Have you seen the 2006 HBO film “Bernard and Doris”?
The film chronicles the relationship between filthy-rich Doris Duke and her butler, alcoholic Irishman Bernard Lafferty.
It takes place between 1987, when Lafferty is hired to manage Duke’s Hillsborough Township, New Jersey estate, and 1993 when Doris died — quite possibly at Lafferty’s hands.
It’s an interesting look at the life of one of America’s most sensational and scandalous socialites and the troubled man who tried to help her.
Doris certainly was quite a colorful character. But did you know that she also was very dear friends with Sharon Tate during the last year of the actress’ life?
Doris Duke was born November 22, 1912 in New York City. Her father, James Buchanan Duke, was a tobacco and electric power industrialist and the man largely responsible for the mass- production of tobacco cigarettes. Duke also owned textile factories and hydroelectric power plants. Later, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina was named for this larger-than-life figure. He was super-super rich, and married to his second wife Natalie, when Doris was born.
James died in 1925 and then-thirteen year old Doris inherited the bulk of her father’s estate.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘World’s Richest Girl’, Doris actually sued her mother and executors of the will in order to manage it as she saw fit. Even as a teen, she was headstrong and believed the world revolved around her.
Doris loved music, dance, horticulture and fine art. She was a competitive surfer, and a passionate advocate for animals. Later in life she used her vast wealth philanthropically — donating to AIDS charities and other worthy causes. If you ever listen to NPR, you’ll often hear the credits at the end of shows mention “the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation” which is currently investing in medical research, including potential vaccines for COVID19. You can learn more about the Foundation by visiting their website.
Doris was married twice, but also boasted a long list of well-known and well-connected lovers including General George S. Patton and film legend Errol Flynn.
Doris owned three homes — one in New Jersey, one in Hawaii and Falcon Lair — the palatial Spanish-Revival mansion in Benedict Canyon built by silent screen star Rudolf Valentino.
Many of the earliest film stars chose Benedict Canyon as their homes, including silent screen heartthrob Rudolf Valentino. In 1925, Valentino built a palatial Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, on a four-acre property in the Canyon. Famed Hollywood architect Wallace Neff designed and constructed the 4700-square foot home on Bella Drive, a winding residential street. Bella Drive juts off to the east from Cielo Drive and was just a 0.3-mile drive from the property where Sharon Tate later resided in 1969.
Valentino died only a year after Falcon Lair was completed, and the property was auctioned off to pay the actor’s many debts. Falcon Lair was later sold in the early ’50s to heiress Doris Duke.
— from the article “Cielo Drive: The House of Love and Terror”
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in February 1969, shortly after the actress learned she was expecting her first child. While there were troubles in their marriage (infidelity, and Polanski’s lack of interest in the coming baby), the house was a nice respite from their troubles. Sharon often referred to the home as the “Love House”.
We don’t know exactly how Sharon and Doris Duke met, but it may have been a casual interaction. Their properties were nestled together in the hills, and there are reports that there may have been a path that connected the two residences. By the way? Both Cielo Drive and Falcon Lair were reportedly haunted, years before the 1969 slayings of Tate and her friends.
We do know that sometime in the early summer of 1969, Sharon’s sister Debra was visiting her and wound up in the driveway at Falcon Lair, where she injured her foot. Doris called Sharon, who apologized and came over to assist her little sister. Perhaps this is when they struck up their friendship?
Sharon had also grown close with her neighbor, heiress Doris Duke. Duke… was a highly eccentric woman then in her late 50s… Doris much enjoyed the company of the younger woman and Sharon’s natural goodness and gentle humor. Doris liked to take Sharon shopping on Rodeo Drive, where Sharon was naturally most interested in gifts for the baby.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications
Sharon enjoyed her time with Doris, and even indulged the older woman who insisted on buying MOTHER-DAUGHTER outfits for the two! You see, Doris liked to mold young people, young, talented people. Years after Sharon’s tragic death, in 1988, Duke ADOPTED a 35-year old woman (conservationist Chandi Hefner) who was a wealthy young woman, disconnected from her own family.
Duke, who was 6’ tall, slender, blonde and used to getting her own way in every way, adored Sharon and was heartbroken to learn of her friend’s murder. We know of no public statements that Duke made about Sharon, nor are there any photographs of the two of them together.
But we can only imagine if HBO made a prequel, about the few brief months that film actress Sharon Tate and wild-card socialite Doris Duke had together, spending a fortune on Rodeo Drive.
Read more about Cielo Drive here:
Cielo Drive: The House of Love and Terror
(This is the first in a series of articles, about the history of some of the sites that are most associated with…
And more about Sharon Tate here: