Cornelius Vanderbilt IV

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Cornelius Vanderbilt IV
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00023, Cornelius Vanderbilt jr..jpg
Born (1898-04-30)April 30, 1898
Staten Island
Died July 7, 1974(1974-07-07) (aged 76)
Staten Island
Spouse(s) 7 wives including:
Rachel Littleton (m. 1920–27)
Mary Weir Logan (m. 1928–31)
Helen Varner (m. 1935–40)
Maria Feliza Pablos (m. 1946–48)
Patricia Murphy (m. 1948–53)
Anna Bernadetta Needham (m. 1957–60)
Mary Lou Bristol (m. 1967–74)
Children Cornelius Vanderbilt V
Parent(s) Cornelius Vanderbilt III
Grace Graham Wilson

Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (April 30, 1898 – July 7, 1974) was a newspaper publisher, journalist, author and military officer.[1] He was an outcast of high society and who was disinherited by his parents when he became a newspaper publisher. He desired to live a "normal" life but was burdened by large debt and could not maintain the lifestyle associated with his family's social position.

Early life[edit]

He was born on April 30, 1898 in Staten Island to Cornelius "Neily" Vanderbilt III and Grace Graham Wilson. Throughout his life, the younger Vanderbilt was known as "Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr." whereas his father, after 1918, was commonly referred to as "General Vanderbilt", as he had served as a brigadier general in the First World War. The younger Vanderbilt was commonly called "Neil" by his family and friends.

Vanderbilt attended Harstrom's Tutoring School and St. Paul's School as a young man. He was preparing to enter Yale University when his studies were interrupted by the entry of the United States into the First World War in April 1917 - shortly before his 19th birthday.

World War I service[edit]

Shortly after the United State declared war on Germany, much to the chagrin of his mother, Vanderbilt enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1917, at the age of 19. He was originally assigned to the headquarters of the ammunition train of the 27th Division of the New York National Guard, commanded by Major General John F. O'Ryan.[2] His first posting was in Spartanburg, South Carolina where he was a wagoner driving mules. [3] As this assignment was not to his liking, Vanderbilt made a deal with General O'Ryan's orderly into changing his orders to go with the division overseas. In exchange, Vanderbilt became the orderly's assistant and helped with various chores. [4]

He went overseas with the division in May 1918 aboard the transport Great Northern. Upon arriving in Brest, France, he was assigned as an orderly to the commander of the U.S. Army stockade there. Vanderbilt disliked his commander, whom he referred to as "my torturer". By chance, he was able to get a temporary assignment as driver to General Douglas Haig, the commander of the British forces in France. He got the posting when he was in a group of soldiers who asked if anyone knew how to drive a Rolls Royce. Vanderbilt raised his hand since his family only used Rolls-Royces and he was familiar with the peculiarities of their operation. [5]

After his posting with General Haig, Vanderbilt was reassigned to the 27th Division's headquarters where he served as a driver delivering dispatches. While driving on one mission, Vanderbilt had a near fatal accident.

Vanderbilt's father was promoted to brigadier general in July 1918 and was reassigned as a brigade commander at Camp Lewis in Washington state. Both Vanderbilts returned to the United States in August 1918 after three months of service in France. The younger Vanderbilt was promoted to the rank of wagoner on August 24th and served as a transportation instructor at American Lake, near Camp Lewis for the remainder of his military service.

Vanderbilt was honorably discharged from the Army on January 25, 1919. [6][7][8] Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant of the Infantry branch in the Officers Reserve Corps. [9]

Post war life[edit]

In 1920 Vanderbilt married New York socialite Rachel Littleton, the sister of prominent lawyer and politician Martin W. Littleton.[10][11] The marriage ended in divorce in 1927. He was to marry six more times, including to Helen Varner who later married Jack Frye, founder of TWA.[12]

Newspaper ventures[edit]

To his parents' dismay, he decided to become a newspaperman. His parents detested the press, seen by them as an invasion of privacy. He worked as a staff member of the New York Herald and later The New York Times in which he had several articles published. Considered a bohemian by his parents, he was frequently at odds with them.

In the early 1920s, Vanderbilt launched several newspapers and tabloids—the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, the San Francisco Illustrated Daily Herald and the Miami Tab among them.[13] Despite claiming to uphold the highest standards of journalistic excellence, the publishings lasted only two and a half years. Vanderbilt Inc. ceased operations with losses amounting to nearly $6 million. Vanderbilt subsequently went to work as an assistant managing editor of the New York Daily Mirror.

In 1922, he joined the newly organized New York Civitan Club - an organization whose purpose is "to build good citizenship by providing a volunteer organization of clubs dedicated to serving individual and community needs with an emphasis on helping people with developmental disabilities.".[14][13]

Farewell to Fifth Avenue[edit]

In 1935 Vanderbilt published his autobiography named Farewell to Fifth Avenue. The book provides significant insight to life of those in high society in the early 20th Century. In the book Vanderbilt recounts vacationing in Europe on his father's yacht North Star, his military experience in the First World War and his experiences as a newspaper publisher.

As the book's title implies, it is also Vanderbilt's point of no return in his rejection of the artifice of high society. Vanderbilt examines the artificial distinctions by which one is considered worthy to be a member of "society". He comments, "all of them building high fences and beating their heads against a stone wall, hating each other and boiling in their own juices and ... playing, for all its worth, the game called Society." [15]

The book also recounts Vanderbilt acquaintance with a number of high profile personages, some of whom he was able to interview on a trip to Europe in the early 1930s. These include President Franklin Roosevelt, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Benito Mussolini, Pope Pius XI, Joseph Stalin and Al Capone.

In addition to Farewell to Fifth Avenue, Vanderbilt authored other books, including a biography of his mother titled Queen of the Golden Age and Personal Experiences of a Cub Reporter.

Hitler's Reign of Terror[edit]

Vanderbilt made the 1934 anti-Nazi documentary, Hitler's Reign of Terror.[16] This film was made covertly by Vanderbilt while visiting Nazi Germany shortly after Hitler's rise to power. As its name implies it is an expose of the Nazi regime and is regarded to be the first anti-Nazi film produced. It particularly highlights the Nazi's oppression of Jews. In the film Vanderbilt describes Hitler as a combination of politician Huey Long, preacher Billy Sunday and gangster Al Capone. It featured several re-enacted scenes including interviews with Hitler and former Kaiser Wilhelm, which was necessary as the original interviews were not filmed. In his autobiographical Farewell to Fifth Avenue, Vanderbilt recounts attempting to interview Hitler a second time but balking at a Nazi demand that he pay $5,000 ostensibly to benefit the families of Nazis who died in the Beer Hall Putsch. [17]

Hitler's Reign of Terror was released on April 30, 1934 (ironically, eleven years to the day before Hitler's suicide) and a diplomatic protest was made against it by the German embassy. It was banned in New York state and Illinois would not allow its showing until the title was changed to Hitler Reigns. It received poor reviews and one reviewer scoffed at its prediction that Germany under Hitler would eventually pose a threat to world peace. The film was "lost" for many years until a single surviving copy was found in Belgium. The film was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2013.

World War II service[edit]

In 1938, Vanderbilt was commissioned in the United States Army Reserve. As of 1941 he was on active duty with the rank of major in the Intelligence Corps.[18] He was presented with a commendation by the FBI, probably for counterintelligence work, in 1942. As of December, 1942 he was hospitalized at Walter Reed Hospital and was discharged from the Army in 1943 due to poor health.[19][20]

Later life[edit]

In 1945, he became a member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati by right of his descent from his granduncle, Major Ebenezer Flagg, who was killed in battle in 1781.[18]

In 1953 Vanderbilt obtained a divorce in Nevada from his fifth wife, Patricia Murphy Vanderbilt. Patricia appealed the divorce on the grounds that Cornelius did not have permanent residence in Nevada and the Nevada divorce did not overrule the terms of a separation decree she had earlier obtained in New York. The appeals went all the way to the United States Supreme Court which ruled in Patricia's favor in 1957.[21]

Vanderbilt made his home in Reno, Nevada and continued to write and lecture on world affairs. He was a strong supporter of the newly created state of Israel.

Death and burial[edit]

Cornelius Vanderbilt IV died on July 7, 1974 in Reno, Nevada and was buried in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum in the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island. [22]

Military awards[edit]


The Living Past of America (written under the name Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.), (Crown Publishers, New York City 1955) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-7242


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ New York Times. July 19, 1917.
  3. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. pg. 32-33.
  4. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. pg. 36-38.
  5. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. pg. 38-40.
  6. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. Cornelius Vanderbilt. Simon and Schuster. 1935. pp. 32-46.
  7. ^ New York Times. January 12, 1919.
  8. ^ New York Times. January 20, 1919.
  9. ^ Official List of Officers of the Officers Reserve Corps. August 31, 1919. The Adjutant General's Office. Washington, D.C. 1920. pg. 242.
  10. ^ "Year 1920 Was Fruitful of Outstanding Events in America and Elsewhere". The Pittsburgh Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). 1920-12-26. p. 5 (Section 4). Retrieved 2016-02-26 – via (subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ "The Romantic Secret of Young Mr. Vanderbilt's $45 Job". The Nashville Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee). 1919-12-28. p. 42. Retrieved 2016-02-26 – via (subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ Sedona Legend Helen Frye
  13. ^ a b "Vanderbilt", TIME, Monday, May 10, 1926.
  14. ^ "Civitans Organize Here" (PDF). The New York Times. 16 June 1922. Retrieved 21 January 2009. 
  15. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. pg. 92.
  17. ^ Farewell to Fifth Avenue. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. Simon and Schuster. 1935. pp. 193-194.
  18. ^ a b Roster of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1974. p. 22.
  19. ^
  20. ^ New York Times. December 10, 1942.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., Newsman, Author, Dead; Broke Family Tradition Became a Reporter Very Difficult Time". New York Times. July 8, 1974. Retrieved 2011-05-28. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., author and former newspaperman, died here today at his home. He was 76 years old. Mr. Vanderbilt was married seven times. He is survived by his widow, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.