Classic Movie Travels: Colleen Moore
Kathleen Morrison, later known as Colleen Moore, was born in Port Huron, Michigan, to Charles and Agnes Kelly Morrison on August 19, 1899. Moore’s family moved frequently, residing in cities like Hillsdale, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Warren, Pennsylvania; and Tampa, Florida. Additionally, her family would typically spend summers in Chicago, where Moore’s Aunt Lib and Uncle Walter Howey lived. Howey, in particular, was well connected, as he was the managing editor of the Chicago Examiner, owned by William Randolph Hearst.
At age 15, Moore already had dreams of starring in films. Moore kept a scrapbook in which she would paste various pictures of her favorite actors after clipping them from motion picture magazines. However, Moore kept a page blank, reserved for when she would one day become a star. Reportedly, she and her brother began their own stock company, performing on a stage created from a piano packing crate. Incidentally, Chicago’s Essanay Studios was located fairly close to the Howey residence. Moore appeared in the background of several Essanay films, typically as a face in a crowd. Since film producer D.W. Griffith was in debt to Howey for helping him get both The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) through the Chicago censorship board, he was able to secure a screen test for Moore. Her contract with Griffith’s Triangle-Fine Arts was conditional, as Moore possessed one brown eye and one blue eye. Her eyes photographed favorably, so Moore left for Hollywood with her grandmother and her mother as chaperones and began her film career.
Moore’s first credited role was in The Bad Boy (1917), for Triangle Arts. This appearance was followed by An Old Fashioned Young Man (1917) and Hands Up (1917), gradually allowing Moore to develop her career and become noticed and enjoyed by audiences. She later signed a contract with the Selig Polyscope Company, appearing in films like A Hoosier Romance (1918) and Little Orphant Annie (1918), leading her to become popular among moviegoers. Moore also performed with Fox Film Corporation, Ince Productions—Famous Players-Lasky, and Universal Film Manufacturing Company, before completing the next stage of her career with the Christie Film Company.
Moore was married to producer John McCormick from 1923 until their divorce in 1930.
Moore starred in Flaming Youth (1923), solidifying her image as a flapper; however, Clara Bow soon became a rival to Moore with a similar image. Moore continued her film career with appearances in comedies and dramas. When Moore worked in The Desert Flower (1925), she injured her neck and spent six weeks in a bod cast. After her recovery, she finished filming and was able to leave for a publicity tour throughout Europe.
Two of Moore’s key passions were dolls and films; each of these interests would become prominent throughout her life. Though approximately half of her films are now lost, Moore is, remembered as a delightful silent film actress by film aficionados. Moore’s films would often feature her as a good girl putting on a bad girl façade, and always carrying out her roles with panache. Her aunts, however, took care to indulge her in another great passion, which is the focus of this article: dollhouses. They frequently brought her miniature furniture from their many trips, with which she furnished the first of a sequence of dollhouses.
In 1928, Moore enlisted the help several professionals to help build a massive dollhouse for her growing collection of miniature furnishings. The professionals included Moore’s father as chief engineer, set designer Horace Jackson, and interior designer Harold Grieve. Cameraman Henry Freulich worked on the lighting, which was installed by an electrician. This dollhouse has an area of nine square feet, with the tallest tower standing several feet high and the entire structure weighing one ton. This eventually became known as Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.
By 1929, the advent of sound had taken the film industry by storm, leading Moore to take a hiatus from acting. She married stockbroker Albert P. Scott in 1932 and they resided in Bel Air together until their 1934 divorce. Moore’s final film appearance occurred in that year in The Scarlet Letter (1934).
In 1937, Moore married stockbroker Homer P. Hargrave, remaining with him until his passing in 1964. Hargrave would ultimately provide much of the funding for her dollhouse. Moore adopted Hargrave’s children, Homer and Judy, to whom she remained devoted throughout her life. In the 1960s, Moore formed a television production company with King Vidor and published two books: How Women Can Make Money in the Stock Market and Silent Star: Colleen Moore Talks About Her Hollywood. She remained a popular interview subject and frequent quest at various film festivals, discussion the silent film era.
Moore married for the last time to builder Paul Magenot. They remained together until her passing on January 25, 1988, in Paso Robles, California, from cancer. She was 88 years old.
Moore’s childhood home stands at 817 Ontario St., Port Huron, Michigan.
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle survives to this day. The dollhouse made its public debut at Macy’s in New York and traveled throughout the United States, 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 museum displays the dollhouse in its own exhibit hall, which features additional miniature items from Moore’s collection, items used to store and transport pieces for the dollhouse, and information about her film career. The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 5700 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, Illinois.
In 1923, Moore and McCormick resided at 1231 S. Gramercy Place., Los Angeles, California. The home remains virtually unchanged on the exterior.
In 1925, Moore and her husband lived at 530 S. Rossmore Ave., Los Angeles, California. This home also exists today.
By 1929, Moore and her husband resided on a three-acre estate at 245 Saint Pierre Rd., Los Angeles, California. The home remains today.
In 1964, Moore co-founded the Chicago International Film Festival, which is held annually to this day.
Moore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring her work in motion pictures. The star is located at 1549 Vine St., Los Angeles, California.
Moore’s prints can be found in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre, located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
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 SocietyMagazine.