Why lie? I first picked up Colleen Moore’s 1968 autobiography, Silent Star, because I wanted to read about the dollhouse. Yes, Moore is a pivotal figure in early Hollywood. Yes, Flaming Youth is considered one of the defining pieces of flapper culture. But it was the dollhouse that grabbed me.
The Colleen Moore dollhouse is indeed something to see, and plenty of people do: since 1949 the Fairy Castle has been on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where once can marvel at the perfection of the elaborate interiors, the world’s tiniest Bible, and the miniature paintings contributed by Walt Disney. And the memoir does not stint on details about the house’s furnishing, its financing, the dozens of Hollywood designers and artist friends Moore tapped to decorate the fairy castle, which as a touring attraction would raise a great deal of money for children’s charities. (Necessary to mention for those who want to suggest a grown woman is “arrested” for squandering time and money on such an enterprise—or, indeed, reading about it obsessively.)
Even if an elaborate, fairy tale–themed Deco dollhouse with working electricity leaves you cold—I admit, I find this inexplicable—Silent Star makes for absorbing reading. Moore herself, who was one of the biggest box-office attractions of her era, comes off as smart, canny, and impressive, and not remotely arrested. Her portrait of the young film industry is sharp and illuminating. Oh, and she was one of the first women to bob her hair, in what F. Scott Fitzgerald termed “the most fateful haircut since Samson’s.”
Moore chopped her locks for the 1923 movie Flaming Youth, which, based on the lurid best seller by Samuel Hopkins Adams, was pure youth culture. The studio played up its scandalous appeal. Ads boasted of the film’s “neckers, petters, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure mad daughters, [and] sensation craving mothers”—although in fact the adaptation toned down some of the source material’s racier themes, as adaptations are wont to do. With self-important self-effacement, in full-on voice-of-his-generation mode, Fitzgerald himself declared, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch.”
Flaming Youth is a famously “lost” film—much of it was destroyed. The trailer remains as a monument to its vitality, as well as its star’s youthful charm. In honor of Colleen Moore’s birthday, I highly recommend you give yourself a thrill and watch it:
Although, if you just want to ogle the dollhouse, well, no one will judge. After all, it was Moore herself who wrote, “A flapper is just a little girl trying to grow up—in the process of growing up.”
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.