Opulence in Miniature: Coleen Moore’s Fairy Castle

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle: the great hall.
(From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; used w/o permission.)

That’s the great hall in Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, a 13-room dollhouse in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

The museum’s online exhibit page for the great hall opens with something that’s not in the room: “…the good fairy welcoming you to Fairyland….

But I’ll start with that sweeping staircase: which has no railing.

It’s not a design flaw. Colleen Moore and the folks who created this dollhouse imagined that fairies lived there. The tiny little winged fairies that became my culture’s default version of the fair folk in Victorian times, and that’s another topic.

Having wings, Moore’s fairies presumably had better balance than humans. And were arguably about as afraid from falling from that staircase as we would be of walking across a room.

At any rate, the Science and Technology Museum’s online tour of the Fairy Castle showcases the great hall in its fourth of 12 stops; after the kitchen, dining room and Cinderella’s drawing room.1

So, what’s a dollhouse doing in a museum, why am I talking about it, what’s the 13th room, and who’s Colleen Moore?

“…The Space Inside Your Mind….”

Colleen Moore and her Fairy Castle.
(From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; used w/o permission.)
(Colleen Moore in her Fairy Castle’s Magic Garden: holding Cinderella’s silver coach)

The Original Tiny House
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

A Hollywood movie star built herself a gorgeous dream home, sparing no expense on the details. The one big difference? She thought small.

“One of the most popular film actresses of her time, Colleen Moore assembled a legion of her industry colleagues to help craft this miniature home of fantastic proportions. She shared it during the Great Depression, touring the country to raise funds for children’s charities. Then this one-of-a-kind castle was welcomed into its new home at MSI, where it has enchanted children of all ages since 1949.

“…The Fairy Castle’s inhabitants are left to your imagination, as Colleen Moore always intended.

“…How does the Fairy Castle feel so alive? Every room looks as if someone had just left it. Perhaps you’ll imagine what it would be like to live in something so lavish, or wonder how things can be made that are so tiny yet realistic. The real secret of the Fairy Castle is that the space inside your mind is also part of the experience.”

Colleen Moore was America’s second-biggest box office draw in 1927, with Clara Bow in third place. But Clara Bow successfully transitioned to sound pictures. On the other hand, Coleen Moore become a partner of Merrill Lynch and was married four times.2

Someone’s probably done a compare and contrast piece on Moore and Bow, but I won’t. Not this week, at any rate.

But Seriously

Suicide risk factors. (2015) From Wikipedia, used w/o permission.About Moore’s four marriages; two ended in divorce, two with death.

On the other hand, Clara Bow was married once and tried to kill herself.

Taking those biographical details as proof that divorce leads to partnerships in financial firms and not divorcing causes suicide is possible, but strikes me as silly. Maybe not the silliest notion I’ve run across, and that’s yet another topic.

I’ve talked about suicide before, and at least mentioned marriage, but it’s been a while; so here’s a quick review.

Marriage, the Catholic version, is a sacrament: an important one. When my wife and I married, I wasn’t a Catholic, but I recognized that we were married; in a lifelong relationship. There’s more to it, of course. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601-1617, 1621-1658)

Now, about suicide. It’s a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. Even if I experience another suicidal impulse.

Each human life is sacred, a gift from God. Killing myself would be a poor way of showing appreciation: and would certainly hurt others, directly or indirectly. But the Church recognizes that grave psychological disturbances or fear exist. Finally, as a Catholic I “should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.” (Catechism, 2258, 2280-2283)

That last is a comfort to me, since a woman who meant a great deal to me killed herself. And that’s yet again another topic.

Designing an Enchanted Castle

Coleen Moore's Fairy Castle, front view: Magic Garden behind the wall and gate, and I think the Great Hall behind the Garden.
(From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; used w/o permission.)

The Story
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

“…Horace Jackson, an architect and set designer who worked for First National Studios, created the floor plan and layout of the castle with the basic idea that ‘the architecture must have no sense of reality. We must invent a structure that is everybody’s conception of an enchanted castle.’

Moore also enlisted the help of art director and interior designer Harold Grieve. Grieve had designed the interiors for Moore’s actual mansion, so he was a natural to create the interiors of her fantasy castle.

By 1935, approximately 100 people worked on the Fairy Castle. The price tag for this 8’7″ x 8’2″ x 7’7″ foot palace, containing more than 1,500 miniatures, was nearly $500,000….”

The Great Depression was in progress while Horace Jackson, Moore and about a hundred other folks spent time and money designing, building and furnishing a huge doll house.

I could focus on the allegedly appalling misuse of resources. Or on the selfless generosity Moore showed, providing employment for a hundred folks and using the result of their labor to raise money for children’s charities.

Instead, I’ll express my appreciation for the creative work of those folks; and for the circumstances which make it possible for folks to enjoy Moore’s Fairy Castle today.

The 13th Room

Coleen Moore's Fairy Castle, 'wide side.'
(From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; used w/o permission.)

I haven’t found floor plans for Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, but have worked out the relative positions of eight rooms, shown in that photo from the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

At the top, under part of the roof: the attic, “filled with all the things that were left over from the different rooms that belonged to the ancestors of the prince and the princess.”

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle: Ali Baba's cave. From 'Classic Movie Travels: Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle,' Annette Bochenek, Classic Movie Hub Blog. Used w/o permission.On the second floor, left to right: prince’s bedroom, prince’s bathroom, princess’ bedroom, princess’ bathroom. That’s your left to right. The prince’s bed and bath suite is over Cinderella’s drawing room.

Ground floor, left to right again: Cinderella’s drawing room, dining room, and kitchen.

Placing eight of a dozen rooms, or rooms and a garden, is fine; but leaves me one room shy. I still don’t know exactly where the 13th room is. But I know what it’s called: Ali Baba’s Cave, filled with gems from Coleen Moore’s collection.3

Science, Technology, Priorities and a Video

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle: the great hall, detail. From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; used w/o permission.I saw Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle once, years ago, when my son-in-law arranged a family trip to Chicago.

The Fairy Castle is an impressive piece of miniature art and sculpture.

It may seem like an odd sort of thing to find in the Museum of Science and Industry: but I suppose one justification would be that it represents the sort of fine detail work that goes into making small models. Lots of small models.

And that brings me to the motto over the Museum of Science and Industry’s rotunda: “Science discerns the laws of nature. Industry applies them to the needs of man.”

It’s been a month since I explained why I don’t see a problem with using our brains, so here goes: science and technology, studying the universe and using what we learn, is part of being human. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2292-2296)

Ethics matter, just as with everything else we do. (Catechism, 2294)

Making science and technology the center of my life would be a bad idea. The same goes for art, health, family, money or anything else that’s not God. They’re not basically bad. But my top priority should be God. (Catechism, 1723, 1852, 2112-2114)

That’s it for me this week. Except for a Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, video and the inevitable links.

Not-entirely-unrelated stuff I’ve written:

1 Fairies, a museum and a doll house:

2 Yesteryear’s stars:

3 A movie star’s dollhouse:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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