Life at Taliesin

1934 Feb 24 letter from Edgar Tafel to Bob Goodall reads “Movies movies all the time – FLW’s new fad. The theatre is now being heated by steam for the first time.”

During the time when Edgar Tafel was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin was a hub of creativity that accepted students and apprentices with a wide variety of talent in other arts besides architecture. Included in the archive is Tafel’s correspondence around this time to his family and friends, including Robert (Bob) Goodall, a draftsman from Chicago who stayed at Taliesin in 1932. Reading this correspondence really gives an insider impression of what Taliesin was like in the 1930s. You can watch an original film taken at Taliesin by Alden Dow at Taliesin in 1933 here on Youtube: Part I and Part II.

Frank Lloyd Wright was not unknown to the arts. He designed a house for Arthur Miller, prominent playwright, at the request of his wife at the time, Marilyn Monroe (more anecdotes of this story can be found in Tafel’s book, About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright). Taliesin had a theatre as well, the Taliesin Playhouse, where films chosen by Wright were screened every Sunday. The public was also invited to the Playhouse; Tafel and other apprentices frequently wrote short pieces for Madison, Wisconsin newspapers announcing the Playhouse repertoire and other happenings at Taliesin.

Joining Tafel and the other apprentices in 1933 was Nicholas Ray, the director who would later become famous for his film Rebel Without A Cause which was released in 1955. Ray is mentioned numerous times in Tafel’s letters to Goodall; Tafel refers to Ray as the “fellow who came out with ‘No More Utopias’ last summer [1933].” Further perusal of the letters did not give any more hints as to what ‘No More Utopias’ was, whether it be a film or otherwise, but a biography of Ray does state that he “spent a few months with Wright, participating in the Playhouse’s activities.”ⁱ Therefore, it’s possible that the Taliesin Fellowship could have seen a special Sunday screening of an early Nicholas Ray film!

ⁱ Susan Ray (editor),  I was interrupted: Nicholas Ray on making movies, ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, c1993) xli.


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