Doris Duke : biography
Doris Duke (November 22, 1912 – October 28, 1993) was an American heiress, horticulturalist, art collector, and philanthropist.
Daughter of an immensely rich tobacco tycoon, Duke was able to fund a life of global travel and wide-ranging interests. These extended across journalism, competition surfing, jazz piano, wildlife conservation, Oriental art and Hare Krishna.
Much of her work centered on her father's estate at Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, where she created many elaborately-themed gardens, furnished with artifacts acquired on her world travels, including one of America's largest indoor botanical displays. She was also active in preserving more than eighty historic buildings in Newport, Rhode Island.
Twice married and divorced, Duke enjoyed a colorful private life that was seldom out of the gossip-columns.
Her philanthropic work continued into her old age, some of it unknown to the public during her lifetime, and her estimated $1.3 billion fortune was largely left to charity. After much legal challenging of the executors and trustees, Duke's legacy is now administered by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, dedicated to medical research, prevention of cruelty to children and animals, the performing arts, wildlife and ecology.
When Duke came of age, she used her wealth to pursue a variety of interests, including extensive world travel and the arts. During World War II, she worked in a canteen for sailors in Egypt, taking a salary of one dollar a year. She spoke French fluently. In 1945, Duke began a short-lived career as a foreign correspondent for the International News Service, reporting from different cities across the war-ravaged Europe. After the war, she moved to Paris and wrote for the magazine Harper's Bazaar.
While living in Hawaii, Duke became the first woman to take up competition surfing under the tutelage of surfing champion and Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and his brothers. A lover of animals, in particular her dogs and pet camels, in her later years Duke became a wildlife refuge supporter, an environmental conservationist, and a patron of historic preservation.
Duke's interest in horticulture led to a friendship with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scientific farmer Louis Bromfield, who operated Malabar Farm, his country home in Lucas, Ohio in Richland County. Today, his farm is part of Malabar Farm State Park, made possible by a donation from Duke that helped purchase the property after Bromfield's death. A section of woods there is dedicated to her and bears her name.
At age 46, Duke started to create Duke Gardens, an exotic public-display garden, to honor her father James Buchanan Duke. She extended new greenhouses from the Horace Trumbauer conservatory at her home in Duke Farms, New Jersey. Each of the eleven interconnected gardens was a full-scale re-creation of a garden theme, country or period, inspired by DuPont's Longwood Gardens. She designed the architectural, artistic and botanical elements of the displays based on observations from her extensive international travels. She also labored on their installation, sometimes working 16 hour days. Display construction began in 1958; a of the French Gardens in the 1970s is an example of the attention to detail that Duke continued to lavish on the gardens throughout her life.
Duke had learned to play the piano at an early age and developed a lifelong appreciation of jazz and befriended jazz musicians. She also liked gospel music and sang in a gospel choir.
In 1966 Duke was behind the wheel of a rented car when it lurched forward and crushed interior designer Eduardo Tirella as he was opening the gates of the mansion they were restoring in Newport, Rhode Island. While it was ruled a freak accident by the police, Tirella's family sued and won $75,000 when Duke was found negligent.
Marriages and affairs
Duke married twice, the first time in 1935 to James H. R. Cromwell, the son of Palm Beach society doyenne Eva Stotesbury. Cromwell, a New Deal advocate like his wife, used her fortune to finance his political career. In 1940 he served several months as U.S. Ambassador to Canada and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. The couple had a daughter, Arden, who lived for only one day. They divorced in 1943.
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