Almost every little girl growing up in northern Illinois since 1949 has pleaded with her parents at one time or another to see Colleen Moore's world-famous doll house at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Colleen came to Illinois after she had already had a career as a major star of silent films. In the 1920s, so many young women wanted to immitate the look and fashions of Colleen Moore that millions of them cut their hair short for the rage of that decade, a hair do called "the bob."
Colleen was an icon of the Jazz Age. F. Scott Fitgerald, another icon of the Roaring Twenties, wrote of Colleen, "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." Colleen's real birth name was Kathleen Morrison. She was born in Port Huron, Michigan on Aug. 19, 1900. Her father was an irrigation engineer. Colleen Moore's uncle was Walter C. Howey, an editor at the Chicago Daily Tribune (the word "daily" was dropped from the mast in 1963). Walter Howey was known for his colorful speech and mannerisms and his aggressive and sometimes shady methods of getting scoops. Walter Howey was the inspiration for the character "Walter Burns" in the 1928 stage play and subsequent films called The Front Page. The play was written by Chicago newspapermen Charles MacArthur (brother of philanthropist John D. MacArthur, husband of actress Helen Hayes, father of actor James MacArthur) and Ben Hecht. To make things more confusing, there really was a good reporter named Walter Burns who worked for the Tribune in that era but the character was based on Colleen's uncle. Howey was a friend of the controversial film producer D.W. Griffith who helped Colleen get into films while still in her teens.
Colleen's first starring role was Annie in Little Orphan Annie (silent 1918). Her breakout role was that of Patricia Fentriss, the original "flapper" in the 1923 film Flaming Youth. Of her 63 feature films, all but the last few after 1928 were silent. Her last film was in 1934. For a list of Colleen's films, click here. She did adapt to sound in pictures but her trademark character of the flapper did not fit in with the Depression and she was also getting older for the types of roles she was famous for. In her heyday in 1928, she was the top box office star making $12,500 per week when most American families were living on an income of $2,000 per year. During her success in films in the 1920s, Colleen started building her famous doll house that later became known as The Fairy Castle. It was an extremely elaborate doll house designed by some great Hollywood artists and set makers. Work started on The Fairy Castle in 1928 and finished about 1936.
In 1937, Colleen, now retired from the movies, moved to Chicago when she married her fourth husband, Chicago financier Homer Hargrave, a widower with two children. Hargrave was a partner of H.M. Calvin, Co, which later became Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, & Bean (the name Bean was later replaced by Smith). For more than 27 years from 1937 to Homer's death in 1964, Colleen had a happy married life in Chicago and raised Homer's two children. She was active in several Chicago charities and civic affairs and served on the board of the Chicago Art Insitutute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Women's Board of Passavant Hospital (now called Northwestern Memorial Hospital). In 1949, she loaned The Fairy Castle to the Museum of Science and Industry for a display after it had toured the country for a few years. In the 1970s, Colleen continued to stay involved in conservation of the doll house which was insured for almost a half million dollars in the 1930s. In 1971 she published Colleen Moore's Doll House (Doubleday & Company). She finally made her doll house a permanent gift to the Museum of Science and Industry in 1976. After 34 years living in Chicago, Colleen moved back to the warmer climate of California in 1971 and passed away there in 1988. If you have not been to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry for a few years, you might want to check out what's happening at the museum here and take along a daughter or granddaughter or neice or little sister to see the doll house. To read more about the famous doll house, click here.