Fred Taylor

Fred Taylor: Brother in the Shadows

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Fred Taylor
    Book Description:

    Fred spent his youth trying to impress his father, while living in the shadow of his successful older brother. He eventually separated himself from family members - although never from their financial support - and turned to art and clandestine politics. Fred's Communism embarrassed E.P. and caused a rift between the brothers that lasted for two decades. A man who struggled to suppress his rage, Fred once shot and wounded a rival artist in a hunting incident, leading friends to question whether the shooting had been accidental.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7509-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-1)
    (pp. 3-6)

    CANADIAN ARTIST, ARCHITECT, AND ATHLETE Frederick Bourchier Taylor altered his morning routine on Tuesday, 21 April 1987. Although an early riser, he was still in his pyjamas shortly after 8 AM in the bright yellow-tiled kitchen when he turned off the gas burner under the coffee pot and told his younger third wife that he would be back later for a cup. Tall and handsome at eighty, he then walked fifteen paces to the living room and the stairway that led to the attached garage in the house he had designed for himself in the art colony of San Miguel...

  6. CHAPTER ONE I remember many spankings with a flat-backed wooden-handled hairbrush
    (pp. 7-11)

    FRED TAYLOR’S PARENTS WERE DISAPPOINTED at his birth, on 27 July 1906. His mother Florence told him so many years later, when she threatened to disinherit him because of his membership in the Communist Party of Canada. She said she and her husband Plunket had wanted a daughter.¹

    As well as being emotionally painful, Fred’s birth was physically painful for Florence. The delivery process was long and arduous. Looking back, she must have thought that her pregnancies just got worse after the birth of Edward, on 29 January 1901. A daughter conceived between Edward and Fred was stillborn in 1903....

  7. CHAPTER TWO The moment you realize that you are enjoying yourself, you feel guilty
    (pp. 12-19)

    CHARLES DELAMERE MAGEE must have been testing Plunket Taylor’s love for Flo when he required his future son-in-law to save a thousand dollars before the wedding, since money was not in short supply for the newlyweds. Magee generously bought fine houses in swanky Upper Town for both Flo and and her sister Caroline, wife of Archdeacon Snowdon. Upper Town was Ottawa’s upper-class English-speaking bastion; French Canadians, working-class Irish, and recent immigrants lived in Lower Town. Magee also helped Plunket buy a home for Granpy and Granny Taylor, the title to the property being put in Flo’s name. This house was...

  8. CHAPTER THREE He never seriously bothered or teased me again
    (pp. 20-28)

    AT AGE TWELVE, FRED TAYLOR put control of his temper to the test in the schoolyard of Elgin Street Public School, where he was enrolled when he returned from England. The students there had never seen or heard anyone quite like Freddy. He showed up looking and acting more like an English lad than a Canadian boy. He wore short pants and jerseys and spoke with an English accent. Had he resumed his studies at the Ottawa Normal Model School, where the students came from upper-class families and knew and remembered him, his return would have been less traumatic. But...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR You must be yellow
    (pp. 29-41)

    AS A YOUTH, FRED TAYLOR thought of being an artist, but he said he did not realize until he was in third year architecture at McGill University that there existed art schools where he could have studied. He had known from a family friend who was an architect, C.J. Burritt, that architects had to draw and sketch as part of their work. So when his father asked him at age fourteen what he wanted to be, he replied, “An architect.”¹ By the time he learned about the existence of art schools, he had come to enjoy his architectural studies and...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE I had been desperately lonely
    (pp. 42-49)

    OVERCOMING HIS SHAKY FIRST YEAR, Fred Taylor graduated from McGill University in 1930, winning the Quebec Lieutenant-Governor’s medal for architectural studies. Although the unemployment rate during the Depression was almost 30 per cent of the Canadian workforce, Fred had no difficulty finding a good job. Two of his professors recommended him to the Bank of Montreal, which hired him as an architect at the head office in Montreal for $40 a week, then a princely salary; a 1930 Model A Ford cost just $525 and a pack of cigarettes a quarter. His parents were delighted that his architectural career would...

  11. CHAPTER SIX I am heading towards unhappiness
    (pp. 50-57)

    FRED NOW FOUND HIMSELF, for the first time, among the unemployed. His search for employment during the Depression started him on a course that eventually made him a champion of the working class. After resettling at his parents’ home in Rockcliffe Park, he sought a position as an architect. He found nothing in Ottawa, not in the government or the private sector. He then took his search on the road, travelling east by train as far as Halifax, stopping off en route to contact friends from McGill who might know of an opening. When that proved fruitless, he went to...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN There are freaks in every family
    (pp. 58-65)

    FRED TAYLOR HAD SEVERAL STRIKES against him when he embarked on a career as an artist. First of all, he was a late starter, taking up art in his mid-twenties when most artists have already put in years of apprenticeship. Secondly, he had no formal art school training, being virtually self-taught. Lastly, the two art instructors with whom he had had contact had inhibited his creativity, a problem he was unable to overcome.

    While at McGill, Fred had attended classes in freehand drawing and clay modelling from Edmond Dyonnet. The professor’s goal was not to produce artists but to enable...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT I did not think of falling in love with her
    (pp. 66-74)

    FRED TAYLOR WAS NINE YEARS OLD when he first held his cousin, Miriam Magee, in his arms. Then just one year old, she made a lasting impression on him, especially her hair: “It was entirely curly and had a very special auburn colour. It had fascinated me and been a subject of adoration and wonder.”¹ He stroked her hair that day, as he would later stroke the hair of scores of women, a gesture that must have brought back memories of Miriam.

    Hilda Miriam Magee was born on 27 October 1914 into a delightfully eccentric Toronto family. She was the...

  14. CHAPTER NINE The Party was happy to find a WASP like Fred Taylor
    (pp. 75-85)

    SPEAKERS ON SOAPBOXES IN LONDON’S Hyde Park did not convert Fred Taylor to communism. It was his bride who did – daughter of a prominent accountant and granddaughter of a self-made millionaire. As a result of his fruitless search for employment in 1931, Fred had begun to perceive inequalities in the capitalist system, but it was difficult for him to ignore his upbringing: “I accepted being privileged as normal, as my right, but I was not taught and shown that privilege implies responsibility. I did not accept and grasp this until I was almost thirty; it coincided with, and was part...

  15. CHAPTER TEN I am unwilling to exchange my brush for a bayonet
    (pp. 86-96)

    WHEN FRED TAYLOR PUSHED OFF and started down the ski slope at Sainte-Adèle, north of Montreal, one winter morning in 1938, he could not have imagined that life as he knew it was about to end. Skiing had always given him a sense of freedom, well-being, and acceptance that he found nowhere else. Only his comrades in the Communist Party gave him the respect and recognition that he expected and received from his skiing colleagues. He was a member of nine ski clubs: Kandahar Ski Club, British Universities Ski Club, Calgary Ski Club, Ottawa Ski Club, Ski Club of Great...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN You must never use my name to further your affairs
    (pp. 97-106)

    SINCE SERVICE IN THE ARMED FORCES was a requirement for official war artists, Fred’s failure to pass the army medical barred him from an appointment. However, he had hoped that an exception would be made in his case, so he took up the issue with the military brass, invoking the Taylor name: “I consulted with my father, Lt. Col. P.B. Taylor, as to my proper procedure in making this offer ...”¹ He also wrote to Brigadier Andrew G.L. McNaughton, president of the National Research Council, later appointed commander of the Canadian armed forces in the Second World War. The future...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Thinks me a crackpot
    (pp. 107-116)

    NO LONGER BANNED BY THE CANADIAN government, the Communist Party resurfaced and became the Labor-Progressive Party (LPP) at a convention held 21-2 August 1943 m Toronto. Fred Tay lor was among the more than four hundred delegates. He delivered a speech on his reasons for being a communist, but there is no record of his remarks. Meeting at the King Edward Hotel, the delegates voted to remove “Communist” from the party’s name in deference mainly to Quebec members, who realized it was like a red flag to many people. Party membership at the time was 2,500 in Quebec, but only...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN He really didn’t like his own children
    (pp. 117-127)

    A MEMORY OF THEIR FATHER shared by Jeremy and Paul Taylor is of his hands – how huge they were, how he would involuntarily clench one into a menacing fist. Jeremy could visualize the breakfast table, with the MontrealGazettespread out in front of Fred, Miriam taking her husband’s food order and scurrying to fill it. “I’d see his clenched fist on the table,” Jeremy recalled.¹ “His hands were so expressive, so powerful looking,” said Paul. “You just felt that at any moment he could throttle you with ease, not that I ever thought it would happen.”²

    Fred Taylor did...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN During the last fifteen years you have not been self-supporting
    (pp. 128-135)

    MOST HISTORIANS AGREE THAT the cold war, which pitted the West against the Soviet bloc for nearly half a century, began on 5 September 1945 in Canada’s capital. That was when a minor cipher and code clerk at the Soviet Embassy, Igor Gouzenko, stuffed his briefcase with secret files and defected. As events unfolded and the Soviet Union was revealed to be spying on its wartime allies, Canada’s small communist party – the Labor-Progressive Party – was traumatized. Telephone calls between members were cryptic, seeking information while aware that the lines might be tapped. Comrades who feared being arrested sought haven in...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN She says that she does not love me
    (pp. 136-146)

    DESPITE THEIR SHARED INTEREST IN ART and politics, Miriam and Fred Taylor became an unhappy couple. The façade they maintained in public finally crumbled on 1 February 1951 when Miriam bundled Jeremy and Paul into a taxi and left the Trafalgar house during a snowstorm. They moved into a second-floor walk-up apartment at 2090 Claremont Avenue in what Miriam jokingly called the “slums” of Westmount. Besides their clothes, the only thing Miriam took was the Steinway piano that Raymond Boyer had given her. The piano followed in a truck and occupied most of the living room. The boys each had...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN There will be no more money from me now that you are an avowed Communist
    (pp. 147-154)

    ON 1 MAY 1951 THE BROTHER of Canada’s best-known capitalist was given an honoured place on the same reviewing stand in Moscow’s Red Square as Soviet leader Josef Stalin. He was there to witness the annual May Day parade of military hardware that would be used against the West should the Cold War ever turn hot. The Canadian-Soviet Friendship Society, a communist-front organization, had invited Fred to the May Day celebrations. The Soviet Union was using the occasion to showcase international support after joining the United States and Britain as the world's only possessors of the atomic bomb. Accompanying Fred...

  22. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN She genuinely believes in my potential as a painter
    (pp. 155-161)

    IRONICALLY, THE FEDERAL BUREAU of Investigation opened a file on Fred Taylor in 1954, the year he resigned from the Labour Progressive Party. The FBI put Fred under surveillance when he began to visit New York to court Nova Hecht, the thirty-six-year-old daughter of leftist American painter Zoltan Hecht.

    There are several versions of how Fred and Nova met. One, given great credence, is that Fred placed an advertisement in a “lonely heart's” column with specific details of what he wanted in a wife, such as a cook, caregiver, and organizer.¹ However, Fred was so formal that it is doubtful...

  23. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN You became for me a surrogate father
    (pp. 162-173)

    FRED TAYLOR FOUND IN HIS NEPHEW, Charles Plunket Bourchier Taylor, an intellectual soulmate. Charles shared with his uncle a value system that his father, Edward, could neither understand nor appreciate. “You were a little left wing at one stage,” Edward once said to Fred. “So was my son.”¹ Actually, Edward’s colleagues were said to feel sorry for him for having a “pinko” son.² Like Fred, Charles was a union man, in his case, chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada.³ Edward must have felt as disappointed in Charles, or as embarrassed, as he was by Fred’s embrace of communism. “[My...

  24. CHAPTER NINETEEN I earned 60 per cent and had an unearned income of 40 per cent
    (pp. 174-183)

    FOR FRED TAYLOR, MEXICO would have been a better model than the Soviet Union of a country that promoted the arts and coddled its artists. Mexican artists – and those in other Latin American countries – were often social activists in the forefront of political change whose opinions were sought on public issues.

    Fred and Nova travelled to San Miguel de Allende after New Year’s Day in 1957, escaping the Canadian winter that Fred found increasingly difficult to bear. They wanted to see if San Miguel was a place where they could make a permanent home. Besides the benevolent climate, Fred had...

  25. CHAPTER TWENTY I’d much prefer to be in Canada
    (pp. 184-192)

    FRED’S CONSTRUCTION EXPERIENCE at the Protestant School Board in Montreal thirty years earlier did not prepare him for overseeing the building of his house in San Miguel de Allende. General contractors as such did not exist in San Miguel. Those hired to build a house were really crew chiefs, who recruited and supervised the daily workers and arranged for the purchase of building material and supplies. Fred spoke no Spanish, while the workers’ knowledge of English ran from scant to non-existent. Fred ended up ordering – and paying for – far more building material than went into the construction of the house....

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE I have not enjoyed the anonymity I cherished
    (pp. 193-203)

    FRED TAYLOR HAD BEEN LIVING in San Miguel de Allende for barely a year when his relationship to Edward was publicly revealed. It was probably naïve of him to think that he could live in an international art colony and keep their kinship secret. The artists Leonard Brooks and Michael Forster had known all along of the relationship. So did Toronto sculptor Fred Powell, who also lived in San Miguel, and so did Toronto painter York Wilson, who usually wintered there. But it was none of them who spread word throughout the expatriate community that the brother of one of...

  27. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO I’m going to knock you out
    (pp. 204-210)

    IF FRED TAYLOR EVER HAD REASON to be critical of his nephew Charles, it surely would have been for bringing Toronto writer Scott Symons into his life. Charles had alerted Fred in 1967 that his best friend Scott would be looking him up, but he did not say that the young man was on the lam from the law.

    Raised in Toronto’s Rosedale district, the bastion of English Upper Canada, Scott was the son of a First World War fighter pilot, Toronto Argonaut quarterback, realtor, and writer, Harry Symons, who was winner of the first Stephen Leacock prize for humour....

  28. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE I do not believe that I constitute any species of threat
    (pp. 211-216)

    FRED TAYLOR’S COMMUNIST PAST caught up with him on April Fool’s Day 1969 in the sleepy border town of Hidalgo, Texas. When he attempted to cross from Mexico into the United States by car en route to Canada, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to let him enter. Checking the Black Book of undesirables to be excluded, an immigration officer had found Fred’s name, as a result of the file opened in 1954 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the officer did not tell Fred he was barred from entry. He told him he could not be processed...

  29. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR How’s the hunting, Fred?
    (pp. 217-226)

    ALL THOSE INVOLVED IN THE SHOOTING – including the victim, Leonard Brooks – agreed that the incident should be hushed up. There was enough gossip in the foreign community in San Miguel as it was; certainly, no one wanted the Mexican police investigating the incident. The attending doctor took an oath of silence.

    Brooks was a father figure to many of the younger artists in San Miguel and even to some of the older ones such as Fred Taylor. He had still been a teenager when he sold his first paintings. He taught art for seven years at Northern Vocational High School...

  30. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Fred was the kindest, gentlest, most encouraging, most supportive person
    (pp. 227-234)

    FRED AND EDWARD TAYLOR BECAME CLOSER in the Seventies, but there was one issue that threatened to drive them apart again: Charles. Like his uncle, Charles was in his thirties when he first married. His wife, Marina Sacci, had been born in a hut on the border of Ethiopia and Somalia. They met in London, where she was taking an arts course and working as a sales clerk. She had studied European literature and philosophy in Paris, where she had modelled for a couturier.

    But Charles’s parents were not as welcoming of Marina as Plunket and Flo had been of...

  31. CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX I am still deeply in love with you
    (pp. 235-243)

    ETHEL LINTZ, NOW TEITELBAUM, was having breakfast in the courtyard restaurant of the Hotel Bougambilia in San Miguel de Allende one summer morning in 1976 when Fred Taylor showed up at her table. “I think of you every day,” he told Ethel, whom he had last seen twenty-four years earlier in Montreal. “Why?” she asked. “Because of the butter,” he replied. “You used to criticize me for putting more butter on my bread and butter plate than i could use. I stopped doing that and now take the butter directly from the butter dish.” Looking back at the time they...

  32. CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN I’m going to be married very soon
    (pp. 244-248)

    PAUL TAYLOR WELL REMEMBERED that day in 1979 because he was about to have a most unusual father-son conversation. It was a newsworthy day on Parliament Hill and Paul, a member of the press gallery, was reluctant to join his father for a hurried lunch when they could have had a leisurely family dinner that evening. But Fred was insistent, saying he had something important to discuss in private, so Paul suggested they meet at a restaurant on the nearby Sparks Street mall. As soon as they were seated, Fred told Paul that he was sexually impotent. “Dad, I don't...

  33. CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT He’d planned his suicide ever since Hemingway killed himself
    (pp. 249-256)

    SIX WEEKS AFTER NOVA’S DEATH, Fred Taylor married Elinor (Fen) Lasell. He was seventy-six; she was fifty-two. The ceremony on 7 February was performed before a judge at Fred’s Sollano Street home. There were three couples present, Frank and Letitia Echlin, Leonard and Reva Brooks, and Bob and Monica Philips – the latter, friends of the bride, who happened to be visiting San Miguel. “The judge went through the whole rigmarole about when we bring up our children we should bring them up in the Catholic faith,” Fen recalled. “We tried not to laugh.”¹ The Mexican residents of San Miguel were...

    (pp. 257-260)

    IRONICALLY, IT WAS A LINK TO HIS Communist Party past that enabled Fred Taylor to achieve in death what had eluded him in life: recognition as a war artist. Not an “official” artist like those who were members of the armed forces and served overseas during the Second World War, but as an artist who painted on the home front. The decision was made by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

    When filmmaker Michael Ostroff made a documentary film,Canvas of War,on Canadian war artists, he insisted that Fred be included. His uncle and aunt, Saul and Gwen Berkowitz,...

  35. NOTES
    (pp. 261-288)
    (pp. 289-290)
    (pp. 291-292)
  38. INDEX
    (pp. 293-302)