A Gift from the Lonely Doll

Dare Wright was a model and later a photographer for magazines, including Good Housekeeping and Vogue. She was raised by her mother, who was quite a successful portrait painter.

In the late 50s she released her first children's book The Lonely Doll, about a doll who is adopted by a family of bears and the adventures they have together. The series were very successful, appearing on the New York Times bestseller list. However, they later faded away and for a long time they were out of print. Over the past few years her books have been reissued (you can see her official web site for more information, linked at the end of this post).

In total, Dare Wright released 18 children's books, not all about the Lonely Doll. Sometimes she used herself as a model, and these images of her are a bit reminiscent of Cindy Sherman's earlier work (although this was before Cindy Sherman's career had begun). Her shots are elaborate and carefully staged.

The Lonely Doll books are illustrated with photographic tableaux, which was a very unusual style at the time and seemed to make a very strong impression on the children who read them. Adult fans who grew up with her are quite fierce in their devotion. Seeing images of a world where dolls were alive, and seeing the realized work of an adult who enjoyed playing with dolls, too, made a very strong impression on them.

Neither of us had Dare Wright books as children. However, it's really interesting for us to see the pioneering work of someone who photo-illustrates, as we do.

A Gift from the Lonely Doll was actually a gift to us from our publisher, Dimiter Savoff. It is set at Christmas. Edith, the doll, wants to surprise Mr. Bear with a muffler. She knits it in secret, always keeping it mostly hidden in her knitting basket. As a result she cannot see how long the muffler is growing....

Recently, a biography about the life of Dare Wright was released, so there is quite a bit of information online about her now. Unfortunately, her life was quite troubled and it would be a good idea for parents to accompany their children on google while finding out more about her. Her official web site seems fairly child-friendly as of this posting. If you would like to see more of her books back in print, you can join her estate's campaign. Dare Wright also has a facebook page, which has some really great images and illustrations from the books.

This is slightly off-topic, but one interesting thing about Dare Wright: her brother invented a very successful fishing lure and retired on an island at a young age. Later, he felt badly for all the fish that had been caught with his lure, so he took out an advertisement against his lure, the "Phoebe". (Unfortunately, this only increased sales.)

The most recent release, Make Me Real, from the 1970s, seems appealing. Maybe we will hunt it and give a follow-up review.


  1. I like your post and the Edith photos--I've linked. http://deweystreehouse.blogspot.com/2010/12/december-books-day-22-gift-from-lonely.html

  2. oh, I remember the Lonely Doll! My best friend had the book, and whenever I see pictures of Edith I think of my dear friend and her family. Thanks for your post, brought back some lovely memories of 50 years ago.

  3. That's so lovely, Laurie. Thank-you.