Inside the Custody Battle for 10-Year-Old Gloria Vanderbilt
The gray Rolls Royce eased to a stop at the curb of 60 Centre Street in downtown Manhattan. Out stepped Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, thin and unsmiling. Dressed in a fox fur, hat, and gloves, the 59-year-old founder of the Whitney Museum, accompanied by her lawyer Frank Crocker, silently headed up the 32 steps leading to the Corinthian-columned Supreme Court of the State of New York. Every inch of the way, she was swarmed by nearly 100 jostling newspaper reporters and photographers.
October 1, 1934: the opening court date of The Matter of Vanderbilt. A family dispute over who should have guardianship of a shy and sickly 10-year-old heiress, Gloria Vanderbilt, had escalated into a “trial of the century,” complete with media circus. The opposing parties were two sisters-in-law: Gertrude Whitney and the child’s 29-year-old mother, also named Gloria. The next six weeks would treat reporters to charges of maternal neglect, greed, and “immorality” that ranged from drinking cocktails till dawn to leafing through a book of pornography with a prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg while wearing silk pajamas. And then there was the kissing and cuddling with female friends.
The Vanderbilt case was a pop-up into the lives of the ultra-rich for Depression-stricken America. Of all the principals involved in a “trial of the century —and there have been, truth be told, a string of them—no one was more horrified by the accompanying publicity than the deeply private Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Her life was the 1934 equivalent of clickbait. ...
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