Wednesday, November 21, 2012

American heiress, philanthropist, socialite, beauty icon, journalist and art collector would have turned 100 on Thanksgiving Day! Happy 100th B-Day Doris Duke!

" I am living proof that money cannot buy friendship."
~~ Doris Duke (November 22, 2012 – October 28, 1993),

American heiress, journalist, art collector, horticulturist, activist, philanthropist, socialite and beauty icon

(Photo above, Doris Duke on Thanksgiving Day 1947)

Happy 100th B-Day to Doris Duke, socialite, American heiress, journalist, horticulturist, art collector and beauty icon.
(Photo L, James B. Duke House, Fifth Avenue, NYC)

" Happy Thanksgiving America. Let's be thankful for all we've got and make it a big give this Thanksgiving...And remember, however strapped we are economically, money can't buy happiness."
~~ Gloria Buono-Daly

Born in New York City on November 22, 1912 Duke was the only child of rich tobacco and energy tycoon, James Buchanan “Buck” Duke (1856 – 1925) and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman.

Despite all of her riches, the young girl had a very lonely childhood and had to be hidden away from the public for fear of being kidnapped. Duke also had a tumultuous relationship with her mother.
"I would look at the way she caressed her furs and diamonds and wish she felt the same way about me."
~~ Doris Duke, quoted as saying of her late mother, Nanaline.

When James Buchanan Duke died in 1925, the total value of the estate was worth $140 million dollars, which she inherited at the tender age of 12. Doing what any young girl would do who inherited a lot of money -- she went shopping and later would travel the world.

When Duke was born, she was called “the Million Dollar Baby” by the media and by the time she reached her mid-twenties she would become known as “the Billionaire Playgirl.”

Besides being known for her opulent lifestyle and amazing art collection, Duke, with her sophisticated 6’1” stature, wavy blonde hair, pronounced jaw and piercing blue eyes would become a designer’s dream. She quickly gained beauty icon status for her classic elegance and style. In the 1940’s she was named to America’s best dressed list twice.

Among her favorite couture were Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, and Madame Grès Although she spent a lot of money on clothing, jewelry, auctioned at Christies in 2005, etc., she was a very smart investor. At the time of her death in 1993, nearly all of her estate -- worth over $1.2 billion – was left to charity.

Although she acquired a number of homes during her lifetime, Duke Farms in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, remained her main residence with homes in Beverly Hills, California, Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, Newport, Rhode Island and Honolulu, Hawaii.
In honor of her father, she created Duke Gardens, 60,000-square-foot public indoor botanical display that were among the largest in America.

Duke’s philanthropy focused on many social, health and cultural issues as well as animal rights, environmentalism, research for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and also AIDS research at Duke University, in Durham, N.C. which was named for her family.

Besides being a preservationist and philanthropist, Duke had various occupations throughout her life which included foreign correspondent, sports athlete where she would become a surfing champion, and even an activist and protector of Imelda Marcos.

Duke was also a huge collector of English and French furniture, Southeast Asian and Islamic art, rare vintage wines and involved in hundreds of house restorations where she would actually get involved in the work.
(Photo R, Duke & Andy Warhol in 1978 at Studio 54, NYC)

Her most impressive collection was her jewelry -- some inherited from her family and many other gems and jewels that she purchased and collaborated on the jewelry designs herself.

THE DORIS DUKE COLLECTION OF IMPORTANT JEWELRY was amassed by Duke and her family over the course of more than 100 years

In June 2004, Christies auctioned off her jewelry worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She also is known for having the most unique collection of vintage wines.

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. Shangri-La is operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

Her life had many controversies and tragedies including a very free-spirited lifestyle that resulted in her having an illegal abortion in a New York hospital at the age of 27 from an extramarital affair.

A year later (1940) she and her husband of 5 years, James H.R. Cromwell, would give birth prematurely in July to a baby girl named Arden who would die 24 hours later. Duke became devastated when doctors told her she would never be able to carry a child again.

The New York Times obituary memorialized her as the “Heiress Whose Great Wealth Couldn’t Buy Happiness.”

Today also marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of our 35th President, the late John F. Kennedy. According to "This Day in History," the city of Dallas has announced that the day the 35th American President was killed in 1963 will be remembered with an official memorial for the 50th anniversary in 2013.

Additional resources:
♦A peek inside Doris Duke’s Closet
♦Doris Duke's Wardrobe Exhibition: From Jet Set to Jeans
♦ Doris Duke slideshow
♦Heiress Whose Great Wealth Couldn’t Buy Happiness, The New York Times,
♦ History of Shangri La: Creating Shangri La
♦ Rubenstein Library, People in the Collections, Duke, Doris, Duke University Libraries

Photo Information:
♦ Jewelry photos: Royal Magazin Web site
♦ Wardrobe photos: "Rough Point" Newport Mansion Doris Duke Wardrobe Collection
♦ All other photos courtesy of Duke University Archives, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Archives, and Wikipedia unless otherwise specified.


  1. What a great way to have celebrated Thanksgiving. So meaningful that with all that Duke had she would end up having such an unfulfilled life even with all of her philanthropic contributions.

  2. You are absolutely correct, this Thanksgiving we all needed to give more than ever. Thank you for this post. Hopefully people will realize what is really important in life.

  3. Money cannot buy love, happiness or friendship. Now more than ever we all should give to those less needy.

  4. Interesting that Doris Duke’s 100th fell on Thanksgiving. Also the photo you have of her was on Thanksgiving day 65 years ago, she was only 35.

  5. There's an insider joke amongst personal finance journalists that there only are seven different stories they can write and each week they have to dress these seven stories up so they look new, important and interesting.

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