Sunday, February 11, 2007

Laura and Harry Cushing

Mr. Cushing’s father, the late Harry Cushing IV, was the grandson of Reginald Vanderbilt, and great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who built the mansion that spanned the block between 57th and 58th Streets and Fifth Avenue, where Bergdorf Goodman stands today, as well as the Breakers in Newport.

The Cushings were an earlier American family than the Vanderbilts, having arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late 1600s. They founded Hingham, Mass., named after the English village whence they came.

Reginald Vanderbilt was one of the most famous playboys of his day. Today he’d be diagnosed a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic, and coming from the wealth that he came from, he’d probably be in, on his way to, or on his way out of re-hab. Unfortunately such opportunities were unavailable in those days to even men as rich and privileged as Reggie Vanderbilt. So instead he drank and gambled away about $25 million (think a half billion in today’s dollars) and died in 1925 at age forty-five.

Reggie Vanderbilt had a daughter by a first marriage, Cathleen, who first married Mr. Cushing with whom she had Harry IV. After divorcing Cushing, she married a television executive named Larry Lowman who was part of the original William Paley team that created CBS.

Cathleen’s son (and only child) was, for most of his life, what used to be called a “sportsman,” that being a very rich fellow who didn’t work but rather played, and at times athletically. And at times, rather well. Harry Cushing IV played polo and kept a string of his own ponies for years. He moved to Rome (with ponies) after the Second World War (during which he lived in Hollywood) and on comparatively very little money could live the way a Vanderbilt was used to living.

He later started a newspaper there before returning to America. Married four times, he lived comfortably as a man of independent means for the rest of his life without any sharply defined employment. Like so many of his generation, he had a reverence for the family history. In his New York apartment he kept portraits of the original Commodore Vanderbilt, and his son William H., who doubled the family fortune in less than ten years after the Commodore’s death, and who was also Harry Cushing IV’s great-grandfather.

Reggie Vanderbilt also had a very famous second daughter — the most famous Vanderbilt of the 20th century — Gloria Vanderbilt, by a second marriage to a girl half his age, Gloria Morgan.

Gloria Vanderbilt is therefore a great-aunt of the present Harry Cushing. Which means, if you can keep track, that Harry Cushing V is also first cousin, once removed of Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchorman. And potentially the most famous Vanderbilt descendent of the 21st century. The Vanderbilts were a big big family, to say the least.

Today’s young Cushings, unlike their ancestors, fit the profile of many modern young married couples. Both have professional lives and a young family. Laura Cushing worked with the legendary style photographer, the late Slim Aarons. Harry Cushing works in the textile business here in New York for Clarence House. The couple live in Bedford, New York.