Vanderbilt Descendant Publishes Family Secrets And Scandals

by SUSANNAH LONG · March 29, 2010

Wendy Burden is a Vanderbilt descendant, but more importantly, she’s a memoirist. Everyone’s writing memoirs these days, but what makes Wendy’s contribution to the genre special is that she’s eager to reveal juicy secrets about the rich and powerful.-

[Photo from WendyBurden]

Her grandfather, William A.M. Burden was once president of the Museum of Modern Art and ambassador to Belgium; he was also, according to Wendy, an anti-Semite and a heavy alcoholic. Wendy writes that, in his twilight years, he popped prescription drugs like it was his job, and lined parts of his boudoir with two inches of foam because he was paranoid about bruising himself. Wendy’s father, William A.M. Burden III, committed suicide when she was 6, and his parents openly blamed his wife, Wendy’s mother. For her part, Wendy’s mother was an alcoholic who remarried an arms dealer, and who, Wendy says, “would leave me for a year and not kiss me goodbye.”

Wendy's ill-fated but good-looking parents. [Photo from WendyBurden]

[Video from The Penguin Group]

Wendy lives in Portland. Why Portland? It might have something to do with the fact that no one in the Eastern branch of the family will talk to her. She’s really, really befuddled and mournful that her younger brother has been sending her angry facebook messages pretending to be her dead mother. Her book, incidentally, claims that he’s a drug addict and an alcoholic who is convinced that he is the reincarnation of their father, and who stole their mother’s morphine patches when she was dying of cancer. Also, Wendy relates the tale of how the butler walked in on him and his girlfriend doin’ it. Why can’t he get over the fact that Wendy just told everyone? Some people. So immature. “That’s what happens when you write a memoir and you’re really naïve,” she tells the Times.

Wendy relaxing at home, far from the family. [Photo from NYT]

Clearly Wendy has some overarching emotional issues with her family if she's willing to air dirty laundry in public, yes? So let’s do some totally unsupported armchair psych analyses of her feelings toward her famous Vanderbilt/Burden kin, based on the Times’ photos of her very nice house:

Wendy keeps her grandparents' luggage at the foot of her bed, obviously because she lies awake each night, thinking of curling into a fetal position within the trunks and stowing away on a one-way-trip to her family's Kingdom of Love.

Wendy has installed this statue of her grandmother outside so that the elements, pigeons, and feral Oregon cats can attack it. Finally, revenge!

The trophies are from her grandmother's farm. Clearly, she displays them because she yearns for praise from her parents and grandparents, but can never obtain it - hence the cattle skull, which represents the inevitable death of hope.

Wendy keeps these boots (which the Times notes are from generations of Burdens past) because she really likes boots.

We can’t wait to read other tidbits in Wendy Burden’s book, Dead End Gene Pool, and we hope it makes lots of money, if only so Wendy can buy her little brother a really big muffin gift basket by way of apology.

(If you want more, you can read an excerpt from the book at the Huffington Post HERE.)