22 April 2012 | AlsExGal
A high quality made for TV movie
I never thought I'd say this about a film made in my adult lifetime, but they just don't make them like this anymore. From 1975 until the early 1990's the miniseries was one of the mainstays of broadcast TV. In the better ones - which this was - the production values were high, the story intricately told, and prominent stars were involved.
In this day of people who seem to believe that they deserve what they have simply because they have always lived this way, this story of the super-rich set against the background of the Great Depression is timely. Gloria Morgan is the bride of 43 year-old Reggie Vanderbilt at 18, a mother at 19, and a widow at 20 when her husband, whose health has been ruined by a dissolute lifestyle, dies and leaves her penniless. The fact that she is the mother of one of Reggie's two surviving children leaves her the impoverished mother of a wealthy infant. As Gloria is an infant, though, and she is the surviving parent, big Gloria has an income of 48 thousand dollars a year on which to live, a limitation over which she complains endlessly. 48 thousand dollars a year would be roughly half a million dollars annually in today's currency.
Over the next ten years or so, Gloria travels around Europe and complains when the judge that is her daughter's guardian says that she must come back to America so that little Gloria can grow up there, as per their prior agreement. She gripes that she can't live the way she wants and that it is all Gloria's fault. Big Gloria seems to forget she would be living in a cardboard box were it not for little Gloria's existence. Eventually big Gloria's lifestyle, her vengeful mother, and little Gloria's religious nurse all work against her when her former sister-in-law, Gertrude, sues for custody of Gloria.
There are really no sympathetic characters in this story. The doctors are more than glad to give quack treatments to little Gloria and take the Vanderbilt money, the lawyers -as always - are glad to take anyone's money, the judge in the case is more interested in the Vanderbilt's opinion than justice, and Big Gloria doesn't come across so much as a bad mother as she does as someone who simply knows no other way to live than the way she has been living. Not exactly having a glowing example of motherhood upon which to rely, Big Gloria seems genuinely baffled as to why everyone is upset with her.
Unfortunately, miniseries such as these have been replaced with one reality show after another all of which are just variations on the theme "Human Beings Behaving Badly". Years from now I doubt anyone will be interested in them other than as exhibits on a degenerating culture. This film was a theatric reproduction of an actual true story, and for that reason it surprises me that Gloria Warren Vanderbilt's story has so many parallels in the biography of silent film star Lina Basquette. Her tragic tale can be found in the book Lina Demille's Godless Girl. That book is a rare title, but it is good reading if you can find it.