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Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

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Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

For the singer, see Doris Duke (soul singer)

Doris Duke
James H. R. Cromwell
Born Doris Duke
(1912-11-22)November 22, 1912
New York, New York
Died October 28, 1993(1993-10-28) (aged 80)
Beverly Hills, California
Residence  • Beverly Hills, California, United States
 • Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
 • Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, United States
 • New York City, New York, United States
 • Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Occupation Philanthropist, art collector, horticulturalist, socialite
Spouse(s) James H. R. Cromwell (m. 1935–43)
Porfirio Rubirosa (m. 1947–51)
Children One daughter; died after one day (1940)[1][2]
Chandi Heffner Duke
Parents James Buchanan Duke (father)
Nanaline Holt Inman (mother)
Relatives Washington Duke (grandfather)

Doris Duke (November 22, 1912 – October 28, 1993) was an American heiress, horticulturalist, art collector, and philanthropist.

Daughter of an immensely wealthy 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 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.

Family and early life

Duke was the only child of tobacco and hydroelectric power tycoon James Buchanan Duke and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman, widow of Dr. William Patterson Inman. At his death in 1925, the elder Duke's will bequeathed the majority of his estate to his wife and daughter,[3] along with $17,000,000, in two separate clauses of the will, to The Duke Endowment he had created in 1924.[3] The total value of the estate was not disclosed, but was estimated variously at $60,000,000[4] and $100,000,000. (In 2013 dollars: $800 million to $1.3 billion.)

Duke spent her early childhood at Duke Farms, her father's 2,700-acre (11 km2) estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.[5] Due to ambiguity in James Duke's will, a lawsuit was filed to prevent auctions and outright sales of real estate he had owned; in effect, Doris Duke successfully sued her mother and other executors to prevent the sales.[5][6] One of the pieces of real estate in question was a Manhattan mansion at 1 East 78th Street[5] which later became the home of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

She was presented to society as a debutante in 1930, aged 18, at a ball at Rough Point, the family residence in Newport, Rhode Island.[7] She received large bequests from her father's will when she turned 21, 25, and 30; she was sometimes referred to as the "world's richest girl".[8][9] Her mother died in 1962, leaving her jewelry and a coat.[10]

Adult life

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.[11] She spoke French fluently.[12] 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.[13] 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 rediscovered image of the night-lighting 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.[18]


Duke acquired a number of homes. Her principal residence and official domicile[19] was Duke Farms, her father's 2,700 acre (11 km²) estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. Here she created Duke Gardens, 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) public indoor botanical display that were among the largest in America.[20]

Duke's other residences were private during her lifetime: she spent summer weekends working on her Newport Restoration Foundation projects while staying at Rough Point, the 49-room English manor-style mansion that she inherited in Newport, Rhode Island. Winters were spent at an estate she built in the 1930s and named "Shangri La" in Honolulu, Hawaii; and at "Falcon's Lair" in Beverly Hills, California, once the home of Rudolph Valentino. She also maintained two apartments in Manhattan: a 9-room penthouse with a 1,000-square-foot (93 m2) veranda at 475 Park Avenue that is currently owned by journalist Cindy Adams;[21] and another apartment near Times Square that she used exclusively as an office for the management of her financial affairs. She purchased her own Boeing 737 jet and redecorated the interior to travel between homes and on her trips to collect art and plants. The plane included a bedroom decorated to resemble a bedroom in a real house. Doris Duke had difficulty remaining in one place, and whenever she arrived somewhere, she had the desire to go somewhere else.[22] Duke was a hands-on homeowner, climbing a ladder to a three-story scaffolding to clean tile murals in the courtyard of Shangri La,[23] and working side by side with her gardeners at Duke Farms.

Three of Duke's residences are currently managed by subsidiaries of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and allow limited public access. Duke Farms in New Jersey is managed by the Duke Farms Foundation; a video tour of former Duke Gardens is available. Rough Point was deeded to the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1999 and opened to the public in 2000. Tours are limited to 12 people. Shangri-La is operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; small personal tours and an online virtual tour are available.[24]

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.

On September 1, 1947, while in Paris, Duke became the third wife of Porfirio Rubirosa, a diplomat from the Dominican Republic. She reportedly paid his wife, Danielle Darrieux, $1 million to agree to an uncontested divorce. Because of her great wealth, Duke's marriage to Rubirosa attracted the attention of the U.S. State Department, which cautioned her against using her money to promote political agendas. Further, there was concern that in case of her death, a foreign government could gain too much leverage. Thus, Rubirosa had to sign a pre-nuptial agreement; during the marriage, though, she gave Rubirosa several million dollars in gifts, including a stable of polo ponies, sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber, and, in the divorce settlement, a 17th-century house in Paris. She had a number of relationships, but never remarried. One of Doris Duke's best friends was Brazilian socialite and "jetsetter" Aimée de Heeren.

She reportedly had numerous affairs, with, among others, Duke Kahanamoku, Errol Flynn, Alec Cunningham-Reid, General George S. Patton, Joe Castro, Louis Bromfield, Charles Asfar, and Leon Amar.[13]


Duke’s first major philanthropic act was to establish Independent Aid, Inc., in 1934, when she was 21 years old, in order to manage the many requests for financial assistance addressed to her.[25] In 1958, she established the Duke Gardens Foundation to endow the public display gardens she started to create at Duke Farms. Her Foundation intended that Duke Gardens "reveal the interests and philanthropic aspirations of the Duke family, as well as an appreciation for other cultures and a yearning for global understanding.".[15] Duke Gardens were the center of a controversy[26] over the decision by the trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to close them on May 25, 2008.[27]

In 1968, Duke created the Newport Restoration Foundation with the goal of preserving more than eighty colonial buildings in the town. Historic properties include Rough Point, Samuel Whitehorne House, Prescott Farm, the Buloid-Perry House, the King's Arms Tavern, the Baptist Meetinghouse, and the Cotton House. Seventy-one buildings are rented to tenants. Only five function as museums. She also funded the construction of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India, visited by the Beatles in 1968.[28]

Duke's extensive travels led to an interest in a variety of cultures, and during her lifetime she amassed a considerable collection of Islamic and Southeast Asian art. After her death, numerous pieces were donated to The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore.[29]

Duke did much additional philanthropic work and was a major benefactor of medical research and child welfare programs. Her foundation, Independent Aid, became the Doris Duke Foundation, which still exists as a private grant-making entity.[30] After her death, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation was established in 1996, supporting four national grant making programs and Doris Duke's three estates, Shangri La, Rough Point, and Duke Farms.


In 1992, at the age of 79, Duke had a facelift. She began trying to walk while she was still heavily medicated and fell, breaking her hip. In January 1993, she underwent surgery for a knee replacement. She was hospitalized from February 2 to April 15. She underwent a second knee surgery in July of that year. A day after returning home from this second surgery, she suffered a severe stroke. Doris Duke died at her Falcon's Lair home on October 28, 1993, at the age of 80. The cause was progressive pulmonary edema resulting in cardiac arrest, according to a spokesman for Bernard Lafferty, the executor named by Duke's last will,[19] who was with her at her death.[11]

Although Duke was cremated 24 hours after her death and her ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean as her last will specified,[19] her executor, Lafferty, also sent a small container of the ashes to Marshfield, Missouri, a town that Duke had grown to admire during her years as a world traveler. Duke had visited Marshfield during a large tent revival, where she enjoyed the music. Duke's ashes were buried in a local cemetery and a stone was placed to honor her memory. She was locally known as a philanthropist, since she often sent large sums of money for various projects, typically without publicity.

Trusts and wills

Duke was the life beneficiary of two trusts created by her father, James Buchanan Duke, in 1917 and 1924. The income from the trusts was payable to any children after her death. In 1988, at the age of 75, Duke legally adopted a woman named Chandi Heffner, a 35-year-old Hare Krishna devotee and sister of the third wife of billionaire Nelson Peltz.[31] Duke initially maintained that Heffner was the reincarnation of her only biological child Arden, who died soon after birth in 1940.[32] The two women had a falling out, and the final version of Duke's will specified that she did not wish Heffner to benefit from her father's trusts; she also negated the adoption. Despite the negation, after Duke's death, the estate's trustees settled a lawsuit brought by Heffner for $65 million.[33]

In her final will, Duke left virtually all of her fortune to several existing and new charitable foundations. She appointed her Irish-born butler Bernard Lafferty as executor, who then appointed, as corporate co-executor, US Trust company; Lafferty and his friend Marion Oates Charles were named as her trustees.[34] However a number of lawsuits were filed against the will. At death, Duke's fortune was estimated at $1.3 billion. The best-known lawsuit[35] was initiated by Harry Demopoulos. In an earlier will, Demopoulos had been named executor [36] and challenged Lafferty's appointment. Demopolous argued that Mr. Lafferty and his lawyers had cajoled a sick, sedated old woman into giving him control of her estate.

Even more sensational accusations were made by a deathbed nurse, Tammy Payette, who contended that Mr. Lafferty and a prominent Beverly Hills physician, Dr. Charles Kivowitz, had conspired to hasten Miss Duke's death with morphine and Demerol. In 1996, the year Lafferty died, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office ruled there was no firm evidence of foul play.[33]

Duke University also filed suit, claiming entitlement to a larger share of the Duke assets than the $10 million provided in the will (although Duke's will also stated that any beneficiary who disputed its provisions should receive nothing[37]).

Litigation involving 40 lawyers at 10 different law firms tied up the Duke estate for nearly three years. Lafferty was ultimately removed by NY courts for using estate funds for his own support, and US Trust for failing "to do anything to stop him."[33] The Surrogate Court of Manhattan overrode Duke's will and appointed new trustees from among those who had challenged it: Harry Demopoulos; J. Carter Brown (later also involved in overturning the will of Dr. Albert C. Barnes[38]); Marion Oates Charles, the sole trustee from Duke's last will; James Gill, a lawyer; Nannerl O. Keohane, president of Duke University, and John J. Mack, president of Morgan Stanley.[35] The fees for their lawsuits exceeded $10 million, and were paid by the Duke estate. These trustees now control all assets of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which Doris Duke directed should support medical research, anti-vivisectionism, prevention of cruelty to children and animals, performance arts, wildlife and ecology.[39] The DDCF also controls funding for the three separate Foundations created to operate Duke's former homes: the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Duke Farms and Newport Restoration Foundation. The trustees have progressively reduced funding for these foundations, stating that Doris Duke's own works are "perpetuating the Duke family history of personal passions and conspicuous consumption.".[40] Recently, these foundations have sold some assets[41] and have closed Duke Gardens. Christie's, New York, published a heavily-illustrated catalog of over 600 pages for its auction of "The Doris Duke Collection, sold to benefit the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation" which was held in New York, NY over three days, Thursday-Saturday, June 3–5, 2004.

Doris Duke in popular culture

Several biographies of Duke have been published, most notably Stephanie Mansfield's The Richest Girl in The World (Putnam 1994). In 1999, a four-hour made-for-television mini-series, based on Mansfield's book, (starring Lauren Bacall as Duke and Richard Chamberlain as Lafferty) was aired with the title, Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke. Trust No One (1997) by Ted Schwarz with Tom Rybak, was co-authored by one of Duke's staff. Her disinherited nephew, Pony Duke, and Jason Thomas published Too Rich: The Family Secrets of Doris Duke in 1996. Her life is also the subject of the 2007 HBO film Bernard and Doris, starring Susan Sarandon as Duke and Ralph Fiennes as the butler Lafferty.


External links

Biography portal
  • Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
  • Doris Duke Biographical History and Archival Collections (Duke University Libraries)
  • Thomas D. Mcavoy: James Cromwell, Doris Duke and Frank Murphy attending Jackson Day dinner (Washington DC, 1940)

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