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A Silent Movie Star’s Legacy: the Fairy Dollhouse

Colleen Moore who was born Kathleen Morrison, on August 19, 1899 in Port Huron, Michigan, went on to become a legend of the silent screen. From her earliest years Colleen had two loves: dollhouses and the movies. By the age of 15, Colleen had undergone a screen test with D.W. Griffith, a film director and she was on her way. She went on to play the heroine in a variety of Hollywood Western silent movies and later talking pictures.

It was Colleen’s aunts who encouraged her other love of dollhouses and miniatures. They travelled extensively and brought her unusual miniatures for her dollhouses every trip they took. Supposedly, Colleen’s first dollhouse was an empty cigar box. As she got older it was her third husband Homer Hargrave that helped finance her love of dollhouses.

Colleen’s love of dollhouses did not diminish as she got older. In 1928, at the height of her popularity, Colleen’s father and Horace Jackson, an architect and a friend in the business of set design created a large dollhouse which is nine feet square and twelve feet high. Harold Grieve a set designer and interior designer created the stunning and unusual interior of what was first known as the Colleen Moore Dollhouse. The concept behind the dollhouse was to create a fantasy castle with no basis in reality. Other film professionals almost 700 in total are also credited with adding their talents to the dollhouse. Artists and craftsmen included lighting specialists, Chinese jade artists, and jewelers from Beverly Hills. Colleen contributed unique miniature items to the dollhouse for the rest of her life. The dollhouse contains over 2,000 miniatures and was built at an expense of $500,000.

The unique design which travelled around the country as an exhibit is modular in structure so that it can be quickly broken down and easily packed. Colleen’s Fairy Castle was used to raise money for children during the Great Depression. Between 1935 and 1939, the dollhouse exhibit visited most major cities in the United States and raised more than $650,000 for a variety of charities for children.

Eventually the Colleen Moore Dollhouse was given to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois. According to museum statistics the dollhouse is seen by approximately 1.5 million people each year. The dollhouse is now known as the Fairy Castle and is a permanent fixture of the museum.

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