost a century later, still gets it.
Gay Talese and Martin Garbus. Chris Haynor and Ashleigh Banfield.
Sheila Nevins, Liz Garbus, Diane Von Furstenberg
But it is an uncertain personality, never quite feeling worthy or quite good enough, or needed, or important enough. Abandonment; that’s the issue. There’s a lot of that around many of our lives, even personally. The result is often the same: look at me, look at me; show me who I am. It is a powerful issue in our development as adults. And often very harmful.

Gloria Vanderbilt’s “abandonment” was front page news and therefore had an aura being a fairy tale, as it were, of a poor-little-rich-girl. Which she was. But the child, the lady was also equipped with the ability to rise above the murky beginnings. Yes the inheritance which was gone decades ago, helped, giving her access to media – especially the press and magazine publishers. Abandonment was her cornerstone of a very successful life as an artist.  A sow’s ear; a silk purse; a life price. Gloria paid and, in the end, created the master work. “Nothing Left Unsaid” probably has many things left unsaid, as you will see if you haven’t seen it already. But it’s real life just the same.
Richard Plepler, Gloria Vanderbilt, Sheila Nevins, and Anderson Cooper.
Last Friday night at the Friars Club, Jerry Lewis was celebrating his 90th birthday. Jerry has been out of public eye for so long now that ... well, assume what you will. So I was surprised and pleased to see that Jerry is still going strong. I discovered this on Patrick McMullan's web site where he got several shots of the master of laffs making his Jerry Lewis faces! What a pleasure and whatta laugh! Happy Birthday Jerry, and here's so many many more just like it.
Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey, Jeff Ross, and Richard Belzer.
Robert Klein and Bobby Slayton. Marilyn Michaels.
Chazz Palminteri and Robert Klein.
Robert De Niro. Dominic Chianese.

Photographs by Patrick McMullan (Gloria Vanderbilt & Jerry Lewis)

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