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6 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Doris Duke

At Rough Point, the questions asked most by visitors are not always about the priceless artworks, the architecture, or the history of the building. The questions most frequently asked are about the estate’s most recent owner: heiress, preservationist, and art collector, Doris Duke. The inquisitive interest in this unconventional heiress became the inspiration behind this year’s exhibition, Beyond Fortune: The Life & Legacy of Doris Duke.

Like many public figures, much of Doris’s life played out on the pages of tabloids and gossip columns, creating a popular memory of her made of half-truths that overshadow her unique character, commitment to historic preservation, and her generosity and patronage of a variety of charitable efforts. Visitors to the museum who already know of Doris Duke, and even those who do not, are always curious to learn more about her life outside of the spotlight.

This year’s exhibition poses the question, “What do we really know about Doris Duke?” Using historical documents and photographs from the Doris Duke Historical Archives at the David Rubenstein Library at Duke University and items from the Rough Point art and fashion collection, we are inviting visitors to learn more about Doris by looking honestly at her interests, complexities, and eccentricities to see beyond the myths and legends often associated with her life.

In anticipation of the exhibition, we have asked the staff to share six questions they receive most from visitors at Rough Point and their answers:

How old was Doris Duke when she inherited her fortune, and what was her net worth?

Doris Duke became the “richest little girl in the world” at the age of 12 when she inherited $80 million after the death of her father, the tobacco magnate, James B. Duke. When he passed, he set up a complex trust that provided her inheritance to be released in installments at ages 18, 21, and 25. When Doris died in 1993, her estate was worth $1.2 billion.

Was Doris Duke married?

Doris Duke married and divorced twice, and had several other serious relationships during her lifetime. Doris’s first husband, James Cromwell (1896-1990), was a divorcee and 16 years older when they met in 1929. They married in 1935 and divorced eight years later. Cromwell was politically ambitious and was named Ambassador to Canada by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. He ran unsuccessfully for US Senator from New Jersey in 1946. Doris’s second husband, Porfirio Rubirosa, was a Dominican diplomat and international playboy who married five times. They met in Rome in 1945 and married in September 1947—the pair divorced just a year later in October 1948.

Did Doris Duke have any children?

Doris had a daughter, Arden, who was born prematurely on July 11, 1940. Sadly, Arden only lived a day and Doris was unable to have other children. Based on telegrams and phone records from that time, Alec Cunningham-Reid was likely the father, not James Cromwell.

Doris Duke met Chandi Heffner in 1985 and felt a strong maternal connection to Her. She formally adopted Heffner in 1988. They maintained a familial relationship until 1990 when Doris Duke disinherited Heffner.

When did she live at Rough Point?

Although the Duke family purchased Rough Point in 1922, the family did not spend much time here between the late 1930s and the late 1950s. Beginning in 1958, Doris Duke re-occupied Rough Point and re-furnished the house. For the remainder of her life, Doris spent an extended “season” here at Rough
Point (from roughly April to November). She continued to refine the collection and the arrangement of the rooms at Rough Point throughout her life. Today, the museum features objects, furniture, and art selected, arranged, and used by Doris to make Rough Point a home.

Were there really camels at Rough Point?

In the late 1980s, Doris decided to purchase a Boeing 737 aircraft. As part of the negotiations it was agreed that the seller would include two Bactrian camels. Interestingly enough, Doris herself found two baby camels at the J.C. Schulz game farm in Catskill, New York and was reimbursed by the aircraft seller (since this was part of contractual legal obligation). That’s how in 1988, Baby and Princess came to live at Rough Point. Summers were spent in a tent on the terrace and they spent winters in a heated stable at Duke Farms. Contrary to popular rumors, no mysterious Sheiks were involved in acquiring the camels.

How did Doris Duke pass away?

In 1992, Doris broke her hip, then had both knees replaced in early 1993, and suffered a stroke in July 1993. She died at home in Beverly Hills, CA on October 28, 1993 at the age of 80. The official cause of death was progressive pulmonary edema, leading to cardiac arrest.

Do you have more questions about Doris Duke? Visit Rough Point this year as we tackle many more ideas and myths about her life in the exhibition and our public programming throughout the season. Beyond Fortune: The Life & Legacy of Doris Duke will be on exhibit in the galleries at Rough Point Museum from Tuesday, April 2, through Sunday, November 17, 2019. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Wednesdays until 7:00 pm beginning April 2. Click here to plan your visit today!

Photo courtesy of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

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