Wyatt E. Cooper, 52, a free lance writer and well-known society figure, died yesterday during surgery at New York Hospital in New York City. The cause of his death was not disclosed.

He was the husband of Gloria Vanderbilt. They were married in 1963.

Born in Quitman, Miss., in 1924, Mr Cooper attended the University of California at Berkeley and at Los Angeles.

Mr. Cooper gave acting a fling and collaborated with Don M. Mankiewicz to write the script for the movie "The Chapman Report." A freelance writer, he was named editor of the now defunct Status magazine in 1969. That year he was also named to the International Best-Dressed List.

For the past several years, Mr. Cooper had visited Washington frequently, participating in the Smithsonian Institution's Bicentennial education program, "Kin and Communities: The Peopling of American."

He also had served as moderator of a panel, "Do We Need a Family Policy?" featuring Margaret Mead.

At the time of his death, Mr. Cooper had been working with the Smithsonian in encouraging participants of children in the planning of the United Nations' International Year of the Child, to be observed in 1979.

Since their marriage, Mr. Cooper and Miss Vanderbilt, great-great-granddaughter of railroader Cornelius Vanderbilt, had lived on Manhattan's East Side and in Southhampton, Long Island.

His survivors include his wife and their two sons, Anderson and Carter.