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Philip Johnson’s Pro-Fascist Past Revisited in New Book

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An excerpt in Vanity Fair examines the architect's controversial actions during the '30s

In journalist Marc Wortman's new book, 1941: Fighting the Shadow War, which examines the United States’s early clandestine role in WWII before officially entering the fight in 1941, the Nazi sympathies of modernist architect Philip Johnson are explored in detail, resurfacing a controversial part of the Pritzker winner’s history. While the famed Modernist and promoter of the International style spent part of the ‘30s helping colleagues from the Bauhaus escape to the United States, he was also enamored with the philosophy and power projected by Hitler and his followers.

In an excerpt published in Vanity Fair, Wortman describes Johnson’s fascination with Fascism and the Third Reich, from attending an early Nazi rally in Potsdam in 1932, to attempting to support the rise of homegrown Fascism by supporting political figures such as Louisiana Governor Huey Long and Father Coughlin, whose popular radio show gave him a massive following. Johnson even designed a stage for a 1936 Coughlin rally that was inspired by the one Hitler used at Nuremberg.

"You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd," Johnson told a friend after seeing an early Nazi rally.

Johnson’s activities reached their peak in the early ‘40s, after filing reports from the front lines in Europe with a pro-German slant and being listed as a leading American Nazi in an article by Harper’s Magazine. Johnson, according to Wortman, "knew he had to change his spots," and would work hard to bury this particular chapter of his past, even starting an anti-Fascist group at Harvard

While Wortman goes into great detail, this part of Johnson’s past isn’t new; his entire FBI file, shown in this Gizmodo post, contains anonymous letters sent to the Bureau advising of Johnson’s activities. Before his death, the architect would apologize for his youthful political activities, calling his actions "unbelievable stupidity."