Naughty, naughty, naughty! Gloria Vanderbilt, the famous heiress, writer (of four memoirs and two novels), painter, actress, socialite and designer-jeans magnate, has written a sizzling XXX-rated book, Obsession: An Erotic Tale. At 85, Vanderbilt is old enough to know better. What does her son, celebrated CNN newsman Anderson Cooper, think about Mom's latest project? TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs checked in with the author at her Manhattan home.
This is a very racy novel! I'm curious why you decided to write it.
Well, Susan Sontag said something which has always fascinated me. She said that her novels don't exist as ideas in her head. They exist only as they are written. I was just ready to write this book. The gun sort of went off and it fell on the page, almost as if I was channeling it.
Were the people you know surprised by the content?
I have two very close friends who apparently were very concerned for my reputation. They thought it would ruin me. So I restrained myself from saying, "Oh, goody!" Instead, I said that the only thing that would ever give me pause would be to have a work published that was badly written.
Are you a little bit embarrassed by the topic?
No, no. Because, you know, I think it's a work of art. The age of the artist is not what we're talking about. I mean, it's as if you looked at a painting and said, How old was the person that painted this? You really don't think in those terms. My children were really the only concern.
What did your son think about it?
Well, Anderson was just amazing. He said that the seven most horrifying words you can hear from a mother are, "I'm going to write an erotic novel." But he's fine with it, and of course I gave it to him before I even sent it off.
What you think the difference is between erotica and pornography?
There's a big difference. Pornography does not take any person into consideration. It does not have human beings as characters. Erotica has people in it that are real and that you can identify with. I also think that erotica is [full] of fantasy and self-exploration.
You've been married four times. Do you think marriage is a good institution?
Oh, yes. I believe in marriage and fidelity. I've been really very fortunate in the people I've been involved with. If Wyatt Cooper had not died, we would be together today.
I was going to mention a few of the big-name people you were with as well. Frank Sinatra?
Well, he was a wonderful friend and always very supportive.
You know, Marlon was really a kind of fantasy person. You saw the person on the screen, and you projected onto him this sensitive, extraordinary beauty. Then, of course, very often when you meet someone who has grabbed you in a fantasy way, they're totally different. And I think Marlon sort of fits into that category.
I wondered, of course, whether the sex in the book was based on your own experiences.
Oh, no, no. The minute that you bring a unicorn into a story, you know that it's a fairy tale or a fable, because unicorns don't exist as animals. They exist as fantasy creatures.