The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll
The Search for Dare Wright
By Jean Nathan
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805076127, 320pp.)
Publication Date: August 12, 2004
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A glamorous, haunted life unfolds in the mesmerizing biography of the woman behind a classic children's book
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 a glamorous life. Blond, beautiful Wright had begun her career as an actress and model and then turned to fashion photography before stumbling upon her role as bestselling author. But there was a dark side to the story: a brother lost in childhood, ill-fated marriage plans, a complicated, controlling mother. Edith Stevenson Wright, herself a successful portrait painter, played such a dominant role in her daughter's life that Dare was never able to find her way into the adult world. Only through her work could she speak for herself: in her books she created the happy family she'd always yearned for, while her self-portraits betrayed an unresolved tension between sexuality and innocence, a desire to belong and painful isolation.
Illustrated with stunning photographs, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll tells the unforgettable story of a woman who, imprisoned by her childhood, sought to set herself free through art.
Jean Nathan was educated at Williams College and the Columbia School of Journalism. She was a staff writer for The New York Observer and a senior editor at Connoisseur magazine. She has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Travel & Leisure, Vogue, ARTNews, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
"Most artists lead idiosyncratic existences, but few are stranger than that of Dare Wright, a beautiful and poignantly lost soul. With painstaking resolve, Jean Nathan has captured this elusive creature and, with compassion and empathy, brought her back to life. Her biography of Wright is a haunting tale, skillfully told."
-- Mark Singer, Author of Somewhere in America and staff writer, The New Yorker
"Jean Nathan has given us a haunting portrait of a haunted and heartbreaking creative life. Here is proof, if ever any was needed, that the children's books that last are those born not of lovely thoughts but of childhood's innermost necessities."-Leonard S. Marcus, author of Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon
"Reads like a novel, and a Gothic one at that, full of outsized characters, an evocatively drawn backdrop, and with a strange and compelling mystery at its heart."-Meg Wolitzer, author of The Wife
"A beguiling piece of detective work, which itself makes for a kind of fairy tale."-Stacy Schiff, author of Vera
"Although I never read The Lonely Doll as a child or saw Dare Wright's photographs, it's as if somehow I did. Nathan has done an amazing job to capture Wright's life on the page and to bring us into the household of one of the saddest dysfunctional families ever."-Cindy Sherman
"An evocative, amazing biography."-Jacki Lyden, author of Daughter of the Queen of Sheba