You can find out more about my next book, working title Doris Duke: The Invention of the New Women, on my dedicated Doris Duke bibliography page.
Doris’ ease with her tallness—she measured 6’1” in her twenties when she claimed Hawaii for her own—meant that she was used to taking up space; she was also an accomplished dancer who knew the secret of balance: slightly bent knees. Her comfort with her own body shows in her girlhood photos where she often sits on a low step, patting her dog, knees spread wide, which even today seems to be forbidden to many girls and women, at least those who occasionally wear skirts.
She knew her effect on people, especially men, how she could bewitch and bewilder them, with her sphinx smile and slit eyes, her off-hand, askance look, as though the person in front of her was only appearing in her peripheral vision. She had seen her effect fascinate and terrify about equally her first husband, whom she would eventually divorce, her mother, her classmates at her girls’ school in New York, and the servants in her parent’s Manhattan mansion, one of whom remembered her bounding all over the house, kicking up her legs, probably the first and the last time that austere habitat had witnessed such high jinks.
Long before Title Nine released money and made laws that opened sports to women in schools and colleges, Doris Duke made physical movement her own. To stand on Sam Kahanamoku’s shoulders was to claim her place in the world as a figurehead, a beacon, a woman with “too much money,” as one demeaning book is titled, too much power, too much imagination.
She would suffer, of course, because of who she was—scandals, rumors, more attention than, later on, she wanted. But nothing could prevent her from seizing that moment in the surf at Hawaii when she reared high in the air, arms thrown back and chin lifted, exulting in her power to do what she wanted.
[As Peter points out in the comments below, we learned several months after this post was originally written that the photo is of Duke Kahanamoku and Viola Hartmann, tandem surfing in California, circa 1922. Not Doris Duke as originally stated.]