July 21, 1980 12:00 PM

by Barbara Goldsmith

Four decades before Gloria Vanderbilt put her signature on a pair of jeans, she was tagged “the Poor Little Rich Girl” by the tabloids. Her father died when Gloria was an infant. Her mother, a cafe society playgirl, was left penniless, dependent on the multimillion-dollar trust left Gloria and her half sister. By the time she was 10½, Gloria became convinced her own mother wanted her dead and pleaded to stay with her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The mother then sued for custody of the child. The trial, the climax of this book, was a cause célèbre in 1934. The judge was unstable, the testimony lurid and the journalistic coverage yellow. It was revealed that Gloria’s mother lived a racy life in Europe and collected pornography. Aunt Gertrude used nude males as sculpture models. The verdict—while the aunt won custody, the mother had visiting rights—solved little. Gloria refused to cooperate for the book, but Goldsmith did prodigious research and has re-created in sob-sister prose the glossy lifestyle of America’s monied class during the Depression. It’s a perfect summer vacation read. (Knopf, $ 15.95)

You May Like