RI Style Diaries: Know Your Newport Socialites

Sure I thought Nicky Hilton's 75K Valentino wedding gown was stunning. And I was appropriately sympathetic when I first read that story about Paris Hilton getting pranked into believing that the plane she was on was about to crash. (As it turn out now, Paris may have been in on the whole thing btw.) But forget Nicky and Paris for a sec because one of the most famous socialite billionaires - not to mention philanthropists, art collectors, horticulturalists, and clotheshorses - of the last century had an opulent summer home (errrrr, English Tudor style mansion) in RI. And I got to go there the other night. Yup, I'm talking about Lucky Strike Tobacco heiress Doris Duke and Rough Point. In case you're wondering why it was called Rough Point, one look at those rocky cliffs that frame the property (in the photo above), that Duke was known to dive off right up until her later years, will tell you. It's also the only mansion in Newport with a 270 degree view of the Atlantic. And maybe you already know she was (1) the first non-Hawaiin woman to be a competitive surfer back in the 30's,  (2) married and divorced twice and paid her 2nd husband's wife a million dollars NOT to contest their divorce, and (3) never charged with a crime after running over decorator friend Eduardo Tirella with her station wagon while they were working on refurbishing a property in Newport together during the 60's (She later paid out a $75,000 settlement to his family.), but I bet you didn't know that:

  • Rough Point is filled with tons of priceless art and antiques, but the drapes around Doris Duke's bed were purchased at JCPenney. (See - even she knew Penney's has some of the best drapes and bedding around. Ha!)
  • She was a contributing editor at Harper's Bazaar during the mid 1940's, around the same time that then Harper's editor Diana Vreeland 'discovered' Lauren Bacall and put her on the cover of the mag. Ironically, Lauren Bacall would later go on to play Duke in the 1999 CBS tv movie of her life, along with Hayden Pantiere as the young Duke and Richard Chamberlain as the sketchy Irish butler, Bernard Lafferty (who also worked for singer Peggy Lee), she ended up naming executor of her multibillion dollar estate. (After being replaced as executor several years after Duke's death, amid a firestorm of lawsuits and accusations he had something to do with hastening her death, Lafferty died alone in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 51.)
  • Duke was a clotheshorse who left behind over 9,000 items when she passed, but it wasn't typical rich white lady fare. Turns out there were lots of dramatic and daring pieces like beaded, multi-color short shorts (that she wore into her 50's) as well as a pair of tapered, studded jeans (that she wore into her 70's) by designer Leslie Hamel, whose other clients included people like Madonna
  • She loved animals, favoring dogs and camels in particular. (See the topiary camels in the photo above.) Word has it that Duke, or her staff, would stock up on cookies in town to feed the two camels, gifts from Saudi arms dealer and business man Adnan Khashoggi, named Princess and Baby, she kept at Rough Point during the summers she was there and that she housed them in the sun room (See pix above.) of the mansion during 1991's Hurricane Bob. 

So, next time you're in Newport having drinks or dinner, feel free to use any or all of these to impress friends and family - before that know-it-all friend or family member (Wink, wink) takes over and monopolizes the conversation all night. 

Ciao For Now,

Patty J


Photo Credits: Nicky Hilton in her wedding gown, Doris Duke, and aeriel view of Rough Point courtesy of Google Images; All other photos courtesy of me.