Review

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright

by Jean Nathan



Remember the seminal books of your youth? For journalist Jean
Nathan, that book was THE LONELY DOLL. First published in 1957,
with its pink and white gingham cover, this book featured
photographs of a little blond-haired doll named Edith, and it put
its author, Dare Wright, on the map. Almost 40 years later, with
the book long since out of print, Nathan decided to find out a
little more about its author. What she found saddened and shocked
her.

First, she set about getting a copy of the book, which was no easy
feat. After many attempts to locate Wright, Nathan simply opened
the phone book and there was the author's address. It was with both
anticipation and a little dread that she wrote to her. What if
Wright was dead? Is it better not to know? Within a few weeks, she
received her answer. Brook Ashley was a friend of the Wright family
and explained that Dare was in a New York hospital on life support.
Since there were no living relatives, Brook stepped in to act as
her legal guardian. She was touched by Nathan's letter and began
regaling her with the story of Dare's life.

Dare Wright was the second child born to Edith Stevenson and Ivan
Wright in 1914. Both parents had artistic leanings. Wright was a
failed actor and ultimately a theater critic, and Edith, known as
Edie, desperately longed to study art abroad but was forced to
abandon that dream when she married. Their first child was a son
named Blaine. The family shuttled back and forth between Toronto
and New York. Edie and Ivan's marriage was strained from the
beginning and, after the children were born, quickly began to
disintegrate. They divorced and Edie took young Dare and settled in
Cleveland, while Blaine stayed with Ivan. Early on, the
relationship between mother and daughter could best be described as
oddly intense. Dare, being so young at the time of the split, was
never told she had a brother and barely saw her father again. She
learned of Blaine's existence much later, and the two got to be
extremely close when Dare was a young woman living in New York
City.

Because Edie was now a divorcee, Dare became her constant
companion, accompanying her on trips to Europe and their annual
summer jaunt to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Edie became a
well-known and much sought-after portrait painter. Dare, who was
always a beautiful girl, decided to move to New York City in the
1940s and pursue a career as a model. She did quite well, even
gracing the cover of Cosmopolitan. Despite her steady
modeling work, Dare always maintained outside interests, something
she and her mother would practice on their many trips together.
Dare picked up photography, probably from her mother, who
frequently used Dare as a model, sometimes in provocative nude
shots.

As she grew older and modeling jobs dwindled, Dare decided to
create a children's book featuring photographs of her favorite
doll, Edith, named after the most important and influential person
in her life. Published in 1957, THE LONELY DOLL was a sensation and
spawned a whole series that lasted into the early 1980s. Some of
the better-known books include THE LONELY DOLL LEARNS A LESSON and
EDITH AND MR. BEAR. The books often mirrored the loneliness and
isolation Dare felt. With her controlling and all-consuming mother,
her books were the only thing that she herself could control.

Nathan does a wonderful job of telling the story of Dare's (and by
extension, Edie's) life and the complex relationship between mother
and daughter, life and art. The intimacy, competitiveness, jealousy
and loyalty that framed their lives paints a vivid but ultimately
sad portrait of a woman who was never really free to live her own
life and who found solace through her books. It's a riveting and
well-researched book that engages the reader whether or not they
are familiar with the book at its center.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 23, 2011

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright
by Jean Nathan

  • Publication Date: September 2, 2004
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805076123
  • ISBN-13: 9780805076127