Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
One of the most memorable flappers of the 1920s was actress Colleen Moore. In fact, beloved writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.” While many adore Moore’s acting in silent films as a good girl putting on a bad girl façade, fewer people are familiar with another one of her favorite creative outlets: designing and decorating dollhouses.
Two of Moore’s key passions were dolls and films; each of these interests would become prominent throughout her life. Moore’s aunts, however, were namely responsible for facilitating her love of dollhouses; they frequently brought her miniature furniture from their many trips, with which she furnished the first of a sequence of dollhouses. Though some of her dollhouses exist today, the Colleen Moore Dollhouse was her biggest dollhouse passion project.
In 1928, Moore enlisted the help several professionals to help build a massive dollhouse for her growing collection of miniature furnishings. This dollhouse has an area of nine square feet, with the tallest tower standing several feet high and the entire structure weighing one ton. The dollhouse boasts many intricacies and challenges, as the electrician had to devise a lighting system that would fit miniscule light bulbs produced by a light company that made globes for surgical instruments; furthermore, a plumber had to ensure that running water would be accessible to all water fixtures in the dollhouse. Workers even wore masks to prevent them from inhaling some of the diminutive furnishings. This particular dollhouse was dubbed the Colleen Moore Dollhouse, on which Moore worked from roughly the Great Depression until her passing. It made its debut at Macy’s in New York and traveled throughout the nation, raising approximately one half-million dollars for children’s charities. The dollhouse showcases ornate miniature furniture and art as well as the work of beyond 700 different artisans, and has been a featured exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry since the 1950s.
The Colleen Moore Dollhouse or “Fairy Castle” possesses thirteen key rooms, including: the Magic Garden, Library, Small Hall, Chapel, Great Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room, and Kitchen on the first floor; Ali Baba’s cave, the Prince’s Bedroom, the Princess’ Bedroom, and Royal Bathrooms on the second floor; and an Attic on the third floor. None of the rooms have actual dolls in them; visitors are to imagine their own fantasy residents. So, without further ado, let’s take a stroll through some of these rooms.
The Library is decorated with undersea motifs and features 65 miniature books from the 18th century, including a small Bible from 1840 that was presented to Moore by actor Antonio Moreno. In order to grow her collection of petite books, Moore commissioned modern printings of them. They were designed as one-inch, leather-bound squares with gold accents. Moore also invited authors of her day to sign the blank pages. She secured signatures from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Noel Coward, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edna Ferber, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anita Loos, John Steinbeck, and many more luminaries beyond just writers. The most valuable miniature book in the house features the signatures of Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon.
The Chapel features designs inspired by the Book of Kells and possesses an ivory floor. Stained glass windows, a gold altar, and a miniaturized silver throne modeled after the throne at Westminster Abbey all decorate the Chapel. Handwritten musical manuscripts from Stravinsky to Gershwin are piled near a beautiful organ with gold pipes, not far from a Russian icon detailed with emeralds and diamonds from a broach Moore purchased. A vigil light is showcases a diamond from Moore’s mother’s engagement ring. Moore’s parents also gave her a small vial containing a crucifix that is over 300 years old. A stained glass screen also stands in the Chapel, taken from Lambeth’s Palace after a World War II bombing raid.
The Great Hall continues the fairytale theme of the dollhouse, featuring paintings of various fairytale and folktale characters. The Great Hall displays items from fairytales like a museum of sorts. Moore commissioned a retired glassblower to fashion Cinderella’s tiny glass slippers for the dollhouse. The chairs of the Three Bears are also showcased in the dollhouse under a glass bell to prevent them from being inhaled. All paintings in the Great Hall are miniature versions of actual works of art. Additional art decorating the Great Hall includes 2000-year-old Egyptian statues, a Roman bronze bust from the first century, and many more treasures given to Moore. Two silver and gold knights from Rudolph Valentino guard the entrance to the Great Hall.
Moore’s house becomes all the more fantastic as visitors examine the upper levels. Ali Baba’s Cave boasts gems from Moore’s collection, while the nearby Royal Bedrooms complete the fairytale theme. There is a bedroom for the Prince, and one for the Princess, with each being equally ornate. The Prince’s Bedroom contains a polar bear rug, which was fashioned by a taxidermist out of ermine and the vicious teeth of a mouse. The Princess’ Bedroom houses a collection of Bristol glass, with many pieces having been contributed to Moore from strangers. The Royal Bedrooms are near the Royal Bathrooms, decorated in alabaster and diamonds. The silver spigots are functional and able to produce a fine stream of water.
Though Moore is noted as a silent film heroine, she especially impacts young and old to this day through her Fairy Castle. The Fairy Castle is visited by a constant stream of awestruck children and details about the dollhouse are shared over speakers in the exhibit hall. According to the museum, it is seen by 1.5 million people annually and is worth roughly $7 million. If you are ever in the Chicago area, Moore’s Fairy Castle is well worth a visit.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.