tv Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe Vanderbilt CSPAN October 31, 2021 7:59am-9:05am EDT
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wire editor and schapiro says the progressive left is pursuing authoritarian agenda in america . you can find a full schedule airing in your program guide. starting out cnn's anderson cooper and catherine howell provide a history of the vanderbilts , once one of the wealthiest families in the country and cooper's ancestors on his mother's side. >> tonight cnn anchor best-selling author anderson cooper chronicles the rise and fall of the legendary american dynasty, his mother's family the vanderbilts. we are joined by catherine howell, a new york times best-selling author of historical fiction and an academic who brings routine research skills and narrative flair to the story of an extraordinary family and now without further review i'd like to welcome our guests to the virtual stage.
>> hello. thank you so much everyone. it's such apleasure to be here . anderson, greetings to you. >> i feel like we only ever see each other remotely. >> that's true although hopefully that will change. welcome one and all. this should be a fun conversation and there will be plenty of time at the end if you have questions or comments you'd like to share. the way we're going to do it is i will be taking a question from the q&a but i will be able to look at the chat. if you have a question please put it in the q&a. let's begin because anderson, you spoken before about how when growing up you had mixed feelings about the vanderbilts and as a result you tend to not talk about it that much. you kind ofdisavowed it to an
extent . >> i still do not consider myself vanderbilt but it's my mom's family. >> i guess my opening question which i suspect a lot of our attendees would share with me is why now? why have you decided to crack the door open on this incredible story? >> a lot of it was my mom's death and the birth of my son and certainly after my mom died i've been going through my mom stings for like 20 years and she had a whole lot of stuff stored in a storage unit and as a kid i used the lie awake worried about it at night because i've seen citizen kane with the furnace that ends up burning rosebud and in my mom's case the furnace was burning money. my mom had no idea what was in the storage unit so i started going through her
apartment and i'm still doing that and finding these letters and hearing the voices of my moms aunt whitney, these people i had never met but it just changed. they were fascinating people and fascinating voices and i realized when i had it i realized i didn't know what i would tell about his past and his ancestors. i should know myself that side of the family and i should have something that he can read and look at and make up his own mind about. >> when we first started talking about this project you and i were interested in trying to find a new way to talk about the vanderbilts. like any prominent part of american history where going over territory that other
booksyou may have already looked at . can you talk about what readers can expect, our take on vanderbilts? >> that's what's so brilliant about you as a writer . i think we were very much totally in line with what our interests were. neither of us wanted to write a dry linear history of then chapter 16, 1895. i wanted it to be more ... there have been remarkable books written about connor vanderbilt that won the pulitzer prize that focus a lot on business and the arc of his business . his court cases and things like that . it's very hard to get a sense of who these people are. i remember having written a book of history and with your experience i remember thinking about it would be great if we could find some journals of people and you pointed out journals were not
what we think of as journals now. it wasn't the commodore in voting and gosh, i think i'm feeling anxious about this. but i know it's a process. tomorrow is another day. it's more like sunday, sunshine. bracing morning. >> there's not all lot of why doesn't my father lovesme and is that why i'm so driven ? >> i think what interested both of us was the idea of the same thing dad found in his letters of getting into their hands as much as possible through the historic record and through memoirs some of the characters had written aboutwhat was going on in their inner lives . a lot of the vanderbilts were world-famous. they wereinsanely wealthy . but what was going on in the lives that other people didn't know about? that's what makes this so interesting to me and i hope compelling to the reader.
>> that's a perfect segue to asking you. >> let me also say i think one of the things. i didn't know how to work on the book with somebody else. i've written two books by myself just as you written many books by yourself, bestsellers and i was worried about the process and what i am now realizing and i'm so glad is that you have such an interesting way to frame things that i wouldnever have thought of . we did a chapter on my mom's childhood and the court case which has been written extensively about but you came up with a way to do it that was completely unique and it just almost took my breath away because it was reallyaudacious . and then you had very strong ideas about things about how to write about myself.
so for the longest time i said no, i don't think i like your ideas at all and then you wrote out your ideas and i couldn't help but admit this is really good. this is great. >> i have to give you a lot of credit because it must be beyond surreal to have someone you know as a colleague but not super well write about your own life. i can only imagine how surreal that must've felt so i give you a lot of credit for kind of letting me tinker with it a little bit. and i hope it wasn't too too terrifying. >> i gave you enough rope to hang yourself with. >> can we talk about the commodore a little bit? one of the things i think we both were interested in is his character and personality and you remarked to me over
the course of our working on the book together your feelings about him changed. do you think you could talk about how you felt about him at the beginning andmaybe you come to feel about him ? >> i went into this thinking he's probably a psychopath. i'm really interested in psychopaths, there's far more than we realize especially in public life today. there are a lot of people on the covers of magazines who are probably psychopaths and i know on the cover of people magazine this week so i don't know what thatsays about myself . i knew the commodore only cared about money and i knew he had been terrible to his family members but he seemed disconnected from those around him in many respects but i actually started to ... i backed off the psychopath thing as i pointed out because there's no way to know what's in somebody's head from that time but he talked about having a mania
for money and i think that path apology i think as we write it is infective. we're interested in how it affects previous generations but i came away once i saw how the others felt with the money i came to appreciate his work ethic and feel like i certainly wouldn't want him to be my dad and i wouldn't want to have been one of his kids but it would be interesting to have lunch with him maybe ormaybe just a drink or something . i think i did, i came to admire just ... my mom and i have things in common. some of the things we have in common is this relentless drive that sometimes are not great for people around us . i think the commodore had that and i understand that
about him. i don't understand themania about the money itself . that's not really what's interesting to me in my own life but i understand that relentlessness. >> what interested you about doing this initially? >> that's a good question. as a historian and a novelist i spent a lot of time thinking my way into other people's experiences and specifically people's experiences in the past and like you i was drawn to the opportunity to try to think our way into the lived experience of some of these people because i feel like a lot of them received behind the net and if we think about the vanderbilts we think about their architecture. we think about their parties. we think about the money. i've certainly seen images of the commodore and i've seen the sculpture outside grand central terminal likeeveryone in new york has . i feel like in some regards
the personhood is lost and i've always had a soft spot for one of my favorite authors, edith wharton . she was such a key documentarian of the gilded age life so i was curious to understand more some of those kinds of characters that she was so keen on introducing. can you talk to us about some of the other people you encounter as we were working on this book who you have continued to think about maybe now that the writing process is over ? >> my grandfather died when my mom was 15 months old. i never knew him. i have some of his possessions which were sold off at auction because he lost all his money. he died broke and in so much debt at his possessions, his house and everything had to be sold off. even my mom's childhood baby clothes were auctionedoff .
i think her grandmother bought some of them back. or course trophies in particular. which was very important to my grandfather apparently. i still have some of those that my mom gave me but to learn you know, i knew he had died young. i didn't know he died at 45. i'm not sure i know he died of alcoholism. i did not know about the nature of his actual death. his deathbed scene was extraordinary. >> i was surprised by that one to. >> and i know we did a version of it and some folks at the publisher were like do youwant to go to that level of detail and we were both liked yeah, totally . and just the sadness of him. he seemed a pathetic character and for somebody who had unlimited possibilities. with the wealth that was
handed to him, he from a very young age seemed to squander it and not have any direction and not have any sense of something he wanted to do or to be . and it's sad. in my mom. i found a couple of schoolbooks of his from like 1894 and 1895 when he was in middle school.there's doodles in there like every kid, doodles in their book and books from st. paul which is where he went to high school and a yearbook of his from yale. i touched them. i actually have some on my bedside because it's the only actual connection i have of his that makes me feel like he once was a living human being doodling in a book other than that he's a blank slate to me and not a very good, not a good one. he's not anything to really be proud of which is sad.
>> which is interesting because i know so much of your mom from what i read and from what i understand a lot of her self-concept came from his absence. there's a quote that seems to mean so much to her and it shows up in a number of her memoirs about fatherless girls. >> fatherless girls think all things are possible and nothing is safe. >> it's always been interesting that reggie played such a role in her self-concept through his nonexistence. >> i fully believe my mom would love this book in large part because this was all new to her. i don't think she knew this about her grandfather. she knew stuff was auctioned off. i don't think she knew about who he had debts to. i don't think he knew he had killed two people with his automobile. i don't think she knows he
hit a seven-year-old boy and the press blamed the child. the details of how he ruled my grandmother to marry him by using his daughter from a previous marriage. there's a scene in the book where my grandfather is with his teenage daughter kathleen from a previous marriage who he hasn't really known or spent much time with and she's got this friend named gloria morgan and suddenly dad is taking an interest in kathleen and she's thrilled her distant father is now suddenly inviting her out with her friend to get ice cream. they're all sitting there and gloria and kathleen are eating ice cream. there 17 years old and reggie is sitting there 43 or whatever drinking absinthe and in fact going to marry
the 17-year-old gloria. and his own daughter thinks these with her because he just wanted her to have her friends along when a horse holding was a scheme. it's really depressing. >> there's a sadness to a lot of reggie's story unfortunately. >> it's such an interesting ... we all as you said there's this poor ratio alger myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and the commodore is a representation of that in american mythology . and all these intervals and what we are all told in our society what we should want which is fame and incredible wealth but to see how it played out in all these people's lives. it wasn't just one person was wayward and didn't accomplish much because of the money. it was like some sort of family hysteria or infection.
>> i would agree with that. can we talk about some of the women in the story to? one of the things i know we were both interested in was we wanted to stay away from this great man narrative of history and particularly and maybe ironically given that the commodore himself but so much of his stock in expectations on his son and almost none at all on his daughter's which played out in the context of the will after he died but i found that so much of the vanderbilt story was in some ways driven by women. can you tell us about some of the women that are in thebook that people will find memorable ? >> there is throughout the course of the history obviously my mom is one of the strongest women in the vanderbilt family and in the book we call her the last vanderbilt and that's how i thought of her .
she was the one whose birth and death would make the front page of the new york times and there's time in the breakers when it was a private house and she was the last to be born into that world. but there's so much of course the mother of cornelius vanderbilt is the one who gave him alone of $100 he had served yesterday away in a grandfather clock as her husband was so loose with money. she's the one who gave him alone to get his first little boat to carry supplies that he then quickly built up into an empire. from her, the commodore's wife who was forced to go into a lunatic asylum by the commodore who sent a son of his to a lunatic asylum from our vanderbilt who you really dug into her and why don't you talk a little bit about alpha?
>> what can you say aboutalva except everything ? one thing that interested me about the vanderbilt and this pertains to alva, i was surprised because i think about vanderbilt as this old new york name. i thought the vanderbilt story would be a new york story which in many respects it is but what i wasn't expecting was that in virtually every generation the vanderbilts are remade when they marry someone from the south. that's true for the commodore whose second wife is a confederate expatriate. that's in some regards true for your mom because your dad was and ex-pat southern foreigner and alva is another of the big ones. she was from mobile alabama. she married the commodore's grandson, let's see if i get my generations right. lily k vanderbilt. >> migrate uncle.
>> she was your great aunt. >> i'm not claiming any linkage to her. >> enough, we'll take it at that . alva was the one where up until she came along the vanderbilts will consider the nouveau riche of new york city which is a little ironic given that they arrived in this part of the world in the 17th century. >> despite all his riches he was not building palace after palace. he was living at respectable house near washington square park he didn't have interest in society in being accepted. >> he was kind of anti-society and anti-acceptance because he was famously boorish, he would spit on the floor. he was the quintessential kind of and harassing guy you have to invite because he so rich but nobody wants to talk
to . or probably want to be in business with him but maybe you don't want to have them over to your tea party but he didn't seem to care which is one of the things i admire about him. it was a subsequent vanderbilt who decided what they needed to do was break into society . the son billy made the first essays on the social hierarchy of new york in the gilded age but the doors busted down and shattered by alva. alva burstein smith vanderbilt who first through the greatest party in the history of new york city and then went on to do a non-a number of other astonishing shocking things. can you tell us about the party a little bit ? >> she throws this party at that point new york society is controlled by caroline astor and she has this walker born in mcallister who helps create what new york society is supposed to mean .
carolina astor gets a french chef and french decoration and everything from france and she defines what new york society is and the rule is you have to be to generations removed from the dreadful making of the money, all that unpleasantness in order to be part of society where you have enough money that you're not actuallyworking anymore . that was the grandson of the commodore so alva marries lily k vanderbilt who's just a party boy and she had a horrific past of torturing, verbally torturing and abusing andslave children who are in herfamily had enslaved people . she was a supporter of the confederacy . alva decides to break into new york society by throwing this party. the vanderbilts have willie k vanderbilt, he inherited $60 million and start spending it . to get mrs. astor she needs to get mrs. astor's acceptance of the vanderbilts
to get a foothold in new york society and she does it by throwing this party that caroline astor'sdaughter is so desperate to go to because it's the party of the century . and suddenly as the party approaches caroline realizes she's not received an invitation to this party and alva makes it publicly known that of course caroline astor must understand she's never presented herself to me. she's never acknowledged me as a human being and therefore how can i inviteher to my house if she's never even called on me ? mrs. astor knowing that the winds of change are coming to the social world and she wants to stay ahead of the wins and has to please her daughter wants to dance the quadrille in this party, she with great agony gets in the carriage, goes down to the, gives them a card and that is mrs. astor calling on alva vanderbilt and then they get
to be invited to the party and new york is never the same. >> it was a fancy dress party which i think meant something different in the1880s and it means today . because if you were going to a costume party, i've already picked up my halloween costume. i'm going to go as a bunny rabbit and i'm going to go as a larger bunny rabbit in the same rabbit onesie. my husband is going to be a carrot that's what were going to be for halloween. today atleast in my family . what were some of thecostumes people wore for alva's ball ? >> alice was the light. >> alice was electric light. my great-grandmother was an electric light and like electricity had just started so she had a costume wired up with the battery and it was
her holding up like a lightbulb but her whole dress iselectricity . it's in the city of new york. >> this is the finest, most exquisite. it's like if the met gala were also a costume party. it's the most incredible, exquisite perfect coach your, fantastic. >> spending huge amounts of money. the thing isembroidered with gold and diamond buttons and our favorite character of all is this woman . missed strong. >> kate deering strong. >> which i think is the greatest name . she came, her costume was a costume. we have the picture in the book but the bodice was made out of real faces . the start was tales, all white of course. and on her head was an actual taxidermy with its paws and
on her neck she had a black choker with in diamonds the word plus written. >> totally epic. i have a question. maybe i haven't asked you in other contexts so i'm curious how you're going to answer it because you alluded to thinking your mom would have really enjoyed this book which obviously makes me completely delighted and happy because it's like the highest praise imaginable. but my question is knowing how you felt about your vanderbilt connection, your vanderbilt image, it's a phrase i'veused with you that you cringe at visibly . sorry to bringit back out . how did your mother feel about being a vanderbilt? >> i did a radio interview with the cdc and the
interviewer found a soundbite where i asked my mom how she felt about the vanderbilts and i'd forgotten what she said but i now remember. it was stunning to me. she said what i had been saying which was i felt no connection to them whatsoever . she said i felt like a stranger in the little bit of the contact that i had with them.i didn't think of them like family. my family she said was her nanny and her grandmother on her maternal side. it wasn't her mother and it wasn't her father becausehe was dead . she grew up really with no connection to the vanderbilts other than having that name. and i was lucky because i didn't have that name and i was very happy i didn't have that name rolling up. but i think my mom really early on decided she didn't want anything to do with what she had seen of the vanderbilts. she at 17 hot floods to
hollywood to visit her mother and her mother lets her do anything to stay at my mom starts dating errol flynn and abunch of married movie stars . howard hughes at the time wanted to marry her. she ends up just out of poor decision-making marrying like a son who worked for howard hughes and at the age of 17 stays married for 12 to 21 and gets divorce and three weeks later meets this great director, conductor and marries him within two or three weeks. >> that's interesting even given how much time she spent with gertrude whitney . >> that's what's so sad about how much of this. mina mom never connected with whitney with whom she would have had so much in common.
gertrude whitney is a legitimate sculptor, very talented who love art, had such a great american art collection that she founded the whitney museum of the met wouldn't take it when she offered it to them and had a very bohemian life a few blocks from where i live in greenwich village. she was very close to reggie, her brother. she could have told my mom a lot about him but they never had real conversations. my mom was terrified of her and my mom stopped speaking to her own mother for 15 or so years. the crucial years of her life and really only reconnected with her mother towards the end of her mother's life. even then they never had a conversation about trial . it was like nothing, just a cool breeze like nothing had happened. >> i can't believe they never talked about the trial. >> it's incredible and i mean it's one of the huge gaps in my mom's life.
to have just sat down and talk to us it's incredible. it's like the elephant inthe room . and it's so sad to me that that would have been so instrumental in my 11-year-old moms life to have been living with this great artist who could have said yes, come into my studio. let's eat together and paint in the corner. none of that ever happens >> .. >> .. she left high school in 16 to go out to l.a. and yet never went back to school.
>> was or anything that came up and the course of writing this book that may be took you by surprise? anything that was like totally blow you away out of left field, didn't see it coming? >> everything about my grandfather did blow me away. >> had you had an imagination about him? did you tell your stories who rggi might've been? >> there's like two visuals i have rggi in my mind. one i had a lovely portrait that was sold off and and i guest back and rggi probably when he was maybe in his 20s and is quite dashing and distressed like like is about to go out writing. i like that porter very much because he's a handsome man and it's cool it's very like 1910s our early 1900s. and i have a few pictures,
picture of his college dorm room at yale, a picture of him like a little kid in a carriage. he was handsome at that age and stuff. a lot of pictures of him by the time he marries my grandmother, he's bloated and disfigured and just looks like a bore. he looks like somebody who would just drone on a dinner about his horses which is apparently exactly what he did. again there was no connection. nothing i felt in common with this person. i went to the same college that he did but i'm sure he was, i don't know if you've much of the student. he got in because the vanderbilts had history at that school and he got kicked out i think towards the end. does the scandal, got kicked out for a while and finally allowed to graduate. i was really stunned by that.
i was stunned, it's a small detail that the list of people who he owed money to when he died, i just found inexcusable. when was the newspaper guy, the newspaper stand on the corner who he owed more than $200 to come and as we pointed in the book a time when the newspaper cost a penny. that's unconscionable, like stiff the newspaper person. the laundry person was stiff. yeah, it's awful. >> you sound pretty disappointed in him. >> i am. i really am. i feel, you know, look how a lot of people listening to this are probably like i had forgotten enough people like boo-hoo, your writing some sob story about your privilege upbringing, boo-hoo, it must been really hard which i totally get that perspective. it's an easy perspective to have and maybe i would have said same thing if i was on the outside. there's not like, i don't feel
like sad for rggi or sympathetic toward him. i just feel like he wasted, he was an alcoholic and probably was from the time early on. he could've done extraordinary things. he could've done extraordinary -- the fact there is not anything really that they have that's lasting of any real value. yes, they built these palaces that are museums and stuff it mt of them were torn down because they were too expensive to keep up but it's not as if -- the commodore gave a million dollars to what became vanderbilt university but that's basically because his wife was a southerner and she convinced him to and he gave some money to the church, but it's not like their big philanthropists and there's no real lasting thing that they contributed to. i mean, obviously the commodore
did through business and railroads and things like that but just in terms of generosity of spirit, you don't see a lot of it. >> it's interesting to me you're getting that kind of feedback because when we started working on the book one of the things where both thinking about was what the small story, i mean it's a big sweeping story but it is one dynasty so it's a story from one perspective, can say and a larger extent about american inequality and maybe even about american values that like -- values that on one hand this kind of wealth, the achievement of this kind of wealth, the achievement of this kind of notoriety and attention is what in some regard we are all -- >> did that freeze for everybody? let me see. i think it just froze for
katherine. >> okay. so i'll continue and then -- >> she will probably get back on. >> why don't we get some of the q&a just to try -- here's one from kate. her steamy, i'm seeing -- i guess it doesn't matter as long as you guys are seeing me. kate says that the comet of was to visit you and your son monday july to tell them? what topics of conversation would you want to cover? i wanted to visit when my son is only because i think my son will be terrified of this guy. my son doesn't get scared of strangers but the commodore was pretty -- hey -- >> my back? i'm so sorry. what happened? >> i'm trying to fill in with a couple of of questions. i don't know i would like to hear from him. i would like -- i would love to know what was -- i may come he talked about mania for money but what was it?
what was the motivation? what was his rosebud? what was his childhood pain the nadine propel himself forward? was a resentment of his kind of loser dad who was in particularly ambitious and do is just kind of a subsistence farmer fairing supplies? was it fear of instability? i don't know what it was and to think that would've been, that would be something i would be interested in knowing about, knowing about. let's see, if you can be -- what would it be? this is from tina, one quality characteristic from that what would be? my dad was a great dad. he was very present. he didn't come from money. he didn't come from power or some dynasty but he came from a family that had strong roots in the earth and strong roots to each other, and he knew what a
family was any new kind of a daddy wanted to be. i certainly hope that has rubbed off on me, even for the short amount of time i had with him. i think it has and i don't know, i hope -- why it already has this sly sense of humor which is kind of amazing and i see myself as a kid in him and to see some of my dad in them as well -- wyatt. >> keep going with the q&a because i feel like people are pretty interested in having questions of their own. you want to pick and choose a would you like me to pick some for you or how would you like -- >> wide-awake a back-and-forth? all look at some and if you want to throw out anything. >> let's see. beverly once to know what's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your mom? >> well, i don't think we have time but i but i told then stephen colbert last night,
something i'd never told before and the kind of, to me it's funny and it's charming and my mom got a kick out of my response to it. i would just suggest people if they want they can google me on stephen colbert. it's a long story but it is i think funny and kind of shocking in weird, but it kind of says a lot about my mom and how interesting and different she was. >> aden once to know how difficult was this for you writing this book along with parenting? there's a question only about how long the book took and how many books were read in preparation for it? i think those are, you can folders into one. >> we can both talk about that. from my perspective we agreed to do this together, and then i think it was a little bit before covid, in my mind that all sort of comes together and covid change my sense of time some a
little confused. in my memory we agreed to do this and then you are having a child, so there was, you able to do a bunch of actual legwork and research which i did not aid the inclination likability or the time to do because it was still in the midst of the election. i was, yeah, it was in the midst of the election stuff, and so my schedule is really insane. then we had discussed sort of that kind of how we wanted it to be. i think i wrote the first, the gladys chapter, i can't remember if i wrote that first and then to kind of, yeah, -- >> we started with the chapter about your cousin because we were both really moved by the mental image of the last -- so for those of you who don't know, the breakers is a vanderbilt
property, of vanderbilt estate in newport, rhode island, that is the biggest tourist attraction in all newport and all of rhode island. and up until just a couple of years ago the vanderbilt family retained use of an apartment in the breakers, and they finally change the guidelines as effectively the last vanderbilt was kicked out of the breakers somewhat unceremoniously just a couple of years ago. i know we were both really moved by slash intrigued by that mental image of what it feels like to walk out of that house in the 21st century. after pham had built it in the 19th century. so we start the story there. >> and gladys is wonderful. she was a nurse and i mentioned really devoted, i mean her mom had devoted her life to helping maintain the breakers, raising money to keep maintenance up. gladys had spent every summer of her life in that apartment with her family and it also was on
advisory boards for the newport historical society, and she complained about things that were not being kept up, condensation on the windows and she complained about a new visitor center that she thought should be built across the street and not on the actual property. and i think she really kind of to the new ports the stork society based -- they felt she had been complaining and they thought you know what, she's are at our pleasure and where no longer pleased, and so they said you know, we've done a survey and the heating system doesn't work and it's too dangerous to have anyone living up there anymore so you have to leave. i think we're both really struck that amy imagery of class leading to the service entrance which was the only entered should ever use, her great-grandparents built. that was how it started. we sort of went back and forth
because after you came back and started, that i had wyatt, so we sort of -- >> and then covid happened. i was getting back to research and writing in a big way in february of 2020, and then covid happened in march. i actually ended up going to the new york historical society brandishing my breast pump like it was a rifle and being like basically saying giving everything to get with the vanderbilt in it, and a imaged everything fled the city. >> what's that about? [laughing] >> between two babies who are not toddlers appearing in the course of this book and then covid of course, there was a lot. there was a lot that got in this book. >> what made me nervous is i wasn't sure how -- and we retreat back, you know, i would
be something katherine had written and i would give some thoughts or tweak and then we go back and forth on stuff, but katherine had a very from idea early on of how she wanted the end to be, a particular stuff about my mom and about my moms trial, and she had this idea which i think works amazingly and it fits in with this whole thing i have about sort of how i believe were all just kind of living lives that already existed and were all in patterns from family members asked for others past, people we don't even know, now sort of certain patterns repeat throughout time. but it was startling to me, her ideas were startling to me. i never thought about them, and events she was focusing on were not events that i really thought represented anything.
then she wrote, i was like i think i finally said, i think i him and hawed a lot other than like okay, let me think about that. i find it somewhat was like -- >> you were nice about it. >> i was willing, i like to generally assume that i have, you know, that one of the reasons of a great writer with you is actually listen to them and see what they can do. and so you wrote those and sense into me, and i was blown away. i had been completely wrong and that made me frame, look at things differently. i loved that. i thought it was fantastic. >> no, thank you. i hope that our listeners today enjoy those chapters because i really enjoyed writing them and i really was very touched that you let me take that risk when were starting to work on it. that was really wonderful.
i found a question that i think could be fun and assorted in keeping with a lot of what we've been talking about. from someone who may be has some good dirt on you from yale, jackie l orbach. >> oh, yeah. >> anyway, jackie wants to know how to think your life as a journalist would be different if your last name had been vanderbilt? curious if you would been seen as an unbiased observer in that case? >> i'm curious about that, too. >> i don't think i would have the career i have it my last and was an deville. i know i would not have, without a been able to do what i have done if that was my last day. one, i don't think he would've that the initiative or, i think it i've been a vanderbilt and there was money and stuff like that, i think i would, i think just having that name makes you think different, make you think you are different in some way or special or link to some glorious past, and i just never felt
that. i literally viewed this as something i wanted to never have people talk about and and io out a way to not have people know at least initially in meeting me. i wouldn't mind revealing it three months later or six months later a something, but i think there's such baggage that comes with that name and so many assumptions about what that name means that people would instantly, if you come for lasting is vanderbilt instantly assume you're very wealthy and that you don't need to work, and for a country which does have this myth and desire and belief, the people are wealthy on a pedestal, there's also a lot of animosity and like wow, you must have it easy. i i did have it easy and whole bunch of ways, but i don't think it's, yeah, i don't think, you know, the job of reporter is to
be able to go to a place and not have people have opinions about you in advance. usually you want to be a mere to the other people so you could tell their story. you don't want to be somebody who walks in the room and people already like oh, it's this person, and it's early on for me, that was a great luxury to not have any of that. yeah, so i don't think i would've had the career. in fact, what's interesting is there's a couple of later vanderbilts why don't even really know, i was just reading the son of neil vanderbilt and grace wilson, i don't know if you know, if you follow this at all but his name was like neely and it was disinherited because he married speech i'm so we didn't have room for them actually. it i had the freedom to add another chapter to this book i would've added a chapter about them. >> there were quite a pair. but the sun was, didn't have
money i guess because he had been disinherited, married a five or six times, worked as a journalist who tried to start newspapers and suffer the money he did have, and he was disinherited because he wanted to be a journalist but he was never taken seriously because of his last name and he served as a private in world war i and he was tormented by his commanding officer because there were like look, here's a vanderbilt guy and he's my private that i can do whatever you want with him. he seems like a very kind of weird and best a person but he at least made an effort to do stuff on his own and forge his own weight but because of that name it seems like he wasn't able to. i've always been, you know, yeah, my brother had middling vanderbilt and i thought, i was like i would never give a kid that name. >> here's a question from our real who is -- areal visiting.
you have been the first day vanderbilt and you help me to come out. are you proud of being known as such but you wish they were differentiated? >> well, as you may find out in the book, again i don't see myself as a vanderbilt but i'm certainly not the first in the family. >> spoiler. >> i do want to go into too many details but no, i mean, one of the, yeah, there were a lot of vanderbilts living different lives and living in public life and then a private life. you know, even my mom's mom is not a vanderbilt, she was accused of being a lesbian. it came out during this custody trial that she had been seen with a woman in her bed kissing, by a maid. it was a scandal that destroyed
her and was one of the big reasons probably that her child, my mom was taken away from her by somebody else who also had a secret. there are sorted secrets within secrets and so yeah. but it was interesting for me to see the kind of hidden gay history that the vanderbilt family as well. >> i felt like that was something that came up kind that several times over the course of it. there's a chapter about, i don't want to reveal too much but a chapter about one of the commodores sons who had a private life, you know the terminology was different in the different time frames but it would be interesting for you to read, arielle. >> this is interesting about how history is written. this great book, the history of gay new york by -- >> george chauncey. and but has read this book. it you read? >> of course and i got to
interview george chauncey a while back like two years ago. he used to teach at columbia and nyu. it's the hidden history of this city and you realize who writes history and who has power matters and what we actually know the past. there were tons of gave people and again that word was not in use at the time, but when you start to see, i mean, there's a whole, you know, in the neighborhood i live in there's come every other building has a gay history to it and a café i sometimes have coffee and/or breakfast was once a lesbian café run by women who was in deported, tricked by the fbi, deported and enough in auschwitz killed by the nazis because of it. i love that. i love that hidden history and that's one of the, what is so exciting about being involved in
a book like this to stumble across it. >> emily wants to know what the titles are of the ancient books on the shelf behind me. those are fuel for a different time. they are really old though. elizabeth wants to know, and i think this is an interesting question, how did you know when the book was finished? how'd you know how far to go? >> that's really interesting question. >> good question, right? >> part of it is theirs, it's not a linear history but there is a progression over time in so there is sort of the art of that and there's sort of natural arc to that. i talked about my mom as as t vanderbilt, that seem to kind of makes sense to put that at the end, but then you had this wonderful idea on sort of touring through what remains, or
the ghosts that are out there. how do you think about it? >> i think it's a really good question because we do, it's not, the book is not meant to be an encyclopedic account of everything that happened in the vanderbilt dynasty, like we don't really talk about george who built the breakers which is still impressive and is in north carolina -- what's that? >> you said the breakers. it's asheville. >> i'm so sorry. i meant biltmore, thank you very much for catching that. you've never been there? it's beautiful. i've been and is incredible but we decided there wasn't an obvious way to work george into the ark of the story that we were telling. in retrospect i'm a little sad we don't have more of neily and
grace because it would've been kind of interesting. some of this has to do with seeing some of these repeated patterns and seeing the way some of these characters interact with one another. i don't know, it just felt organic. felt like the right scale. >> to me that's one of the joys of writing. there is no formula of you know, that's okay, what you do on these pages this or that. it's all just how something feels as your writing and you kind of know when it's done. it's like editing a story for news, for 60 minutes, i'm working on a story right now and a sort of had to make endings to it and it could end earlier, a good insulator and i'm glad to see how it plays out in the edit room and how it feels. it's not a science in any way. >> angel wants to know how we met. did you know each other before
writing this book already introduced to each other in order to pursue the project? >> we were introduced by jonathan burnham whom, at about his title, he's a guy at harpercollins. i should know his title, right? >> i think he's a publisher. >> probably a publisher, i don't know. he's allowed me to write three books and is great. >> usually wonderful. the reason we were introduced was because anderson had this phenomenal an amazing idea for a book that it's also a different kind of book from the kinds of books he's written before, which were more sort straightforward memoirs or really amazing correspondence he shared with his mom, the rainbow comes and goes if you haven't read it yet. they were asking around for people who could kind of help with the history peace i think, and if any of you have read my novel if you know what i history nerd i am. it was a good -- oh, good, julia
would like to talk about the trial would refer to a few times. we might be operating a certain level of assumed knowledge about vanderbilt history here. >> the trial, my mom's trial or the trouble of the commodores will? >> probably your moms trial because that is actually news to me when we started researching it. i know is incredibly widely covered in 1930s when it happened, but i had not somehow not stumbled upon a a twister working on this project. >> my mom was born, she was taken your by her mother as 18 or 19 years old at the time and suddenly is a widow of vanderbilt and has a lasting vanderbilt and has this child, infant child who has a $5 million trust fund waiting for them when they turn 21. because the mom is there she can live off the money from the trust fund in order to take care of of the baby gloria, my mom. so she has a good time for ten
years, eight years in europe, going from hotel to hotel having affairs with people. meanwhile, my mom doesn't really know her, she's are disappearing to parties. my mom is very close to her nanny and her mom's mom who was traveling with them, a grandmother morgan, and the grandmother morgan and the nurse had to plot essentially to get my mom taken away from her mother, the grandmother from her own daughter and to live with the vanderbilt, the race in america can be a vanderbilt that they hatched this plot, convinced the mom to go along with it some a among can alwas live with dodo and be safe and to take her back to new york. they get gertrude vanderbilt involved and through her they decide to sue for custody and to have my mom's mom declared unfit. a huge court case ensues in circuit court.
it is called the trial of the century of the time. it pitted my mom's mom who didn't have money of her own, you know, and he was portrayed in the press either as the woman who wanted, the poor lady who want to keep hold of her baby from the clutches of the rich vanderbilts, or the lesbian partygoer who doesn't deserve to have this child, and gertrude vanderbilt whitney who didn't even know my mom really felt some obligation that my mom was not being cared for, and vanderbilt, gertrude vanderbilt whitney had all the money and it was followed in newspapers every single day for months. there were hundreds of people would demonstrate outside each day, and ultimately my mom, the courts ruled that she should go live with gertrude offended it will be and the second thing they rolled his the nanny had too much authority over and it really changed the trajectory of my mom's life.
>> we're pretty much at a time so asked the last question which i think it's a good one to end on, and that is, what is the topic of your next book? >> wow. well, we had been discussing this. initially, , well, why don't you talk about it? >> that's a dangerous. i'm not going to hang myself with the rope you are getting a period. >> we are interested in this whole thing sort of dynasties of families. were interested in the kind of rise and fall idea. initially i had seen this not as a one-off book about the vanderbilt but as i hoped it would become sort of an ongoing series of books and whether that's, you know, the rise and fall of another family or of something else, not exactly sure. what were talking about now is possibly doing the asters. >> were taught by doing an exploded version of the asters,
just like slightly different from what this book is not like rethinking everything that you think you might know about what astor means and what it stands for. >> and i was interested in sort of a contemporary dynasty, the asters. there's a big contemporary component to which i like as well so that's what we're starting with an noodling around with. we will see where it goes. i just thought by what i do if you saw there turned down part of astor road on instagram. >> what a fantastic conversation. i mean, you make a really great team. wonderful, wonderful. i just want to thank you again on behalf of all of us, all of the partnering bookstores come everyone that's watching. i think you can see everyone is like chatting here. thank you, thank you. we love you. i billers. i also want to say what a gorgeous cover.
it's a beautiful book. thank you for holding it up. >> chip kidd is a great designer get a lot of my mom's books, atchley did my first book and is become a good friend, he -- i wanted to work with him, harpercollins very nicely allowed us to you. initially we thought about commodore on the cover but some of the commodore's of you wanted to stress this isn't a business book and why just focus on like a man people think is the great man? i like the idea of having vanderbilt women on the cover. then to have like commodore is relegated to the spine which i love and then the pictures on the inner covers which is just fantastic and pictures inside israel. >> just gorgeous, thank you. i'm so glad you have it to show to everyone. books are on the way, should be on the way some of you might have them but in know they will be on the way at least by monday. you have that to look forward
to. >> i should just say we did talk about kate strong so let me show you, this great pictures in the middle, but i just want to show you -- that's the woman with the cat costume. that's crazy. >> that's wonderful. >> that's our was with the lightbulb. >> what a beautiful book. jonathan burnham is calling me. he's like, what? okay, anyway, thank you again. >> thank you, everybody for doing this. we really appreciate it. >> thanks, everybody. >> stay safe and well and hopefully we'll see you in person sometime soon. >> hope you like the book. thank you. >> thank you. >> booktv of the week and features authors discussing the latest nonfiction books.
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