By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Nancy Horan
Narrated by: Joyce Bean
“Loving Frank” journeys through a notorious history and horrific end to Mamah Borthwick and Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair in the early 1900s. Nancy Horan fictionalizes Borthwick’s thoughts and Wright’s creative strengths and weaknesses. Horan offers insight to a woman’s drive for independence and a man’s obsessive self-absorption; at a time when women’s rights were ridiculed and men’s rights were all that counted.
(SONG BY 3 PENNY ACRE ABOUT MAMAH BORTHWICK AND FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AFFAIR:
Mamah Borthwick is a college graduate at a time when women rarely went beyond high school. Borthwick marries an increasingly successful electrical engineer named Edwin Cheney from Oak Park, Illinois. As Cheney’s success grows he chooses a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for Mamah, and his two children. At the design stage, Mamah and Edwin have many meetings with Wright to discuss their needs, habits, and desires. Mamah begins meeting Wright, without Edwin, to discuss the design, their concepts of art, and many other mutual interests. They become lovers.
The Cheney’ house is completed. Both Mamah and Edwin are pleased with the finished house and Wright resumes his architect’ life. However, the affair is re-kindled and Mamah chooses to leave her husband and two children to accompany Wright to Europe. Wright leaves his wife and six children in Oak Park, Illinois to live life with Mamah while pursuing his architectural career.
The Chicago Tribune discovers Wright’s and Borthwick’s affair. The Tribune article suggests Mrs. Wright refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the affair. Mrs. Wright believes her husband will return. Edwin Cheney had been told by Mamah of the affair long before the Tribune’ article, and her escape to Europe. Horan writes that Cheney is heartbroken. Cheney pleads with Mamah to stay and suggests Wright is a scoundrel.
Mamah Borthwick is initially overwhelmed by negative publicity from the Tribune article. Wright tells her to believe in herself and forget what others say. This characterization by Horan makes one think about how Borthwick loses much more than Wright because of the way the paper covers the affair. Wright carries the taint of caddish playboy but Borthwick is a home wrecker and unfaithful wife.
Horan shows Borthwick represents women’s rights in the way she chooses to live her life. Wright is an acknowledged architectural genius by people around him and takes whatever he wants from life without empathy for others. Horan’s story suggests Borthwick grows to understand Wright’s moral blindness by telling him that if he is not willing to change, she will leave him.
Horan shows Wright is self-absorbed and prideful. He tends to believe all around him are lucky to be in his presence. Horan introduces Wright’s mother to the story. One finds that Wright owes some of his single-minded arrogance to his hard-shelled, dominating, and indulgent mother. Horan makes one think that Borthwick has some of the steely characteristics of Wright’s mother. It adds credibility to Horan’s fictional history of Borthwick’s strength and her allure to Wright.
Horan shows there is an underlying feeling of noblesse oblige in Wright. Because he thinks so much of himself, Wright sometimes acts generously toward people he feels are less privileged. On the other hand, because Wright considers himself a genius, he fails to pay some subordinates what they are owed.
Wright returns to Chicago to resume his architectural career while Borthwick remains in Europe. Horan suggests Borthwick could not face the press or public because of the shame she felt. Alone in Germany, Borthwick becomes a disciple of Ellen Key, a sixtyish Swedish feminist. Key offers Mamah a job to translate Key’s German and Swedish writings for America. Borthwick remains in Europe until Wright convinces her to return and live with him; in a house he will design and build for them on 39 acres in Wisconsin. The house becomes the famous Taliesin home.
Mamah Bothwick returns to America, lives in the Taliesin home, and recovers a part of the relationship with her children, before she, her children, and four others are murdered.
A black servant (either deranged or driven by social circumstance) sets fire to Taliesen and murders seven people.
Wright is in Chicago working, at the time of the murders. He returns as soon as he hears of the fire.
Wright builds a coffin for Mamah, and buries her on the Taliesin property.
He rebuilds Taliesin and goes on to become (some say) the greatest architect of the twentieth century.
In the wake of Wright’s life, there is one murdered mistress, two murdered children, four murdered employees, three wives, nine children, 1,000+ architectural designs, and over 500 unique buildings. Horan’s book makes one wonder about what is gained and lost in a long life.