Obituary: Doris Duke

Doris Duke, businesswoman: born New York 22 November 1912; married 1934 James Cromwell (one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1943); 1946 Porfirio Rubirosa (marriage dissolved 1948); died Beverly Hills, California 28 October 1993.

WHEN Andy Warhol took Doris Duke to Studio 54 in New York, a South American television crew turned the lights on her and began to announce her in Spanish as 'The Richest Woman in the World'. Hardly had they started than she fled to the safety of her chauffeur- driven pick-up truck. This was Doris Duke, a rich girl always on the run. Much of her later life was spent at Shangri-La in Honolulu, a house described by Cecil Beaton as a 'really fabulous Arabian Nights Dream Persian House', where, he believed, she was more successful than most heiresses in her attempt to flee conventional life.

Doris Duke was the lantern- jawed heiress to the Lucky Strike fortune of her father, James Buchanan Duke. Duke began life with two blind mules and a plug of tobacco and ended up with the vast American Tobacco Company. He died worth many millions in 1925, when Doris was 12. Her father held the usual muddled views about inheritance, its dangers and benefits, but did take the precaution of splitting the fortune into three parts. Doris received the first chunk at 21, the next at 25, and the last at 30.

From her earliest days Doris was plagued by dashing fortune-

hunters. Privately tutored, she came out (in the same season as the the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton) in Newport in 1930. In Italy in 1932, the youthful Yorkshire baronet Sir Richard Sykes made a pass at her in a car and found that the chauffeur stopped, as did the car behind. A detective approached and decanted him into the street. Shortly afterwards, at Lady Diana Cooper's 40th-birthday party in Venice, Sir Richard applied a lit Lucky Strike cigarette to Miss Duke's hand, as a result of which he found himself wrestling with Randolph Churchill, another admirer, and a full-scale brawl out amongst the guests.

In 1934 she married James Cromwell (son of the Philadelphia and Palm Beach squillionairess Mrs Edward Stotesbury, and lately divorced from Delphine Dodge, of the automobile family). Together they built Shangri-La, where the Pacific Ocean lapped against a flight of Moorish steps and two stone camels stood by the front door. Doris became pregnant in 1940, but lost her premature daughter a day after the birth. Cromwell became politically ambitious and was appointed Roosevelt's Minister to Canada. The marriage soured and a long battle for divorce began. The outcome was that Doris was successfully divorced from him in 47 states, but apparently not in New Jersey. Cromwell sued for dollars 7m, but reputedly received nothing.

Unwisely, Doris then married Porfirio Rubirosa, one of the world's great playboys and fortune- hunters, already twice divorced (from Flor de Ora Trujillo, the 16- year-old daughter of the Dominican dictator, and from the French actress Danielle Darrieux). In a celebrated pre-marital agreement conditional to the wedding, 'Rubi' was horrified to find he would only get dollars 25,000, but nevertheless signed meekly. A year later, Doris accused him of extreme mental cruelty and they were divorced. (He later married another heiress, Barbara Hutton, and then Odile Rodin, a sizzling bombshell pulsating with sexuality, before accidentally killing himself in traditional playboy manner by wrapping his car round a tree.)

Thereafter Doris did not remarry (though a jazz musician, Joseph Castro, pushed his luck by suing for divorce in 1964). She became something of a recluse, involved in artistic and intellectual endeavours, spending millions of dollars - and raising millions more - to restore old Palm Beach mansions, studying jazz with Jimmy Gomez, and enjoying a correspondence with Einstein. She gave much to Aids charities and she put up surety of several million dollars for Imelda Marcos's bail in 1988. Admirers came, spent some of her money, and went. But she managed her business affairs well, if not her personal ones, and died with the considerable fortune intact. That she went through the world without becoming the victim of too many of the crises that beset Barbara Hutton, and yet without taking credit for any great endeavours, shows a certain dexterity.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice