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.
Why does this Glamour-Puss version alienate me—and perhaps other women and even a few men?
Well, clearly it’s posed—I can almost hear the photographer giving instructions—but then all formal portraits are posed.
And Doris chooses here to look her most ambiguous, her most sphinx-like, her face the face of a woman who decided by her mid-twenties that she would never write about herself or allow an interview.
You can’t read me, this face seems to be saying, because I don’t want to be read.
Bereft of privacy from childhood, when she was dubbed The RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD after her father died and left her a fortune, in trust, later called THE RICHEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD, no matter what part of the world she was in or what she was doing, I can manage some sympathy for this portrait’s attempt to shun interpretation.
Of course it didn’t work. It never does. Curiosity is not really idle; it is voracious, and she chose to live a conspicuous life.
But I think there is another way—probably many other ways—of looking at this image. Under the shiny black satin evening dress, a woman’s body was breathing; under the sphinx look was hidden the face of the three-year-old who clung to a fence in New Jersey, crying with loneliness.
Even the frozen hair, the milky make-up, the pursed lips and lowered eyes, can’t quite hide the little girl who was so lonely, and who remained lonely for long periods in her adult life.
I sometimes think that love never touched her, although she knew many lovers. Always she seemed to be asking as she did of one of them, “Are you doing what you’re doing to please ME?”
That me, like a small black pearl, is hidden somewhere in the dark depths of this portrait.
And yet I must grant her the agency of choosing; she did not have to pose for this portrait, or for the hundreds of others that I found in her huge archive at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University.
Perhaps, then, the shield she erected as a member of the Best Dressed List, as a debutante and a hostess, seemed safer than the many black-and-white snapshots that show her with her hair blowing and her head thrown back, laughing, wearing nondescript slacks and a top she probably bought at a chain clothing store.
In any event, I must try to incorporate the essence of all these contradictory images in my biography, hoping that at least the gleam of that hidden pearl will emerge.