Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt's heartache over Irish nanny 'Dodo'
Socialite Gloria Vanderbilt says part of her died when 'Dodo' was fired, writes Niamh Horan
America's most famous heiress Gloria Vanderbilt has detailed the tragic story of how an unassuming Irish nanny became the centre of her world before she was ripped from her life while Gloria was still a child.
The Swiss-born American socialite even credits Irish woman Emma Sullivan Kieslich - nicknamed Dodo - with sparking a lesbian encounter with a female classmate.
In her revealing memoir, titled Rainbows Come and Go, she also describes how she once dated Frank Sinatra and credits a billionaire, who was twice her age, with giving her the best orgasms of her life.
Writing in the memoir, Gloria describes how Dodo, hired by her grandmother for $125 a month, became a central figure in her life. "Dodo had been with me from the moment I was born. Cut by Caesarean section from my mother's womb, I was handed straight into Dodo's arms. My newborn body took root in her embrace and found a home. Dodo's voice was the first I heard. Naney's (her grandmother) was the second. They were all the family I needed." It was only when she overheard plans to fire Dodo that her world began to fall apart- leading to one of the most high-profile child custody cases America has ever seen.
"It was a gun shot to my gut. If Dodo were taken from me, I would die. With those words, the fear of my mother, which for years had been only a vague feeling, exploded into panic and terror, burrowing deep into my heart... I hugged Dodo, exploding between sobs, trying to get out what I just heard. Get rid of the nurse!"
Eventually the nanny understood what was happening, told young Gloria to stop crying and act normal before she took the child from the house. The pair went to Gloria's Aunt Gertrude's studio in Greenwich Village where her aunt said she could stay.
"And there it was," said Gloria, "This was the moment Naney and Dodo had dreamed of... The moment that changed my life. I was safe, or so I thought - but the fear of my mother would never go away."
However, eventually she realised that "I had begun to fear my mother because of the atmosphere Naney and Dodo created around her, a fear that took hold in me early on."
Though her mother lost the court case, she recalls, "her lawyers said that Dodo had influenced me against her, and [the] judge decreed that Dodo could no longer have any contact with me. She was fired, and I was not allowed to see her or even speak to her on the phone. I didn't know where she had gone. I was 10 years old, and I thought I would die. It was the worst thing that could ever happen to me... part of me did die."
It's not the first time Gloria has spoken of the affect the Irish woman had on her life. Speaking previously about the nurse, she describes how a lesbian encounter was sparked by a girl who reminded her of Dodo. In a previous book It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir she describes how she climbed under the covers with a classmate of hers from Miss Porter's School, a private preparatory school for girls in Farmington, Connecticut. The best friend reminded her of her precious Irish nanny, and she just wanted to please her.
It was during an Easter holiday at Gloria's Aunt Gertrude's house on New York's Fifth Avenue. The girls cuddled down in the four-poster canopied bed and started to fondle. "Truth be told, it was great," she said. "Of course, I didn't quite know what it was, but I didn't want it to stop."
Elsewhere in Rainbows Come and Go, Gloria, now 92, writes how a 36-year-old Howard Hughes swept a then 17-year-old Gloria off her feet: "Sex not only worked, but it was the first time since I started having sex that summer that I didn't have to fake an orgasm," she writes. "Something had passed between us when I opened that door and saw him [for the first time], and wild horses couldn't have prevented us from seeing each other again".