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The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The…
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The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright (2004)

by Jean Nathan

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
What made me pick up a second-hand copy of Jean Nathan's The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll I can't recall. But, after reading the prologue, I stopped at the local library branch and checked out four of Dare Wright's children's books.

As a child, I had never read the stories of Edith, a doll who is lonely until the arrival of Mr. Bear and Little Bear. Edith and Little Bear pursue mischief and adventure that often finishes with Edith's rear-end over Mr. Bear's knee. The text is simple, but the photographs are not. Dare diligently posed Edith, often in hand-made clothes, and her teddy bear friend in complex environments that were both fantasy and real. To look at Edith, with her blonde hair and heavy bangs, sideways glance, and absent smile, you might think of a classic girls' toy. But once you know the life of her owner, you see Dare Wright in plastic and felt - her anxiety, childhood absences, and sexual hesitation finally manifested.

Edith gets spanked by Mr. Bear (while Little Bear watches) in The Lonely Doll
Nathan's fascinatingly rich biography brings intimacy between Dare and the reader. To highlight Dare's life in a few sentences will leave out the emotional tenderness and bizarre passions that Nathan captures. However, an overview will reveal new meanings in Dare's strangely dark children's stories.

Her mother was Edie Stevenson Wright, a famous portrait painter who was serious about her ego and more serious about her looks. Dare had an older brother Blaine, who disappeared from her and her mother's life when Dare was just 3. As a child with few friends, Dare proved herself to be as artistic as her mother, and even more beautiful. More than anything in life, Dare wanted to please her mother, a goal she would maintain until Edie's death.

In her twenties, Dare dabbled in theater and modeling, but with little success and certainly without passion. Longing for family, Dare set out to find her brother. When the two reconnected, Dare's passion was ignited. Their love was both familial and romantic; Nathan's elaboration of their relationship leaves the reader uncomfortable. Dare became engaged to a friend of Blaine's, though never went through with the wedding and never made any effort at relationships outside of those with her brother and mother.

Dare finally found career comfort behind the camera, as a fashion photographer and then as a children's book author. Her first book, The Lonely Doll, was a huge success, though the spanking scene made some wonder. In all, Dare wrote and photographed 19 children's books, most of them with doll Edith as the main character. In these books, she also found friendship - particularly in Edith and Little Bear. Dare seemed to participate in the real world of adults through her children's toys' staged escapades.

playing dress-up in Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand
Common themes in Dare's fantasy books parallel her real life paranoia and anxieties. Edith, named for Dare's mother, is lonely and desperate for a friend. When she finally finds one, it's not another doll, but a teddy bear, adorable but masculine, kind-hearted but stubborn. Their friendship echos Dare's relationship with her brother. Edith and Little Bear often play dress up, an enjoyable past-time for Dare and her mother, who often photographed these play sessions. As a consequence of misbehaving, Edith often ended up angering Mr. Bear - the father she never knew. Mr. Bear would threaten leaving and Edith would beg forgiveness with an almost sadomasochistic tinge. A good spanking and some stern words to behave, or else, are followed by tears and hugs that end the story. ( )
  librarianshannon | Oct 23, 2011 |
There are two telling reviews on Amazon.com for The Lonely Doll:one entitled "Paging Dr. Freud" and the other entitled "Dolly Dearest." Both of these monikers are apt for this biography of The Lonely Doll's author, Dare Wright. Dare Wright, the product of a fabulously dysfunctional marriage of a failed actor/writer and a portrait artist was raised by her narcissistic mother who denied that her divorced husband was alive and that she also had a son whom she abandoned after she divorced her husband. Dare was also initially ignored and only used by her mother as an attractive accessory to her active social life. Later on, as mother Edie became older, she attached herself more tightly (and jealously) to her daughter - going on dates with her, taking all holidays with her and even sleeping in the same bed.

Dare, never grows up and has feelings of abandonment throughout her life. To cope she immerses herself in a life of fantasy - dressing up, having a desultory acting and modeling career and finally carving out a career for herself as a photographer. Ultimately, at her mother's apartment, she discovers an old doll she had as a child. She names this doll Edith and it assumes the role of her own child and, along with two Teddy bears who are symbols of the father who abandoned her and the brother who was taken from her, she develops a new "family" to replace the one she never had in real life.

This new "family" becomes the basis for a series of "Lonely Doll" children's books that were popular from the late 1950's through the early 1980's. Through these stories, Dare expressed her own fears of abandonment and her desire to have a safe haven in a stable family. Many people now find these stories extremely disturbing (as evidenced by the customer reviews on the Amazon web site), but the books, three of which were re-released in the 1990's, remain popular to this day.

Dare and her mother, Edie's, lives were similarly disturbing. Her life is truly a version of "Mommy Dearest" with Edie being pretty much the archetypal monster mother, and ultimately, she had a very sad end. Paging Dr. Freud, indeed. ( )
  etxgardener | Aug 1, 2011 |
I love me a weird read, and this was certainly one. You just have to read it to believe it all, and it's true!! Frighteningly sad....Poor Dare I felt so sorry for her! Going to have to keep this one and read it again! ( )
  TFS93 | May 25, 2011 |
This is one of the best biographies I have read in years. It tells of Dare Wright's sad, strange life. A life that should have enjoyed fame from modeling, writing & photography, was tarnished due to the domineering instincts of her mother. ( )
1 vote TheCelticSelkie | Aug 29, 2007 |
Biography of Dare Wright, who wrote creepy children’s books with black and white photos of a little girl and a stuffed bear. This is a very melodramatic story with lots of glamorous photos of Dare, who was a fashion icon. It is NOT an autobiography so beware of the conclusions the author seems comfortable with making.
1 vote comradesara | Jul 19, 2007 |
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Epigraph
My childhood bends beside me. Too far for me to lay a hand there once or lightly. Mine is far and his secret as our eyes. Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned. --James Joyce, Ulysses
Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered. --W.H. Auden, "The Dyer's Hand"
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For W. E. N.
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Prologue: It was on the first day of spring that the oddest image floated into my mind: the cover of a children's book I hadn't seen or even thought of in over thirty years.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312424922, Paperback)

In 1957, a children’s book called The Lonely Doll was published. With its pink-and-white-checked cover and photographs featuring a wide-eyed doll, it captured the imaginations of young girls and made the author, Dare Wright, a household name. Close to forty years after its publication, the book was out of print but not forgotten. When the cover image inexplicably came to journalist Jean Nathan one afternoon, she went in search of the book--and ultimately its author. Nathan found Dare Wright living out her last days in a decrepit public hospital in Queens, New York. Over the next five years, Nathan pieced together Dare Wright’s bizarre life of glamour and painful isolation to create this mesmerizing biography of a woman who struggled to escape the imprisonment of her childhood through her art.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:26 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Traces the life of the author of the children's classic, "The Lonely Doll," recounts her work in modeling and photography, the loss of her brother in childhood, her ill-fated marriage plans, and the influence of her controlling mother.

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