What Anderson Cooper Learned Producing a Documentary About His Mother

By Chris Ariens 


Gloria Vanderbilt, with husband Wyatt Cooper and their children, Anderson (left) and Carter (right).

Anderson Cooper had boxes of photos and artifacts, stacks of DVDs and videotapes, and an idea. So he approached the president of HBO’s documentary unit, Sheila Nevins and said, “How about doing a documentary on my mother, Gloria?” Gloria Vanderbilt, who turns 92 next month, is a member of one of the wealthiest and most well-known families in American history, and an achiever in her own right.

The idea became Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper, a feature-length documentary that will debut on HBO in April following a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 23. The film will be followed by a memoir co-written by mother and son.


Ahead of the live town hall with President Obama on CNN tonight, Cooper, via satellite from Fairfax, Va., took part in a Q&A at the Television Critics Association press tour, with Vanderbilt in Los Angeles. Adweek’s Jason Lynch attended the session and reports that Cooper found it “kind of surreal” to interview his mother for the documentary.

Cooper has been collecting material about his mother since 1989, the year after his brother, Carter, committed suicide. In footage showed from Nothing Left Unsaid, Vanderbilt reflects on that time: “All I did was cry” and she hasn’t cried since: “There’s not a tear left.”

“You may know her name, but you really don’t know who she is, or what her story is,” Cooper said, adding, “I’m a different person than I was when I started this film, and I realize how much like my mother I am.”

“If one is telling the truth, there’s nothing to fear. It’s very freeing,” Vanderbilt added.

“She comes from a time and place that in many ways doesn’t exist any longer,” Cooper said. The granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Gloria’s father Reginald died when she was just 18 months old. Vanderbilt’s mother, who was rumored to be a lesbian, “a very big deal back in the day,” said Cooper, lost custody of her only daughter during a sensational trial. At 17 years old Gloria Vanderbilt dated Errol Flynn (“once,” she said), and was later courted by Howard Hughes, “the hot Howard Hughes,” Cooper clarified. Much of this was news to Cooper.

“She’s had a more interesting life than me!” he said, “She does have this incredibly optimistic way of looking at things, and she really does believe that the next great love is just around the corner.”

“It is!” she said with exuberance.