Yesterday, news broke of a bizarre break-in that occurred this past Saturday at actress Famke Janssen’s Greenwich Village home. The X-Men star allegedly returned after a day of running errands to find that, while none of her belongings were missing, someone had left a copy of the 1957 children’s book The Lonely Doll on a shelf in her room. According to reports, Janssen claims to not own the book. The thing is… we don’t totally believe her.
It’s not that we think she’s a liar–but we find it a little hard to believe that Janssen wasn’t affected by the book at least a little bit in her youth. According to our cursory research, members of the fashion industry have been particularly impacted by it–and Janssen did start her career as a model, after all.
For those of you who’ve also blocked out your memory of the book online news sources are calling ‘creepy‘ and ‘creeeeeeeppppyyyyy,’ here’s a refresher: Written by Dare Wright, The Lonely Doll follows Edith, a… lonely doll who lives (spoiler alert!) alone in a scary old mansion until she finds companionship in two teddy bears. At one point, Edith gets a spanking from one of the bears for applying lipstick. The story is accompanied by black and white photographs depicting the toys’ escapades, taken by Wright herself. In a word, it’s TERRIFYING. This, of course, being my own semi-biased opinion carried over from childhood, during which my mother attempted (and failed) to instill her own love of the book in me.
Or maybe she succeeded more than I knew: When we caught word of Janssen’s reverse-burglary, several of us in the office found a new commonality in our own memories of The Lonely Doll. The extreme feeing of loneliness explored throughout the story seemed to resonate with me more as an adult than as a child–and those photos that once left me with night sweats, upon being revisited some 20 years later, have taken on an ethereal, innocent–even beautiful quality. Our newly-revived interest in the book (other than, you know, burying it under a pile of toys in the hopes that our mothers wouldn’t read it to us before bed) led us to doing a bit of investigating on the impact it had made on the lives of other fashion people–who hadn’t necessarily returned home to find it eerily in their apartments.
In a 2004 piece in the New York Times, writer David Colman notes that “Many women — artistic women in particular — have discovered that they share this intense ambivalence, part warm and fuzzy nostalgia, part chilling discomfort, about The Lonely Doll.” One of those women is Anna Sui, who told Colman that she spent years searching for a copy of the book, which was out of print before being reissued nearly a decade ago. Another is Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, who, though she finds the story to be “so compelling,” decided not to give it to her daughter–she thought it was too depressing to share with an actual kid. Fashion photogs Steven Meisel and David LaChapelle are also reportedly fans, while artist Cindy Sherman apparently contemplated curating an art show about the children’s book.
Then there’s this: According to an archived “This American Life” episode from 2000, Dare Wright–who styled “Edith” after herself, but named her after her mother–actually had a pretty fruitful life in fashion before striking fear in the hearts of children everywhere with her masterwork. In her early-20s, Wright briefly worked as a model for Maidenform bras–and actually appeared on a 1951 cover of Cosmopolitan–before turning to photography. Her work went on to appear in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town and Country–no small feat by any means. She also shared a bed with her mother and contemplated marrying her own brother… but never mind all that. We’ve only read snippets of Jean Nathan’s 2001 biography of the now-deceased Wright, but all this recent talk has more than sparked our interest.
What we’re really saying is, we wouldn’t be totally shocked if it turns out that Famke Janssen, in an attempt to reclaim part of her youth, ordered a copy of The Lonely Doll on Amazon, opened it up and got really scared, left her house in a PTSD daze, and then called the cops. She wouldn’t be the first.
Join in on the convo: What are your memories of The Lonely Doll?