Dollhouses, traditionally the domain of children, are a popular hobby for some adults as well, with these enthusiasts relishing the long hours of collecting and crafting. The tiny homes present an idealized yet realistic interior, often filled with extraordinary miniatures that can take one’s breath away.
Early dollhouses were all handmade, but after the Industrial Revolution and World War II, they were mass produced and sold at a more affordable price. At the high end of the market, some dollhouses exist as established artifacts costing millions of dollars, displayed in museums.
One of the most devoted and accomplished collectors of dollhouses was the Hollywood actress Colleen Moore. It’s hard to say if many moviegoers remember her roles on the big screen today; however, her dedication to her Fairy Castle, which found a place in a Chicago museum in 1949, has made her a dollhouse world icon.
Colleen Moore was born on August 19, 1899, and at the age of 15 began to work as a film actress during the silent era. She became a star during her highly paid acting career, popularizing the bobbed haircut as a fashion trend. Considered the ultimate flapper, she “put her stamp on American social history, creating in dozens of films the image of the wide-eyed, insouciant, flapper with her bobbed hair and short skirts,” said The New York Times. Unfortunately, none of her dozens of films were preserved, including her most celebrated one, Flaming Youth, in 1923.
When sound was introduced to motion pictures, Moore decided to take a break from acting, and after returning to try talking films, and they didn’t succeed, she permanently withdrew from acting by the 1930s. She supported herself through investments as a partner in the Merrill Lynch firm. She became known as an unusually shrewd investor.
Alongside her passion for movies, Colleen cherished a love of dollhouses. Both of these played a huge role throughout her life. Her aunts recognized her other obsession and bought her the miniature furniture for her first dollhouse. Then there was the second dollhouse, which was quickly followed by another one and, later, many more…
In 1928, with the help of Harold Grieve, former set designer, and architect, Moore constructed the small home of her dreams. And, indeed, she thought small. The dollhouse is nine feet square with a twelve-foot high tower. Yet its interior is filled with most exceptional miniatures and details on which she spared no expense. The house features about 1,500 miniatures, such as bear-skin rugs, designer furniture, and fine art artifacts. Among these pocket-sized treasures is a painting by Walt Disney, a tiny Bible, a replica of King Arthur’s round table, and three statues of the goddess Isis.
When “The Colleen Moore Dollhouse (Fairy Castle)” was established as a featured exhibit at the Museum of Science and History in Chicago in the early 1950s, its value was estimated at $500 000. Its current worth is an estimated $7 million and it is seen by more than 1.5 million people a year. “Every room looks as if someone had just left it,” the museum proclaims.
During the Great Depression, Moore organized a national dollhouse tour around the country, so that it could be seen in the toy departments of all the major department stores. Her aim was to raise funds for children’s charities.
Moore continued to work on the dollhouse for the rest of her life. She formed a television production company in the 1960s and published two books. She was married four times, and died in Los Angeles at the age
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Her awe-inspiring Fairy Castle dollhouse underwent a major conservation operation, during which long-hidden artifacts in the castle were revealed and put on display.
It is in her dollhouse that Colleen Moore will be remembered.