Here is Doris in Italy in 1944 with a group of young GI’s. She is wearing her regulation working outfit as a reporter for the Associated Press, a tan raincoat, belted, headscarf and dark slack. She tilts her head flirtatiously toward the young soldier next to her, but the rest of the crowd seems to be ignoring her, gathered for some purpose that has nothing to do with Doris Duke.
And here she is at the same period, with Tex McCrary, Secret Service would-be lover and lifelong mentor. His love letters are some of the most luscious, and detailed, in my biography. Doris looks charming, and charmed, as she doubtless was by handsome Tex, but not to the extent of being hauled into a love affair, as he wished.Next to them, and apparently oblivious, is General George Patton, the complicated perhaps-hero who would persuade her to go on an unauthorized jaunt to Austria, landing her in political hot water. She was used to the heat after her many skirmishes with the state department; factions there had made it very difficult for her to gain the passport and visas necessary for a war correspondent in Europe.
My chapters about Doris’ war-time service are some of the most revealing, and most controversial, in my biography. She was always under a cloud, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or traveling somewhere without the required visa. I can’t help but admire her jaunty disdain for regulations, especially when I stand in the airport security line with all the other sheep.
Doris always wanted to be a part of her times. She was not satisfied with the Gilded Age life to which she had been born, by necessity a debutante, by different necessity a wife to a conventional man. She was always traveling on, even when it meant leaving some wreckage behind. Tex knew this, and accepted it; George Patton did, too. After all they were adventurers, too.
That’s the reason I know she would never mourn the end of the great, hideous mansion in New Jersey her father built. She tried for years to convert it to her own uses, but in the end, what she cared about was not the endless guestrooms, bathrooms, receptions rooms and halls (although she may have enjoyed having her dogs in a big run right outside her bedroom window) but the possibilities of the farm itself. In her will she directed that the land should be used for a variety of conservation projects, which is what is happening today. She had no further use for the energy-devouring mansion; its contents were auctioned after her death, the proceeds going like the rest of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Now the Foundation’s directors with a boldness that would have tickled Doris have decided to blow the vast monster mansion up.
Neighbors are protesting, as neighbors always protest radical change. Well-intentioned, they do not, I think, appreciate that Doris’ wishes, although never directly expressed, were not in line with a sentimental wish to preserve a monstrosity. Monstrosities always impress, especially in this day of vapid reverence for the over-rich. But Doris had no use for sentimentality and would have regretted spending the enormous sums needed to maintain the house even in its abandoned state.
So—out with the old and in with the new!
In this case the new contains my biography and the words and images that reconstruct an always mysterious life.