Colleen Moore’s doll house in a frame grab from CBS “Sunday Morning.”
Note: This is an encore post from 2015.
From the beginning of time, people have been collectors. Objects as diverse as paintings, stamps, shells, rocks, postcards, photographs, baseballs, or even furniture have been compiled for the joy they brought to those acquiring them. Individuals such as J. P. Morgan, Henri Francis du Pont, Henry Huntington, and William Randolph Hearst created large assemblages of objects, which are now open for research and visits by the general public. Hearst’s “Enchanted Hill” on the Central Coast of California is now known as the stupendous Hearst Castle, filled with gorgeous and exquisite works of art from around the world, including whole magnificent rooms saved from mansions and castles in the process of being demolished.
Silent film actress Colleen Moore, the effervescent embodiment of the jazz-mad 1920s flapper, collected doll houses and small miniatures from the time she was a child. In the late 1920s, she began assembling what became her masterpiece, a luxurious doll’s house that reflected every young girl’s romantic dreams of what it meant to be a princess. Moore’s “Enchanted Castle,” a Lilliputian relative of Hearst’s “Enchanted Hill,” rivaled the newspaper magnate’s Hearst Castle for its unique works of art and outstanding craftsmanship.
Mary Mallory’s latest book, “Living With Grace: Life Lessons from America’s Princess,” is now on sale.
A booklet on Colleen Moore’s doll house, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
In her autobiography, “Silent Star,” Moore states that her fairy castle grew out of her father, Charles Morrison’s, idea, evolving out of the series of doll houses that he and her mother created for her. He made her a simple one composed of cigar boxes when she was two, which even contained a few pieces of miniature furniture. As she grew older, the houses and furniture became more elaborate and pretty.
During the late 1920s, as the family was traveling to Hawaii to escape her husband John McCormick’s drinking, her father suggested why not build a fairy castle to house what was known as “Kathleen’s Collection,” an amassing of small items and objects started by her aunts, and which continued to grow with additions from Moore and her friends. Mr. Morrison suggested hiring a real architect and artisans to construct something meaningful, worthy of a fairy tale princess. As time went on, working on the castle would become something of a refuge for her, an object of happiness to focus on instead of her personal heartbreak. She would turn personal heartbreak into something of joy for others.
Moore quickly realized that something so elaborate and pretty should be available for visits by anyone. During recuperation in the hospital after surgery to repair her broken back in 1925, Moore became interested in helping disabled children, and decided to call Children’s Hospital about possible tea events showing off the doll house.She quickly realized that it needed to be more accessible, more open to others, in a nationwide tour.
Once back in Los Angeles, Moore hired Horace Jackson, set and art director at MGM and later First National, as architect in 1928. It was he who suggested that the castle be constructed to appear as if it was lifted from the pages of a fairy tale, with one inch equaling one foot, measuring nine feet square and twelve feet tall at its highest point. Art director Harold Grieve, who had helped create the striking interior design of Moore’s Bel-Air mansion, was hired as decorative consultant. Grieve coined the term, “Early Fairie,” to describe its unique interior design.
The organ in the chapel actually played, according to Picture Play magazine.
Moore’s father acted as chief contractor and engineer, renting an empty shop in Glendale in which to construct the elaborate castle. Jerry Rouleau served as master-technician. They recognized that each room must exist separately, to facilitate easier moving and touch ups. Each room was first built in wood and then cast in aluminum to give it strength, before a jeweler polished each room and painting and decoration commenced.
Several of the workers were hired from First National, where they built miniature sets. Others worked in various craft areas, or were unemployed laborers, giving them work in the mid of the Great Depression. It would take more than 200 individuals seven years to complete the more than 2000 items, many of them unique, crafted by over 700 artisans and crafts workers. Moore described those who designed and worked on the Castle as members of the “Goofus Club,” because they all had to be slightly crazy to give so much to such an elaborate confection.
Several outside people joined her “Goofus Club” for their contributions. Italian Guglielmo Cini created a tiny, refined brush set for the fairy princess, using very fine white fox hairs for the brush. He even designed a miniature engagement ring in a tiny box to be displayed in her bedroom. A Midwestern jeweler fashioned Moore’s diamond and emerald dress clips into art deco platinum chairs for the boudoir as well. George Townsend Cole drew a series of murals throughout the residence.
Only the best would suffice for Moore’s fabulous fairy tale princess. Running water and electricity served the home, which required special works and construction. The Chicago Miniature Lamp Works created light bulbs the size of a grain of wheat to illuminate the chandeliers, all engineered by Sidney Hickox. Colleen Moore herself turned over much of her jewelry, which was fashioned into an elegant gold chandelier, with Beverly Hills jeweler Mr. Crouch employing the diamonds, pearls, and other jewels to add sparkle to the $50,000 item. Distilled water surged throughout the property, stored in the Castle’s tallest tower circulated throughout the property through a series of pumps. To aid in taking the building apart, electrical and water systems in each room could be separated.
Upon completion, the elaborate castle was anchored to a fluffy white cloud, appearing to float on gossamer wings in the twinkly moonlight, casting an even more romantic glow.
On February 22, 1935, announcements appeared in New York newspapers, announcing that Colleen Moore and her fairy castle would appear at the Herald Square Macy’s store. Fifteen wooden crates lined in rubber would carry the individual parts of the house in its special car on the Santa Fe Chief, accompanied by armed guard and its eight member crew. The fabulous doll house was insured for $435,000. Moore told the press, “Now that it is completed, I would be selfish not to do some real good with it. My plan is to book it on a tour of the world, charging small admission fees and donating the proceeds to hospitals devoted to the care of handicapped children.”
The interior of Colleen Moore’s doll house, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Upon completion, publicity man Jerry Fitzgerald approached the May Company about exhibiting the fairy castle in its department stores, arranging a contract which paid Moore and her workers’ expenses in travels across the country, after the first exhibition in the New York Macy’s Department Store.
Colleen Moore and her parents arrived in New York City in late March, 1935 before the grand opening party for the fairy castle’s three year tour. On April 5, 1935, Sara Delano Roosevelt, mother of the President of the United States, laid the gold cornerstone in the castle at a party for 1000 guests, broadcast live over WOR radio. Mrs. Roosevelt, the President of Macy’s, and former Governor Al Smith all spoke on what New York hospitals had contributed to helping sick children.
Assembled in the corner of the luggage department, the gorgeous castle welcomed visitors paying 10 cents in the morning and 15 cents in the evenings beginning April 8, with all proceeds benefiting the United Hospital Fund. The New York Times reported on April 9 that more than 6,000 people viewed the fairy castle on its first day, getting five minutes each to examine it in detail. Adults trod one path and children another in viewing it. At the completion of its two week run, an estimated 100,000 people visited the “Enchanted Castle,” earning a gross of $18,000 for charity.
Over the next three years, Moore traveled with the house all over the country, starting in large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, before visiting such places as Pittsburgh, Ames, Iowa, Rochester, New York, Detroit, Michigan, and places in between. She even moved to the East Coast in 1936 to ease travel arrangements. She described it as “exactly like the dreams of my childhood, except that it is real.”
Multiple items promoted the fairy castle in print form. A cut out paper toy book was published in 1930, allowing people to set up their own versions. Moore wrote a book about the unique doll house, and a children’s fairy tale book was also written to promote it.
Words cannot describe the unique and gorgeous features found within. Fairy tale murals dot the house, as well as miniature tapestries sewn by world renowned tapestry experts in Europe. Artisans from around the world created other trinkets. Books like “Within the Fairy Castle” and “Colleen Moore’s Doll House” delectably describe the fantastic interiors inside.
The Enchanted Garden outside features a wrought bronze gate, an actual weeping willow tree shedding real tears, silver bells and cockle shells. Vine-covered castle walls feature grape clusters of pearls. Sequined flowers bloom only in the moonlight, and a miniature reproduction of Napoleon’s coach awaits its delicate princess. The running fountain resembles Rome’s Spanish steps
The Great Hall welcomes guests, dominated by its romantic, golden freestanding staircase. Art Deco etched glass windows dominate one wall. A floor of fine ivory tile inlaid with rose vines of gold greets visitors, with a Kohl vase from the Valley of the Kings located at the foot of the staircase. Leon Gordon’s painting of “Irene,” modeled by Moore, decorates a wall, as does murals by Willy Pogany, Lisbeth Stone Barrett,and Walt Disney’s drawing of Mickey and Minnie Mouse as the King and Queen of Hearts, opposite George Melman’s painting of his comic character Jiggs as Old King Cole. A console radio less than three inches tall in the corner actually works, as does a miniature pistol. Two armored knights standing sentinel outside a door were donated by Rudolf Valentino from his own collection. At Christmas time, a 10 inch tall Christmas tree decorates the hall.
A gold and ivory organ with 100 keys dominates the chapel, and plays music through remote control. Helga Brabon designed the stained glass windows, with a fragment of stained glass from Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence, blown out during the Blitz, on displaying a corner. The floor is composed of inlaid ivory and a mosaic of gold features Biblical symbols. A tiny Bible containing the entire New Testament lies here a 500 year old carved ivory crucifix and a gold baptismal font.
The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s time-lapse video of the restoration.
Chinese craftsman took nine months to complete the rose quartz and jade floor in the drawing room, with the golden chandelier bedecked in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. James M. Flagg’s drawing of Moore stands on a table. A rosewood grand piano features handwritten miniature scores of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,”Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story,” and Carrie Jacob Bonds’ “The End of a Perfect Day.”
Every type of book awaits the princess in her packed library designed by Grieve. Miniature books featuring excerpts of the works of George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, William Randolph Hearst, Frances Marion, Sinclair Lewis, Booth Tarkington, Arthur Conan Doyle, Willa Cather, Clare Boothe Luce, John Steinbeck, Thornton Wilder, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Daphne du Maurier, Edna Ferber, James M. Cain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in their own handwriting line the shelves.The smallest bible in the world from the 1840s sits on a table, given her by Antonio Moreno after the completion of “Her Wild Oat.” On another table sits Moore’s own “The Enchanted Castle.” In the corner would be a postage stamp sized autograph book, featuring the signatures of J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth II, and United States Presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon, when not locked in a safe.A photograph album of European royalty and another of movie stars await in the corner.
The grand dining room awaits King Arthur and his knights, with chairs festooned with their colors sitting under burnished walnut and polished marble walls. Tapestries needlepointed in Vienna with the King Arthur story deck the walls. A full dining set in solid gold sits at each place.
A plethora of real Royal Doulton china with the crest of Queen Mary sits in the kitchen, decorated with elaborate fairy tale murals on each wall. Real copper pots hang from railings. A bas-relief of “The Wizard of Oz” decorates the kitchen wall out in the garden.
The princess bedroom is highlighted by a golden bed shaped like a swan, with mother of pearl flowers, shell pink walls, and stained glass windows. Golden instruments formed out of jewelry await her call. Battersea Enamel chairs and settees are decorated with gold and diamond jewelry boxes and the world’s smallest toilet set, featuring fox hair in the brush.
Another frame grab from the Museum of Science and Industry’s video.
A lavish Art Deco bathroom features crystal and jade green etched walls, a six-sided mirror shows silver cupids holding seashells, and concealed lighting gives a radiant glow.
The Prince’s bedroom is bronze with enameled blue walls, and a ceiling with gold fresco reliefs, decorated with items from Russia and Asia. A walnut bed, gold cannons and swords, and a Russian “mink” bear with tiny mouse teeth furnish the room.
His bath features “reclining mermaids pouring water from seashells into an alabaster tube guarded by gold lions, per the Museum of Science and Industry’s 25 cent “Colleen Moore’s Doll House: the Story of the Most Exquisite Toy in the World.”
“Within the Fairy Castle” and other books estimate that $650,000 was raised for charity between 1935 and 1940, $7 million in today’s money.
In 1937, Moore found her own prince, marrying widower Homer Hargraves of Chicago and becoming a mother to his two children, her dream come true. She slowed down her tours with the castle, and eventually donated the grand fairy castle to her hometown Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1949. They are open for tours every day except Christmas, with the “Enchanted Castle” one of the most popular items on tour.
In the last couple of years, the Museum spent $200,000 for renovations to it, repairing and replacing the original electrical and plumbing systems and making them sustainable. They also performed paper conservation on the books, vacuuming, repairing the spines, and consolidating aging paper. Upon completion of this work, CBS’ “Sunday Morning” recorded a story with a virtual tour of the castle.
Colleen Moore’s “Enchanted Castle” still enthralls children and adults alike as it provides a Lilliputian example of Hearst Castle, a miniature treasure trove of art, furniture, and rare items, designed to entertain and raise money for handicapped children.