Movie Star

She’s a movie star this 1948 house Frank Lloyd Wright built along the coast of Carmel, California. It appears in the 1959 teen coming of age movie A Summer Place starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. Along with the film’s popular theme song Wright’s copper topped house is about the best thing going for the movie. I haven’t seen it on anyone’s best films list.

There’s no more significant aspect of Wright’s approach to design than his blending of building material to the sight. The beautiful stone work here nicely rises from the jagged rocks of the coastline. The term “Dampfer” was used in Germany in 1908 to describe Wright’s famous Robie House in Chicago. It means “Ocean Liner.” Wright never objected to that. It seems he liked to think of himself as the one designer most closely associated with the term streamlined. This home of Mrs. Clinton Walker faces the Pacific Ocean protected by a nautically worthy sea wall.

The massive chimney supports the cantilevered roof so there is no actual weight upon the corbeling bands of glass providing a peripheral view of the Pacific Ocean and Carmel coastline. The Walker House isn’t unique among Wright’s work as a movie star. Arch Obler’s House on Mulholland Drive appears in the film FIVE. The Ennis House has appeared in numerous movies, perhaps most notable was Bladerunner. I will essay the Ennis House on a future post. It was inevitable Hollywood flirted with Wright. He was hugely famous and popular in the 1950’s. A celebrity as much as renowned artist with numerous highly noted appearances on television. Matching wits with Mike Wallace being one of the more legendary encounters. He was also the guest of Hugh Downs and Alistair Cooke among several others. There was quite a buzz about the fact Wright stole Mike Wallace’s prepared questions. And he refused to “rehearse” with Alistair Cooke. Being supremely confident of his ability to think quickly with sharp spicy answers, he didn’t want to lose any spontaneous edge with prepared or scripted material.

Although he was well into his 80’s, this was the most prolific period of his career. “I can’t get the work out fast enough.” His style was hugely influential in all realms of design, especially in the 1950’s. “They even copy my mistakes.”

Warner Brothers wanting Wright to design the sets for Fountainhead seemed a perfect plan. But Wright wanted his standard 10 percent fee. The Studio wasn’t keen on paying out that kind of money for sets. They explained that 10 percent of the sets budget was extreme. But considering this was the great Frank Lloyd Wright they agreed to pay it. However Wright wasn’t talking about ten percent of sets budget. He meant the entire movie budget. End of negotiation; end of discussion.

Alfred Hitchcock wanted Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Vandamm house that appears on Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest. But Hitchcock wasn’t about to pay Wright’s fee either. He instructed set designers to render a house with all the elements the public would recognize as Frank Lloyd Wright. To this day it is easy to watch the movie and think the house was by Wright. Hitchcock–always the master trickster.

Wright had another strong connection to Hollywood. Anne Baxter was his grand-daughter. Wright biographer Brendan Gill: “Having worked hard to gain celebrity, FLLW was happy to meet and mingle with other celebrities. He had reason to be pleased when one of his grand-daughters, actress Anne Baxter, became famous.”

Wright designed a home for Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. He was quite taken with the actress. A famous Wright quote: “I think Ms. Monroe’s architecture is extremely good architecture” Wright wanted no interruption and not be disturbed when presenting Marilyn with drawings and discussing plans. And that went for Mrs. Wright as well–everybody, “stay out!” Even at 90 years of age Wright especially enjoyed his designed environment when it was graced by Marilyn’s presence. Monroe and Miller never built their FLLW circular\rectangular house. The marriage ended.

I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.
  • Dan Lobash

    Another fine presentation. I always enjoy you next entry. some thing like when I was a kid and could hardly wait for the next installment at the local Sat matinée of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, or whoever, in their serial adventure.
    I am viewing this as I listen to the Messiah here in Las Cruces, NM. We finished our teaching in Albuquerque for the year and are now visiting friends. Later this week will visit brother who last year bought a winter home in Mesa….then on to Carlsbad fo a meeting on the 22 nd on our way to Santa barbara for the holidays.
    There is a chance we could visit you on the way but our schedule is very fluid and scheule independent. Depends on visit to brother. Anyway, are you going to be around on Friday the 21st? We will be meeting in Carlsbad all day on the 22nd but will need to stay at a
    motel on Friday night ( RV tied up in Santa Barbara without spare tire and waiting for shipment from Germany for this one of a kind tire for the RV built on a Eurovan chassis.) So we have a Subaru mini SUV packed to the gills.
    LEt me know if you will be there on Friday evening and maybe we can work it out to visit….would like to see what you have transformed in your house.

    If not, have a wonderful Holiday

    Dan and Geri

  • Zack

    I’ve been to Carmel a few times and somehow missed this house. I guess I’m not very observant. I also saw the Sandra Dee movie. It’s one of those movies that’s amusing because it’s so corny and melodramatic. While watching the movie, it didn’t occur to me that it featured a Wright house. I guess I was too engrossed in the gripping plot.

  • Daniel Soderberg

    If you notice in the last photograph how the house rests below the sight line of the fence. Wright frequently made his homes inconspicuous to street viewing. So unless you happened to come across the house climbing about the beach it is easy to miss. Especially when the gate is closed. Another note about this house. It marks the start of Eric Lloyd Wright’s career. The grand-son, still alive and well today. FLLW appointed him on site supervisor of the project. So there are four Wrights that I know of that became architects. Wright, his two sons John Lloyd Wright and Lloyd Wright. Eric is the son of Lloyd Wright. I have to research what other Wrights may have become architects.

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