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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Women by T.C. Boyle

I was always interested in Frank Lloyd Wright, his work and his life. This book intrigued me because it was about his 4 women. He was quite a cad!

Frank Lloyd Wright was born 6/8/1867 to William and Anne Wright. William sued Anne for divorce based on "lack of physical affection" and Frank said he never saw his father again. In 1889, he married his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin (1871-1959) and purchased land in Oak Park, IL to build a house for his wife. It was her wedding present.

Their Oak Park House

Frank and Kitty had 6 children:
Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.
John Lloyd Wright
Catherine Dorothy Wright
David Samuel Wright
Francis Lloyd Wright
Robert Llewellyn Wright

Kitty with some of their children.

He was not a very involved father or husband and he had an affair with a client's wife, Martha Mamah (pronounced May-mah)Borthwick Cheney (6/1869-8/15/1914). Frank and Mamah met while Frank was working with her husband Edwin Henry Cheney to design a home for their family in Oak Park. She had 2 children, John and Martha, with Edwin. They both left their families and created a scandal by going to Europe together and living together in Fiesole, Italy. Edwin granted her a divorce but Kitty kept hoping he would come back to her and refused to divorce him.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney

After Wright's return to the United States in late 1910, Wright persuaded his mother to buy land for him in Spring Green, Wisconsin next to some land owned by his mother's family. He built Taliesin for Mamah. Taliesin was named after a hero in Welsh mythology who was a poet, magician and super-hero. I think Old Frank thought he was Taliesin.

Taliesin I in Spring Green, IL

The summer of 1914, Wright was in Chicago completing a large project. Mamah had hired a Barbadian couple to be cook and butler.

Julian Carlton

Julian Carlton beat his wife and Mamah fired him on the spot. She went into town and sent a telegram asking Frank to come home.
Later, Julian Carlton bolted the private dining room doors and windows and attacked Mamah and her two children with an ax while they ate. He did the same to the dining room door where the male apprentices were eating and set fire to the house. He waited outside the dining room window and killed the men as they burst through the window to get out. He killed a total of 7 people and 2 survived his attack. He hid himself in the cellar but was captured. He had swallowed acid and was unable to talk. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but the sheriff and posse, pursued by three carloads of men with guns, got him to the Dodgeville jail. He starved himself to death and died seven weeks later, despite medical attention. He made two court appearances but never stood trial, and his motive for the attack was never explained.

Taliesin after the fire

After the tragedy, a woman named Maude "Miriam" Hicks Noel wrote him a passionate letter. She was a sculptress. He set up a meeting and immediately started an affair with her. They lived together while he re-built Taliesin. He was still not divorced and the locals kept away from them because of his scandalous life. Kitty finally granted him a divorce in 1922 (she did remarry). Miriam wanted Frank's mother out of Taliesin and she made him choose between the two of them. Frank tossed his mother out and she died in 1923. He married Miriam right away. But she was a weird woman. She had had a long time morphine addiction and she became more erratic.

Maude "Miriam" Hicks Noel

In 1924, he met a Montenegran dancer named Olga "Ogilvanna" Ivanovna Lazovich Hinzenberg (1898-1985) at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago. She had begun her career with Gurdjieff as a student of sacred dance, which she later mastered.

She was married first to Vlademar Hinzenberg, an architect, and had a daughter named Svetlana. She and Frank left their spouses. Miriam basically couldn't handle it and went off the deep end. It was a pattern with Frank but she, somehow, never thought it would apply to her. He had made and broken promises to many women but she had really believed him! And her rival was so much younger! Her behavior got worse and worse. She basically stalked Frank and his new paramour. At first, she had the sympathy of public opinion. But her constant scenes turned the public against her and she finally agreed to a divorce settlement. She soon died after complications from surgery to fix an intestinal problem.

Meanwhile, Frank married Ogilvanna in 1928 and they had a daughter named Iovanna.

Ogilvanna and Iovanna

Svetlana took Wright's name and married one of his apprentices, William Wesley "Wes" Peters (1912-1991). Svetlana and her oldest child were killed in a car accident and Ogilvana arranged for Wes to marry another Svetlana, the youngest child and only daughter of Joseph Stalin. The marriage only lasted 20 months and produced a daughter named Olga.

William Wesley "Wes" Peters

A family portrait of Frank, Ogilvanna and Iovanna

Taliesin burned a second time but they re-built it. It is referred to as Taliesin East. Wright built Taliesin West in Phoenix, AZ and it was their winter home and school in the desert from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91.

Ogilvanna at age 73

So, I've basically told you everything you need to know about Frank Lloyd Wright's scandals and you can skip the book. It wasn't that good. I was speed reading it one evening and finished it. When it's so easy to skim, it's a good indication that it's not "gripping".

Wright's personal life reveals a truly arrogant, selfish man who was incredibly insensitive to others around him. But his work was astounding, especially for the times. So he's interesting to study.

Taliesin East

Taliesin West


Anonymous said...

I am currently reading this book and I have to agree with your review. There is too much focus on a strung out Miriam. The portions of the book involving the japanese apprentice, Mamah and Oligvana are far more interesting but not as developed. Thanks for posting the photos. The book could use a few of these!

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the book now too. Thanks for posting all the images.

Dawn said...

Very interesting! Love all the photos you included as well. I just finished reaing Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. It was a pretty good. BTW, I love your blog.

Josien van Brussel said...

Thanks very much for the photos and summary!
I am currently reading the book myself and was very pleased to have finished the elaborate "Miriam Chapters".
With about 80 more pages to go I am hoping for some more focus on Takashi because after reading almost 600 pages about a man as selfish and arrogant as F.L.Wright I am longing for a likeable main character!

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog entry while researching Frank Lloyd Wright online and was particularly interested in the photos, many of which I have never seen before, even though I am a big Wright aficionado and have read numerous books about him as well as 48 issues of the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly. I am wondering where you got them.

I have not read T.C. Boyle's book. Nor have I read Loving Frank. I would like to point out that both of them are novels, and as such, while they may be somewhat fact-based, are not necessarily the truth of what happened.

In the interest of accuracy, I would also like to point out that Wright's last wife's name was spelled Olgivanna.

Thank you for a very interesting summation of Wright's life.

Anonymous said...

I loved T.C. Boyle's book. But I listened to a recording and the narrator did an amazing job and really brought it to life.

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