Heiress and fashion mogul Gloria Vanderbilt, who died Monday at age 95, once had a bone to pick with the town of Manhattan, Kansas.
In the early 1940s, Vanderbilt was married to a soldier sent to train at Fort Riley. They lived in Manhattan, at 409 N. 17th St., for about five months. When they moved, they evidently left behind some debts as well as their furniture, which was temporarily seized to secure the unpaid bills.
At the end of 1942, Vanderbilt told The New York Times, “They certainly saw us coming, and they took us for $17,500 in five months there. It cost us more to live in Manhattan than in Hollywood.”
Vanderbilt died at her home in Manhattan, New York, her son, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, confirmed in a broadcast.
Vanderbilt had been in the spotlight from a young age. The great-great-granddaughter of a railroad tycoon, she added to her inherited fortune with her pioneering line of jeans, which tapped a then-nonexistent women’s market.
In 1941 at age 17, Vanderbilt married acting agent (and rumored mobster) Pat DiCicco.
When Manhattan residents found out that DiCicco and his famous wife would be coming to Kansas, the chamber of commerce lobbied for them to make their home here. The people of Ogden weren’t too happy about that.
“Nice of the chamber of commerce to hang out their latch string. But as a fact, the citizens of Ogden strongly resent this gracious courtesy,” Martha Graff wrote in a letter to the Manhattan Mercury in 1942.
“Ogden can offer her four night clubs for entertainment,” she continued. “Also we have a bowling alley, and a few alleys for her cat if she has one.”
Another reader disliked rolling out the red carpet for Vanderbilt, but for a different reason: “Hardworking Kansas folks with children who may someday be looking for a college town — they, too, read this publicity,” wrote Hurst Majors. “And perhaps they wondered what has come over the Athens of Kansas, and why Manhattan is so anxious to have Gloria and her entourage of valets, maids, pomeranians, butlers and chefs settle down among us for the 14 weeks that her husband may be stationed at nearby Fort Riley. One of the reasons Manhattan has always been a right decent little home town is because we pretty well kept our home town head.”
Fun fact: The designer Oleg Cassini was at Fort Riley during this same time and knew DiCicco. He lived in the area with his wife, actress Gene Tierney. Another heir to a great fortune, Paul Mellon, also was there.