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Tobacco heiress Doris Duke was the only child of American tobacco baron, James Duke. When she was born, the press called her the "million dollar baby."
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The only child of American tobacco baron, James Duke, Doris Duke was born November 22, 1912, in New York City. When she was born, the press called her "the richest little girl in the world," but Duke grew to be the most reluctant of celebrities. For over 50 years, she avoided publicity. When she died in 1993, her billion-dollar legacy was left in the sole control of her butler.
Tobacco heiress, philanthropist. Born November 22, 1912, in New York City. Doris Duke was the only child of American tobacco baron, James Duke, and his wife, Nanaline. When she was born, the newspapers christened her "the richest little girl in the world." However, Duke was the most reluctant of celebrities. For over 50 years, she sought to avoid the glare of publicity, hiding from cameras and refusing interviews. When she died at her Beverly Hills mansion, without family or friends, Duke’s billion-dollar legacy was left in the sole control of her butler, the semiliterate alcoholic Bernard Lafferty. In death, the reclusive Duke again became the focus of the world’s attention.
The Duke family fortune was made from the tobacco fields of North Carolina. Doris Duke’s grandfather, Washington Duke, created a cartel with other local farmers at the end of the Civil War. Following Washington’s death, the thriving business was inherited by his son James, who formed the American Tobacco Company in 1890. Like other barons of industry at the turn of a century, James Duke gave his name and money to worthy institutions. In Durham, North Carolina, Trinity College became Duke University, on receipt of a $40 million donation.
James fell ill with pneumonia during the winter of 1925. He died in October of the same year. A week later it was revealed that he had left the bulk of his fortune to his 12-year-old daughter, Doris Duke. On his deathbed, James cautioned her to "trust no one" — a piece of fatherly advice that would forever resonate in the mind of the impressionable child. On the other hand, Duke’s mother had only been left a modest trust fund, which made for a strained relationship. At age 14, Duke was forced to sue her mother in order to stop her from selling family assets. Later when Duke wanted to attend college, her mother forbade it. Instead, Nanaline opted to take her daughter on a grand tour of Europe, where Duke was presented as a debutante in London.
At the time of the Great Depression the lives of the wealthy held a morbid fascination in the minds of the American public. Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, and Duke were nicknamed the Goldust Twins because of their vast inheritances. While Hutton delighted in the press coverage, Duke shunned from it.
At the age of 22, Duke stunned everyone when she hastily married aspiring politician, Jimmy Cromwell, who was 16 years her senior. After a two-year around-the-world honeymoon, Duke and her husband arrived in Hawaii, where they built a house named Shangri-La (after the mythical land where no one grows old). Although Duke supported Cromwell’s political ambitions, her attempts to campaign for him were overshadowed by the media’s unwavering interest in Duke herself.
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