The life of Gloria Vanderbilt is a case of truth being much, much more colorful than anything a fiction writer could cook up.
The artist, author and poet was the subject of one of the country's most notorious custody trials in 1934, and was raised by her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Little Gloria went on to marry four times: Pat DiCicco, Leopold Stokowski (with whom she had two sons), Sidney Lumet, and Wyatt Emory Cooper, with whom she had Anderson Cooper and his brother, Carter. She created a denim empire in the 1970s, and then lost the fortune she made. Today, she paints and continuously redecorates the gloriously artsy apartment she calls home in Manhattan.
And her son filmed a documentary about her, "Nothing Left Unsaid," airing on HBO. It's intimate and sweeping, sweet and funny, poignant and tragic. But above all, it portrays Cooper's mom as a plucky, eternally optimistic dreamer who made lemonade out of very sour lemons.
"There was never anything that was off the table. There was never that feeling. They knew what they were signing up for. They've been around the block," says producer and director Liz Garbus.
The film digs deep, exploring Vanderbilt's four marriages and the suicide of her son Carter, who jumped off her balcony while she watched and pleaded with him. For Anderson Cooper, the film was a joy and a revelation.
"I don't know that there was anything particularly tough (to shoot). I've worked in TV for a long time. I know generally what may be asked. You don't agree to do something like this unless you're willing to be perfectly honest and open yourself up," he says.
His mom is a dreamer, and doesn't plan anything. Cooper, meanwhile, is the antithesis of that. What surprised him the most about her? "To learn how similar we are. And that's one of the messages of the film. You can rediscover somebody in a whole new way, even someone you know really well, simply by starting to ask them questions. It changes your relationship with the person and it changes yourself. I discovered how similar I am to my mom," he says.
Today, their relationship is tighter than ever. "My mom and I have always been very close. We're closer than we've ever been. There's a comfort level that maybe wasn't there before. We've always trusted each other. It's a much deeper relationship," he says.
In "Nothing Left Unsaid," Cooper talks about how his Vanderbilt side feels distant and abstract and how he's much more in tune with the Cooper side of the family. Making the film didn't change that.
"As an adult, I'm certainly interested in it. It's a family that's had a lot of history in the United States. It doesn't feel that it's anything to do with me. It has to do with my mom. It's not something I feel particularly connected to," he says.
The film truly doesn't leave much unsaid, but people want more. Which is why, jokes Garbus, "we're doing a six-part series."
It will, however, be in an untraditional format, quips Cooper. "We're working on an ice-capades show."
Chances are, Gloria Vanderbilt would learn to figure skate, if required. She seems capable of handling just about anything. "She comes from a time and a place that doesn't exist and a world that doesn't exist. That's one of the things that's so interesting about the film, seeing her navigating this world," says Cooper.
And that includes email. Cooper wasn't the one who taught his mom to hit send. "A friend of mine did. I didn't have the patience," he says.
Anderson Cooper through the years
OnlyOnAOL: How Anderson Cooper's 92-year-old mom learned to email
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 13: Anderson Cooper visits the Late Show With David Letterman on January 13, 2015 in New York City. Credit: Diego Corredor/MediaPunch/IPX
Anderson Cooper is seen at the 3rd Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff /Invision/AP)
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2014 file photo, Anderson Cooper of CNN poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party in Pasadena, Calif. CNN has joined Fox News Channel in saying that it was mistaken to report in the wake of an attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that there were neighborhoods in Europe considered "no go" zones for non-Muslims. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
Anderson Cooper speaks at the 3rd Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff /Invision/AP)
Anderson Cooper is seen bidding during the auction at the 3rd Annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff /Invision/AP)
Anderson Cooper of CNN poses at the CNN Worldwide All-Star Party, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Anderson Cooper, from left, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan attend CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute on Tuesday, Nov.19, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Anderson Cooper appears at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos' Hard Rock Live on September 20, 2012 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP)
Oscar the Grouch, left, and Anderson Cooper speaks onstage at the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on HLN at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Journalist Anderson Cooper, left, and television presenter Kelly Ripa toss beads to revelers while riding on a float in the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Sunday, March 6, 2011. Mardi Gras season ends with an all-day celebration on Tuesday, March 8. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
FILE - In this May 26, 2010 publicity image released by CNN, CNN's Anderson Cooper, right, inspects the oil spill during a tour with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, background left, of the contaminated areas in Blind Bay, La. (AP Photo/CNN, Shaul Schwarz) ** zu unserem Korr **
Ralph Nader, left, is interviewed by Anderson Cooper of CNN in Madison Square Garden before the start of the night session of the Republican National Convention in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
CNN's Anderson Cooper arrives at a dinner to celebrate Time 100, Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world Monday, May 8, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Television anchor Anderson Cooper, a member of the Yale Class of 1989, delivers the Class Day address to graduating Yale seniors in New Haven, Conn., Sunday, May 21, 2006. Commencement exercises will be held Monday. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
CNN's Anderson Cooper does some taping in the doorway of a house in the Lower Ninth Ward that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina nearly one year ago in New Orleans on Monday, Aug. 28, 2006. The national and international media have come to the region for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, however Cooper has returned to the region repeatedly.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18: (L-R) Jeffrey Zucker and Anderson Cooper attend the 2014 CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at the American Museum of Natural History on November 18, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: Anderson Cooper -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 0016 -- Pictured: (l-r) Journalist Anderson Cooper during an interview with host Seth Meyers on March 17, 2014 -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Sean Penn and Anderson Cooper attend the 3rd annual Sean Penn & Friends HELP HAITI HOME Gala benefiting J/P HRO presented by Giorgio Armani at Montage Beverly Hills on January 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for J/P Haitian Relief Organization)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Anderson Cooper, Kathy Griffin and Gloria Steinem attend Kathy Griffin's Carnegie Hall Performance official after party hosted by Anderson Cooper at Trattoria Dell Arte Restaurant on November 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 27: Television personality Anderson Cooper arrives to 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on August 27, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Anderson Cooper and Cher -- Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 16: Anderson Cooper attends the 24th annual GLAAD Media awards at The New York Marriott Marquis on March 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 08: (L-R) Actress Betty White, television personality Lisa Vanderpump, and media personality Anderson Cooper pose for a picture as 'RHOBH' Lisa Vanderpump Co-Host's Anderson Live With Guest Betty White at CBS Studios on January 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Anderson Live)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Anderson Cooper and Christie Brinkley host Anderson Live at CBS Studios on December 4, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Anderson Live)
Honoree Pushpa Basnet the Early Childhood Development Center and host Anderson Cooper onstage during the CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute
at The Shrine Auditorium on December 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. 23046_006_MB_2354.JPG
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: Bill Gates, and Anderson Cooper attend Together To End AIDS: An Evening To Benefit amfAR and GBCHealth at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on July 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: TV personality Anderson Cooper arrives at the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Sunset Tower on February 26, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Anderson Cooper tapes a segment for his talk show 'Anderson' at Boston Market on October 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Anderson)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - SEPTEMBER 27: Anderson Cooper seen in the Meatpacking District on September 27, 2011 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Journalist Anderson Cooper unveils his wax figure at Madame Tussauds on September 14, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Anderson Cooper visits Elvis Duran and Z100 morning show team at the Z100 Studios on August 19, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the Z100 Morning Show)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 28: Anderson Cooper, honorary marshall for the 95th running of Indianapolis 500 during the parade for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28, 2011 in the streets of Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Anderson Cooper sighting at Time Warner building on May 9, 2011 in New York City.
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Anderson Cooper attends Hope for Depression Research Foundation 10th Annual Hope Luncheon Seminar at The Plaza Hotel on November 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
***USA OUT***CANADA OK***
NEW YORK - MAY 18: Anderson Cooper seen at the 2016 Turner Upfront held at Nick & Stef's Steakhouse on May 18, 2016 in New York City.
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TORONTO, ON - MAY 15: CEO of Indigo Heather Reisman and Anderson Cooper attend the book signing of his new book 'The Rainbow Comes And Goes' at Indigo Manulife Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by GP Images/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15: Anderson Cooper attends AOL Build Speaker Series to discuss 'Nothing Left Unsaid' at AOL Studios In New York on April 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt attend the 'Nothing Left Unsaid' premiere at Time Warner Center on April 4, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Anderson Cooper visits at SiriusXM Studio on April 4, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 07: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper in conversation at Barnes & Noble Union Square on April 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 29: Republican Presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich takes part in a town hall event moderated by Anderson Cooper March 29, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Candidates are campaigning in Wisconsin ahead of the state's April 5th primary. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)