"Little Gloria...Happy at Last" is a 1982 miniseries and a clear indication that they just don't make TV movies like they used to. For one thing, the miniseries is gone; for another, since no murder was committed, this type of story is no longer of interest to producers. One thing it might have going for it today - it is true.
The miniseries is based on the Barbara Goldsmith book covering the custody battle between Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and Gertrude Hay Whitney for Gloria Vanderbilt, who was 11 at the time. According to Goldsmith's excellent book, the insecure Little Gloria's fears of being kidnapped were fed into by her deeply religious nurse, Dodo, and vengeful grandmother, Laura Fitzpatrick Morgan while her mother traveled and she visited with her Aunt Gertrude. With all the talk done in front of her about the Lindbergh kidnapping and other copycat crimes, Gloria came to fear her own mother would kidnap and kill her. Never asked to explain the origins of her fears or what they exactly were, Gloria was then paraded in front of doctors and prescribed all sorts of things for her upset stomach and night terrors. Gertrude eventually refuses to return Gloria to her mother, starting an enormous court case, scandal and publicity.
This opulent film is wonderfully acted, beautiful to look at and engrossing, with a top cast including Lucy Gutteridge as Gloria's mother, Angela Lansbury as Gertrude Whitney, Christopher Plummer as Reginal Whitney, Gloria's father, Glynis Johns as Laura Morgan, Maureen Stapleton as Dodo, Jennifer Dundas as Little Gloria, John Hillerman, Martin Balsam, Michael Gross and Barnard Hughes. One more star: Bette Davis as Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, Little Gloria's grandmother. The casting of Lansbury as Davis' daughter is inspired! The entire cast, as one may imagine, is magnificent.
The story of Little Gloria, today mother of Anderson Cooper, is heartbreaking and shows not only how the power of money continues to corrupt the legal system but the pathetic way that children were raised and treated in our society in the 1930s. Much is made of Gloria's mother traveling and living away from her daughter as if she was the only one doing it; in reality, most wealthy people handed their children to nurses and took off for months at a time. Though Gloria was assigned a guardian, no one unbiased ever talked to her, and doctors were too glad to take the Vanderbilt money, prescribe her laxatives and keep her out of school. You can't count the judge (who was a patient at a mental hospital); he was pro-Vanderbilt and concerned only with Gloria's religious upbringing, not the undue influence she had been under because of her nurse. One's sympathy is with Gloria's inept, confused, passive, overwhelmed mother, who was not a mean-spirited woman, just someone who knew only one way to live. Gertrude, perhaps at first well-meaning, emerges as someone who used her money to buy the justice she needed by getting the help of Mrs. Morgan and the nurse.
A really wonderful movie. Don't miss it.
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