Whenever people get together to talk about BG (or Wright or many others - even though Gaudi seemed "so straight" undoubtedly the "Amigos" get together to tell tales about him) the "tales" always begin. These are just some things that I heard of or was involved with that were to me interesting. Those who knew BG all are familiar with his ability to regale a group for hours with his stories, a large number of them actually true in some sense or another. I am going to set down a few just to get them recorded somewhere. Since I am an "outsider" as I keep reminding you, they may all be well known, they may be unknown, they may seem or even be untrue, that is why they are labelled "tales".
So far as I know BG never met Einstein. He was however close friends while in Berkeley with Erich Mendelsohn and greatly admired his work. Mendelsohn himself was a friend of Einstein and in fact designed the Einsteintunn or “Einstein Tower” which housed the observatory from which the experiment that confirmed Einstein's Theory of Relativity was done.
As it happened I had become very interested in an alternative theory by Alfred North Whitehead and thinking of following that further in some of my own work, so was busily reading and studying on this topic (and able to find through contacts BG helped me make at the New York Public Library a copy of Whitehead's wonderful and rare book "Principle of Relativity". To sidetrack here for a moment Sir Arthur Eddington once said that "we now know Whitehead had the greater insight than Einstein but it came too late for physics". If you are a critic please don't say things like that even if everyone thks they are witty: you might end up seeming the fool yourself someday.
Being polite, as BG always was, he asked me to try to explain some of this to him, and told me that Mendelsohn himself had tried at one point. Somehow that led to a discussion of the book "Space, Time, and Architecture" by Siegfried Giedion which was (and for all I know still is) the common textbook in vogue in architecture schools. BG told me the following story (I try to be careful about sources, so you can sort out whether this is second, third, or fourth hand). I believe BG told me one time that Mendelsohn's widow after his death tried to sort out what to do with the quote, and that a somewhat expurgated version had been published.
what Einstein said about the book. Eric apparently read the Giedion book and did not understand what was said about the title topic, so he sent it (whether the book or just excerpts I do not know) to Einstein, with whom he had retained a lasting friendship. According to the story his letter said something like "Lieber-Meister, (not Sullivan in this case:-) I thought that I had understood a bit of your theory as you explained it to me, but if what I read in this book is correct then I did not understand you at all". Supposedly Einstein seldom answered important matters in the body of the letter. but attached a postscript with the important comments. In this case the postscript was: "In reference to the material that you asked me to read I can say that the material was very poorly digested, but very magnificently shit". (The last term of course was meant in the sense of an active verb, as Germans like to do, rather than as an adjective descriptive of the content - or so you think at first reading).
The first time I went to New York City (the highlight being meeting Edgard Varese and his charming wife Louise), I think in 1958 or 1959 when I was perhaps 19 years old, at one point in the middle of the business district as I recall we went down some steps into a bookstore (crowded with books more than people as good bookstores often are) and from the rear came a voice immediately said "Well, Bruce Goff, I haven't seen you since [some long passed date]". I later learned that the lady who spoke was very famous for the authors and others who she had supported in various ways over the years. The name of the store was ("of course" say those who knew) the Gotham Book Mart. This was the beginning of my realization that you should never make any assumption about who BG might have known, or about the depths of his creative interests in just about anything. Of course I learned later of his relationship with Rick San Jule and others. Some of this can be found I believe in David DeLong's book.
This is a story I heard several times in more or less the same form from BG, and I suspect others have heard a similar story. As it happens (I am not sure how many had this experience) he and I had a number of discussions related to Civil Rights beginning from the article we (he with my editing) wrote for the German journal (I believe) called "Bauwelt" in around 1958 - definitely not Baukunst und Werkform [perhaps excuse my German] in which an earlier article had appeared). He explicitly discussed issued related to "city planning" such as building "concrete slums with no grass" in Chicago, and he predicted (I do not remember if this was in the article or not, and I lost my copy of the article when I gave it to a fellow student at Rice to show to his parents, who later had BG build the Durst (later Gee) house in Houston - a casualty lost to a good cause).
We discussed the Tulsa race riot in 1921, which he observed first hand both as a young professional and also as someone whose (obviously white) neighbors had brought home "trophies" from sacking black neighborhoods. We several times later deliberately passed through villages composed of mostly black people who had basically fled from Tulsa at the time and never returned.
This led to discussions of race generally in various ways (I am not good at such discussions, I think the "races" if they ever existed have been so mingled over the years that nobody is really anything anyway, and who cares. That could be confirmed when you understand that when my wife and I married, with BG's very active support, by the way, the Kansas City authorities decided she was Oriental and I was Caucasian and asked me to confirm this (since it would prevent a legal marriage in Missouri) I refused to play and just said "I have no idea what I am, I don't know enough of my history". Apparent skin tone won, by the way, and we had a "duplicate" wedding in the more enlightened state of Kansas across the river).
BG was an early and devoted fan of Ellington's music (and that of other jazz artists of the time, but especially those who seemed "serious"). Apparently Ellington came to town for a concert and upon seeing the Boston Avenue Church wanted to know who had designed it, and in that way came into contact with BG. Mr. Goff in turn learned that the great man could not eat in any "normal" establishment in Tulsa and took him home for dinner. I believe that his mother Maud, another person everyone loved because she was so absolutely straightforward, confirmed this - at least I do remember her saying "Bruce always brought people home to dinner".
Others could tell the rest of this story better than me, but my memory of what BG told me is that in the 1950's Ellington was in Oklahoma City for a concert, called Norman to talk with Mr. Goff, and ended up invited to lecture to a (presumably delighted, and perhaps somewhat surprised) class on design. I do recall discussions about Ellington and his music (which had always been a favorite of mine because I had ambitions during high school of becoming a jazz saxophonist (and did once "sit in" with Stan Getz - but that is really getting far off the topic).
Of course the real point of this story is twofold: how broad and catholic his tastes, interest, and knowledge went, and something less often discussed, he had very strong and very "correct" views about these matters, based upon his real personal experiences. During the riots in Kansas City and elsewhere following the assassination of Martin Luther King he was even willing to drive to meetings in a city under martial law (or so it seemed) to discuss the possibility of donating his services in designing a memorial.
Added in proof. I recently ran across a reference to a theatre in Tulsa, in a piece about the number of famous artists who performed there, among them Duke Ellington. It went on to mention that the interior had been redesigned by Bruce Goff under the architects Rush, Endicott, and Rush. So there may be a nice story there (and for all I know it may already be well-known).
This was one of BG's favorite stories (which for this audience means those who knew him know it).
At one point Frank Lloyd Wright showed up, I think the story goes in the Price Tower, and Mr. Goff's sister and his mother were present. Mr. Wright in his charming manner said "Well, Bruce, I'm so happy to meet your beautiful sister. I did not even know you had a sister". Upon Mr. Goff then saying "And, Mr. Wright, this is my mother" before any more could be said Maude, the mother, who was suspicious of "charmers" said "Well, I guess you knew he had a mother". According to Goff a light flashed in Wright's eyes that showed he knew he had met his match and he said "Well, I strongly suspected so".
She told me the same story herself, knowing it bad become a local legend, and said "I'd seen him on TV. He was just a spoiled old brat".
Maude made draperies all her life, and was a wonderful person to talk to, as many of BG's associates knew. Anything she was willing for you to know she would tell you politely, but she was a match for anyone as far as knowing what was going on. There are some who saw him perhaps as a "mama's boy" or something, I certainly never did, and he spoke often of his father who was by that time deceased. My personal take was that he inherited much of his middle-western manner and mannerisms from her, and keeping up with her own dry wit probably had prepared him well for what he encountered later on.
The middle name in "Rush Endicott and Rush" was that of the structural engineer, who for a short time was also a partner with BG just before the depression ended things in Tulsa. BG's stock in trade as a professor at OU sometimes appears to have been "Endicott stories" since all his former students seem to know a bundle of them. I will not repeat any of them since others know them much better. However I will note that we had serious discussions about what it had been like to work, and partner with Endicott, and I do know that he maintained great respect for the man and for their working relationship.
With apologies for even trying to tell someone else's story it was almost a shock to us when Bob Faust (a very creative former student who is responsible literally for the existence of the Gutman and Gryder houses) served in the Navy on board the "carrier Enterprise" (partly as a cartoonist who apparently ended up knowing everyone on the ship and everyone that they knew). He encountered Endicott's son, learning 1) there really was an Endicott and 2)he was as bad or worse as had been portrayed by BG. The term "bad" is used mostly as it relates to puns, and many of us thought BG was the worst.
I will report one of BG's favorite "Endicotisms", which was often of great help as an explanation during my 21 years as chair of an academic department and at other assorted times. Endicott apparently explained that "the trouble with the world is that there are a lot more horses asses than there are horses". It is a particular satisying explanation to a mathematician.
Having started telling "tales from others" I will stop soon or run out of space on the site.
J. Palmer Boggs was the structural engineer for many of Goff's buildings and a very good friend and supporter in some difficult times. He also became a good friend and very kind mentor to me in regard to his engineering. His entire family was just a delight to be around, and it was always fun to have to "go to Norman" to get some advice about engineering or construction in general.
A story that BG loved to tell was that at one point in Oklahoma City the symphony performed a piece at which the actual composer was introduced, whereupon the voice of one of Bogg's daughters was heard to say "But I thought all the composers were dead!".
His delight in the story of course was that that is exactly what he thought every concert organizer believed as well. He would not even attend symphonies (except occasionally in Chicago perhaps) although we all know how much he loved to play his recordings of the latest as soon as it arrived. And he knew and befriended and even aided a number of them, as well as composing music himself. The whole issue of exactly what he did and what he knew in that direction appears to be a bit murky, but the general knowledge (even of the "dead" ones) was staggering in its scope. Anyone who imagined there was something he did not know (or perhaps had known but did not want to remember) often received a rude awakening.
The name Ondine. This story was told, and apparently remembered by many, at the original memorial service for Mr. Goff in Oklahoma, and the music was performed. When my wife and I were married, with very much help from Mr. Goff and a very gracious Bob Bowlby acting as "best man" (I hope I have thanked him before), some time later we were trying to choose a name for our daughter. I have a total phobia about people coming into the world with a perfectly good name and then moving to another country and being told to "change their name to an American name", so was trying to come up with a name for our daughter that would be the same, or at least sound the same, in both English and Chinese, since my wife is in fact Chinese. So we were sitting in our living room, my wife, my father-in-law - who spoke only Chinese, myself - who spoke mostly Texan at that time - and Mr. Goff. We were just tossing around names, and those who know BG can imagine many of his were from poetry or music (he was an enormous Edgar Allan Poe fan, not to mention a fan of DaDa poetry but fortunately none of those names came up). Suddenly Mr. Goff said Ondine, which happens to be the name as many know of not one but two lovely piano pieces, one by Debussy and one by Ravel. Mei-Lie's father mused "An Ting" which can be translated to something like "Peaceful Repose", and I just said "Bingo" (not for the name but for the idea). My wife agreed and the name has worked very well for quite a while. My daughter just tells people who ask "Its the Mermaid from Disney" to save time: its only a "little lie". For anyone who wants to find the music check out YouTube and search for "ondine ravel", which should give 30 or more choices of Ravel's version, which is so difficult it is often used in International Piano Competitions: many think the one by Perlmuter which you will find down in the list is the best. For the Debussy version try Debussy: Ondine from Preludes (with Elena Ulyanova as pianist) for a particular beautiful performance. (see what I mean about the Internet: here they are.)
This one is not a "tale", its an example that I often give to indicate how "sources of authority" have changed their location. When the grandkids (Devon and Olivia) were newborn, my wife had gone to California to help with their care. One night about 10 PM (in Milwaukee) my daughter Ondine called and said "Dad, you've got to help us." Of course help is my middle name when it comes to grandkids so I said "Fine, but what about?" She said "Mom just picked up some little cactus plants and now her hands are hurting so bad she can't use them. And we have tried tweezers and things like that and cannot get hold of anything to remove". Of course I said "Its too late to try a plane flight and besides I am probably more clumsy than you." whereupon she said "You are really good at searching the Internet so I thought maybe you could find something there." Say "Internet" and I spring into action. So off to "Google" (where I seem to spend half my preparation time for lectures since I do not use textbooks) and things like "cactus needle" were of no help. I then got irritated when "cactus first aid" came up with ways to cure ailing cactus plants, which is not exactly what we wanted to do at that point. Finally "cactus spine" gave the answer, as the very first entry was the University of Arizona Health Service Center, and the very first entry there was "Common Problems in the Desert" and the first entry there was "What to do about Encounters with Cacti" (I think they used the plural and dignified form). Well I was saying to myself "What good will that be, we've already tried to pull them out". To my great surprise they were not as ignorant and I sometimes suspect that University people are, and they said "Of course you know what to do about needles, pull them out with pliers. But a more common problem is when they are too small to be grasped, or perhaps even seen. And then they dropped the bomb. I'll give you a second to guess before you move on. The solution, totally obvious once someone has told you the answer (and thus typical of most mathematical questions for sure) was: "Coat your hand with Elmer's glue, wait until it dries, and pull it off". I of course called California immediately, gave them the magic incantation, and they called back (as soon as my son-in-law got to the open drugstore to obtain the glue): my wife was in total relief, and could hug the grandkids again. As it happens next day I was at my doctor's office, and asked several people there what to do. Lets just say this suggestion was not provided, and in fact they were not sure what to do. The point is that the Internet made me the "hero" of that moment, quickly, and I did not need to "consult an expert": better said, I had been able for free and on my schedule, to contact the expert that had put together than morsel of advice. Lest we believe that the "new age" is upon us and everyone now knows everything we have to first contemplate the possibilities if the "advice from the web" had said "Immerse the hand in boiling sulfuric acid". The advice probably would have had good aspects, in that the spines would have been gone, but you can guess the additional consequences. So it also became quite important that someone (me, but I suspect those at the other end would have thought before following it as well) would hopefully have evaluated the advice and decided not to follow it.
Tools. We're almost done with stories. If you know me you know there will be one about each of my grandchildren. This one is about Devon. When he was about 4 years old he called from California and in a serious tone of voice said "Grandpa, my parents told me to call you, I have a serious question. I know that you use tools to make things, but what I want to know is what do you use to make tools?". My first suggestion was that he immediately come to Marquette, which specializes in philosophy, and enroll in their doctoral program in metaphysics so he could write a dissertation on the topic. My actual action was some mumbo-jumbo that grandchildren usually get over such a question. Since I sometimes teach a graduate class in software development I started trying this out on my classes, since it actually is an interesting question. One day when I told the story of Devon's question I got an immediate reply: "You use imagination to make tools!". The answer totally satisfied me, and still does. The interesting part is that the response of the student who replied (who has himself done some beautiful work in building libraries of gauges and such for an internationalization project for NATO) when I asked him "That's great Andy, how did you come up with that answer?" and he just looked at me and said "Dr. Harris, I have 6 kids".
My last story is about Olivia, Devon's sister. I am in the midst of writing a major book (24 chapters, 900 pages) on computer networks. One of the most important things to me is that people learn to understand what is going on in a very visceral way. A topic that I have never felt comfortable with is describing various ways of communicating between clients and servers: is it there or is it ignoring me? has it transferred me somewhere else and if so where? So I have decided to phrase the whole thing in terms of "Conversations with my GrandDaughter" since she has gone through a substantial development in her phone manner (should I say mannerisms?). At first she would just pick up the phone and say nothing and you had to guess she was one, since she might just put down the phone equally suddenly. Later she would say "Bye" before putting the phone down, perhaps on the hook and perhaps not. Somebody must have explained that was confusing, so she began to "hand off" the phone to someone else, and eventually learned to say "Here, mom" just before the handoff, then to even say "I guess you want to talk to my mom", and on and on with many variations. The point is that each of these variations actually really occurs in communicating over a network, and most programmers are not prepared to properly understand the needed handling of each. Some reviewers seemed slightly embarrassed at this and thought it was "too anthropomorphic" (or perhaps secretly too simple for macho technical types). My editors simply said "Whatever you take out of the book don't take yourself out of it" and the students who hear the approach claim they grasp it immediately and can even remember it. Its probably a different thing but to me Goff's unabashed playfulness in dealing even with serious matters was not just a sign of his sense of humor but also a sign of his humanity and the depth of his understanding, and his confidence that "lightness" could often add depth. He himself often described Debussy's music in exactly this way, and Varese said he always regarded Debussy's music as "white music": not many notes, but always in the right places. And as pianists know (I am unfortunately not one) the music as full of whimsy even when it is serious.