Arts, Culture, History Documentary published by BBC in 2005 - English narration
The American icon behind the Guggenheim museum, Fallingwater and his own home, Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright became the greatest architect of the 20th century - not only because of his magnificent talent but because he was a master showman and self-publicist.
The sheer scale of Lloyd Wright's career – over 450 buildings in 70 years – is astonishing in itself but there is much more to his story than the romantic myth his autobiography revealed.
This new documentary, accompanying the BBC TWO series Marvels Of The Modern Age, explores Lloyd Wright's visionary works and reveals how his life was beset with periods of devastating critical derision, financial chaos, scandal, and a violent but little-known murder.
On 15 August 1914, Frank Lloyd Wright was at his office in Chicago. 140 miles away, at their home in Wisconsin, his mistress, Mamah Borthwick-Cheney, sat down to lunch with her two children. In another room were six of Wright’s staff – tradesmen and studio workers. After serving the meals, Wright’s servant, Julian Carleton, quietly bolted the doors and windows, poured gasoline around the outside of the house, and set it alight.
As the house began to burn, he took a hatchet and attacked and murdered Mamah and her children – she was killed where she sat. He then went after the workmen. Herbert Fritz and Billy Weston escaped by smashing through a window. They were the only survivors that day. At his office, Wright received a phone call telling him only that there had been a fire but when he arrived at the train station he learned the full story from waiting reporters.
The brutal murders were the final tragic act in a story of adultery and intrigue that had scandalised polite society for the previous five years. Wright was grief-stricken but refused to be defeated – he vowed to rebuild Taliesin. This is the story of how Wright rebuilt his life and reputation on the site of his greatest tragedy, the house that he called ‘Taliesin’. Wright’s own account of his life is notoriously unreliable, but he revealed himself most clearly in the houses he built, and most of all in Taliesin.
If the Guggenheim is his epitaph, this is his biography. For half a century, Taliesin’s changing fortunes followed Wright’s own and it ultimately inspired the act of creative genius that justified Frank Lloyd Wright’s assessment of himself as “the world’s greatest architect”.