A Writing Life
Ms. Vanderbilt wrote occasionally for The Times, Vanity Fair and Elle. Besides several novels, many short stories and books on collages and home design, she wrote a series of memoirs, including “Black Knight, White Knight” (1987), on her first and second marriages, and “A Mother’s Story” (1995), about harsh events in her life, particularly Carter’s suicide in 1988.
She described it in detail: his dash across the terrace of her 14th-floor East Side penthouse, straddling the parapet as she screamed and pleaded, swinging his legs over the side, hanging momentarily, then letting go. It was, she wrote, “the final loss, the fatal loss that stripped me bare.”
Two other memoirs, 20 years apart, conveyed forgiveness for the mother who had neglected her in childhood and who died in 1965; the first, “Once Upon a Time” (1985), was dedicated to her. In lyrical prose, she acknowledged her longing for a mother who had become as mysterious as a lover: “Her face softer than any flower, the petal of her skin pulling at me with its beauty. How I longed to merge into her.”
Ms. Vanderbilt’s 2004 memoir, “It Seemed Important at the Time,” reminisced at length on her affairs with Brando, Sinatra, Kelly, Hughes and other Hollywood legends. “Shall I start with scandal, or broken dreams? With great love, or shattering loss?” she wrote, inviting readers into her guiltless ruminations.
But she also offered an explanation for her lifelong fascination with sex and romance.
“I would have to say that the love of my life was my mother,” she wrote. “The men are substitutes, let’s say, substitutes for my old sweetheart.”