LITTLE GLORIA. . . HAPPY AT LAST by Barbara Goldsmith
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If Society weren't dead, this could kill it: a 608-page exhumation of the 1934 Vanderbilt custody case on the premise that all Society women--not only ten-Year-old heiress Gloria--were Poor Little Rich Girls. Women, that is, ""who were powerless either to control their own environment or to move beyond it."" So, grimly, we plow into not only the particulars of the case--the conflict between her mother Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney over the custody of ""little Gloria""--but also the lives of the two women, their families, and alt of mother Gloria's glamorous, dissolute friends: the International Set life she led that caused her to be pronounced, finally, an ""unfit mother."" The book begins, on a false dramatic note, with ""the seemingly trivial incident of one hysterical little girl who ran away one October afternoon""; a falsification because the clash had been building for years and behind it was not little Gloria but her money. This, Goldsmith demonstrates in tracing the life of doll-like Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt from very young girl-on-the-town (with her twin Thelma, later Lady Furness and the Duke of Windsor's longtime ""favorite"") to teenage bride of 43-year-old alcoholic Reggie Vanderbilt to 20-year-old widow and mother--penniless except for the money allotted her by the Court for little Gloria's care. And so--to skip chapters on the peculiarities of George Milford Haven (porno), the Duke of Windsor (premature ejaculation), et al.--when frivolous, uninterested mother Gloria left her little girl with ultra-responsible, discreetly wanton, not-very-motherly Aunt Gert and discovered that she'd thereby imperiled her income, she sued for the child's custody--precipitating the battle royal. Goldsmith also contends that little Gloria's fear of her mother was due to the Lindbergh's kidnapping coming on top of intimations that her mother might kill her to get that very money. It's certainly plausible--and doesn't require the underlining it gets here. But the whole book is dogged and humorless and without an iota of emotional oomph--to the point that poor little Gloria emerges as a tough survivor in her mother's image. And that, indeed, is where both book and thesis crumble: the only truly interesting person, the only one to whom one is drawn even momentarily, is teenage Gloria Morgan who has the wit and nerve to secure the Mrs. Vanderbilt's approval of her marriage to son Reggie by having Mrs. V.'s own doctor attest to her virginity. Sure to be talked about, less likely to be read.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1980
Publisher: Knopf