Sex, Lies, and Frank Lloyd Wright

Introducing Roger Friedland’s The Fellowship, an Architectural
Book like No Other

by David Obst

Roger-Friedland-Web.jpgRoger Friedland, a UCSB professor of
religious studies and sociology, just pulled off a major literary
coup. He’s written a book that will not only satisfy the academic
rigor of his colleagues, but will also be a sure-fire bestseller
full of sex, lies, and architecture.

Co-written with architect Harold Zellman, Friedland’s new book
The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the
Taliesin Fellowship is a mesmerizing account of the drama,
scandalous sexual escapades, spiritual journey, and artistic
achievements of a man many believe was the foremost architect of
the 20th century. Published last month by Regan Books, the book’s
already been selected by the Book of the Month Club, cited in
Vanity Fair, and hit the New York Post’s infamous Page Six. So just
who is Professor Roger Friedland?

Born in New York City 59 years ago, Friedland was part of the
vast post-war migration to the West Coast. Once here, he benefited
from an excellent public school education, attending Palisades High
School and the University of California, Berkeley. He got his
doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, and then
came back west, landing his first real job at UCSB. Despite offers
from schools such as Harvard and Yale, he’s still here, 25 years
later, married to his wife, Debra (also an author), and the father
of two 14-year-old daughters, Hannah and Sarah. The whole family,
incidentally, just came home to Santa Barbara after two years in
Italy, where the professor was a Fulbright scholar teaching at the
University of Rome.

Friedland and Zellman’s 10-year opus on Frank Lloyd Wright
originally began when the two teamed up as Getty scholars to
examine a modernist cooperative community built in West Los Angeles
after World War II. While researching Crestwood Hills, the two
traced its origins back to two men, an architect and a
violist — both of whom had been apprentices at Taliesin, an
architectural commune set up in 1932 in Wisconsin by Wright and his
wife, the mysterious Olgivanna.

Taliesin was created to be an experimental center for both
architecture and living. Staffed by young, eager, and mostly male
architects who wanted to learn from the master, it quickly evolved
into a “cult of genius,” a place where Olgivanna, Wright’s third
wife, could promote the teaching of Georgi Gurdjieff. This bald,
mustached, charismatic Russian trickster/guru claimed his eyes
could not only penetrate a man’s psyche, but also bring a woman to
orgasm from across a room. For the next 30 years, Taliesin became a
place where Wright would not only get free in-house labor, but his
wife would be able to have total sway over the mental, physical,
and sexual lives of the architect’s devoted followers.

Friedland and Zellman were able to crack the hitherto
impenetrable world of Taliesin. The book shows how many of the
hundreds who came to study there were transformed by the Wrights
into willing instruments of Olgivanna’s will, how she was able to
exert total emotional and sexual control over many of Wright’s
protégés. Frank Lloyd gave his wife the ultimate gift — her own
live-action dollhouse. The stories of Olgivanna toying with that
dollhouse are riveting, particularly those about Joseph Stalin’s
daughter, Svetlana, who became a virtual slave of the Wrights and
complained that her experience at Taliesin was emotionally

In addition, The Fellowship depicts how the Wrights created one
of the few safe havens for homosexuals of their era. Taliesin
became one of the great closets in American history. Gay men could
be safe there at a time when overt homosexual activity was still
dangerous in our country. However, a number of them paid quite a

The best sections of the book, however, are about Wright. The
authors’ insights into who Frank Lloyd really was are both
insightful and pretty scary. Wright was the Mel Gibson of his era,
but his anti-Semitism had to be kept under control since a majority
of his clients were Jewish. Not only did Wright publicly endorse
Charles Lindberg and Henry Ford’s political charges blaming the
Jews for America’s entry into WWII, but when provoked, Wright would
resort to anti-Semitic screeds. For example, when an apprentice
came in over-bid to construct an exhibition, Wright sniped: “Let
your beard grow back and go on being a rabbi.” The apprentice,
while Jewish, was not a rabbi.

Friedland and Zellman also have done ground-breaking work on
Wright’s sexual ambiguity. The architect fought a life-long
struggle with his own manhood and even identified himself with
Socrates’s bi-sexual lover, Alcibiades, a code-word for gay-leaning
men. Additionally, many of Wright’s closest male friends were
homosexuals, to one of whom he once confessed, “There but for the
grace of God, go I.” What the authors do best is abjure the
accepted myths about Frank Lloyd Wright and his profusely talented
archetypical legacy. They show us with exquisite detail what it was
like to live and create some of America’s most famous monuments.
The Fellowship is a true guilty pleasure, a book that you can read
to feel smart about yourself, but one that also amuses and
titillates as much as the latest Us Weekly.

Roger Friedland will sign The Fellowship: The Untold Story of
Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship at Chaucer’s Books,
this Sunday, September 10, at 3 p.m. Call 682-6787.


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