What a hegira this has been (I refuse to use that overworked term, journey), from the first day I called for a box of research materials at the Duke University Library to the pile of manuscript pages lying beside my computer.
Startling revelations continue to occur.
A very well-informed friend alerted me to material about Doris’ important friend, lover and fellow jazz musician, Joey Castro, which allows me to fill out a portrait already rich in detail from his many letters to Doris but lacking vital information about his career.
Doris created the music studio above the garage at her Hollywood house, Falcon’s Lair—formerly owned by Rudolf Valentino, now demolished—for Joey and his jazz combo. One of their many records is titled “Live at Falcon Lair.”
I was touched to learn that Doris, a dedicated amateur pianist, accompanied the combo on tour. Critics derided her playing, perhaps wondering at her pseudonym: Strayhorn, for Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s long time pianist and collaborator, best known for his rendition of “Take The A Train.” If only Doris could have developed his chops.
Well, at least, due to Joey Castro’s devotion, she did play on one tour.
Another astonishing revelation: the Duke Farms board wants to demolish the huge hideous—67000 square foot—mansion in New Jersey built by Doris’ father, James B. Duke, on 2,700 acres of land. The board is following Doris’ wishes, as expressed in her will: dedicated to land conservation, she wanted the acres preserved not the house, which is empty and half-derelict, and has already cost the board a lot of money in upkeep.
I think she might smile at the well-intentioned but misguided attempt of a New Jersey group called DORIS—DEMOLITION OF MANSION MAKES NO SENSE—to prevent the demolition.
If it takes place, as planned, in 2016—there are a lot of appeals still to deal with—it will be a fitting ending for my biography.
Doris was always ahead of her time. Preserving a house with no historical or esthetic value would never have been a priority for her; she knew, as she often stated, that times change, and the buildings of a previous century are not necessarily worthy of preservation.
I hope she wins.