Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection
On September 28, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show aired the second half of a two-part interview with visionary architect and iconoclast Frank Lloyd Wright. Mike introduced Wright as “perhaps the greatest architect of the twentieth century . . . and in the opinion of some, America’s foremost social rebel. Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag. The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions.” Wallace’s questions ranged over a variety of topics – from politics, to religion, to morality, to architecture – seeking Wright’s opinions and at the same time hoping to provoke him into outrageous statements. Wright displayed a witty, canny intelligence. He was well up to the task of handling “fishing” questions, revealing just as much as he wanted to and no more, while actually getting Mike to laugh at himself once or twice. The following are some gems from an entertaining interview which may have intrigued, irritated, and amused the American viewing audience.
Wallace: “I’d like to chart your attitudes specifically . . . first of all, organized religion.”
Wright: “Why organize it? Christianity doesn’t need organizing according to the Master of it, the great master poet of all time didn’t want it organized, did he? Didn’t Jesus say that wherever a few are gathered in my name, there is my Church? I’ve always considered myself deeply religious.”
Wallace: “Do you go to any specific church?”
Wright: “Yes, I go occasionally to this one, and then sometimes to that one, but my church I put a capital N on nature and go there. You spell God with a capital G, don’t you? I spell Nature with an N, capital.”
Wright: “I’m against war. Always have been, always will be. And everything connected with it, is anathema to me. I have never considered it necessary. And I think that one war only breeds another.”
Wright: “I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now. It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith. I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea. I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy. An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him, not his by privilege, but his by virtue of his own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have the rule of the bravest and the best. But now that common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man . . . . He’s a block to progress.”
Wallace: “I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, ‘If I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
Wright: “I did say that. And it’s true. Having had now the experience of going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. . . . I don’t think the mob knows anything about architecture, cares anything about it.”
Wallace: “Is the nation’s youth a mob?”
Wright: “No. I believe that a teenager is a teenager, and I think that with him lies the hope of the future. Now architecture with us is a matter of the future.”
Wright’s sharp humor came out regarding his recently published book (which Wallace had a copy of and Wright claimed not to have seen), self-exiled Charlie Chaplin, intellectuals, his voting record in the last Presidential election, and Marilyn Monroe’s acting ability. He waxed eloquent on the role of architecture to “grace the landscape” and change the character of individual lives. He lamented that American culture had become “drenched” in sex “from the bottom up”. He loved the “Russian spirit” of the Soviet people but hated their communist government. He felt strongly about the principles enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.
Wallace asked Wright to share the “something” he lived by. Wright replied, “The answer is within yourself . . . . And Jesus said it, I think, when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ . . . . That’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is develop it.”
Brandes Residence, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Sammamish, Washington. Photo: Dan DeLong, Seattle Post-Intelligencer