Mormon Lit: Who Was Samuel W. Taylor?

Samuel Wooley Taylor (1907-1997) was a grandson of John Taylor (the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and one of thirty-six children of John Whittaker Taylor (an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). In the taxonomy of Mormon authors, Taylor has been placed in the Lost Generation. Other than Heaven Knows Why (see accompanying post), Taylor’s Mormon-themed works also include Nightfall at Nauvoo and The Kingdom or Nothing (republished as in 1999 as The Last Pioneer).

However, you may be much more familiar with Taylor’s film work: he wrote the short stories that provided the source material for Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor, Flubber, and Son of Flubber.

I first became interested in Taylor (indeed, aware that he even existed) earlier this year at the AML Conference. I was not intentionally eavesdropping (that would be rude), but I found it difficult not to overhear the conversations shared by certain people between sessions. Anyway, more than once I overheard a certain BYU English professor declare to other Mormon literati: “Did you know that Sam Taylor wrote the screenplay for Vertigo? Yes, Hitchcock! Can you believe it?!”

I didn’t believe it. I know a little bit about Hitchcock, and Vertigo‘s distinctive Freudian-noir flavor (necrophilia and everything) just didn’t seem like something that could come from the father of Flubber. A very little bit of web sleuthing seems to confirm my initial doubts. It seems that Vertigo was based on a French novel Sueurs froides: d’entre les morts (Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead), by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The source of the confusion: Alex Coppel and one Samuel A. Taylor are credited with writing the screen play. See the Vertigo IMDB page here and Wikipedia entry here. Also, compare and contrast the Wikipedia entries for Samuel W. Taylor and Samuel A. Taylor.

I do not hold it against him that Taylor did not write the screenplay for Vertigo. Very few people have done that, and it appears that none of them were Mormons.

27 thoughts on “Mormon Lit: Who Was Samuel W. Taylor?”

  1. J. said, “An interesting aside is that apostle John W. was excommunicated for not setting aside the old ways.”

    Which old ways? And was he excommed before or after “Absent-Minded Professor” and “Flubber?”

    Fun post, Shawn! Thanks for the info.

  2. A gift of the paperback of “Nightfall at Nauvoo” when I was in junior high literally changed my life. My eyes were opened to the idea that there was more to church history (and history-writing in general) than just the dry, embalmed pageant that was presented by some as what the past was like. Sam Taylor showed that the people back then were like us; unaware at the time of their “historical” status, just confused and vulnerable people trying to get through life–even a prophet like Joseph Smith. Taylor is largely responsble for the consuming concern with history that has been a cornerstone of my life.

    1. I stopped reading Nightfall at Nauvoo at one of the earlier chapters, which had a reference to the Prophet Joseph Smith ordaining his sone, Joseph Smith III, to succeed him in the presidency of the Church.

  3. I am looking for a copy of Samuel Taylor’s short story, “A Situation of Gravity”. Can anyone be of assistance?

  4. According to the Mormon Literature Database (, it was most recently published in the collection Take My Advice, Mr. President in 1996 by the Taylor Trust of Redwood City, California. Apparently, the only previous publication was in Liberty Magazine in the 1940s.

    The Taylor Trust was evidently run by Sam Taylor (and possibly along with his brother Raymond), so who knows what happened to it when he died in 1997.

    Copies of what you are seeking are few and far between, and are apparently expensive when you can find them.

  5. Sam Taylor ! Yes, my old friend that I knew in Redwood City, California. I use to sit next to him in Priesthood meeting almost every Sunday. His mind would be miles away from the Mormon lesson material as he gazed out the window in a far away land.

    I thought – what is an old man like him doing in our Elders Quorum? The Elder’s Quorum consided of young men between the ages of 18 to 40.. Sam was at least 75 at the time.. Well he told me.. “I’m the the oldest Elder in the Church”. Why? I asked.. Well they never got around to ordaining me to a High Priest because I’m too controverseral.. So there sat Sam, faithful as ever and there every Sunday to hear the Elder’s Quorum lesson of the week.

    No Mormon teacher would dare call on him to answer questions about Mormon history for his comments would not usually follow the views of the Church. Once in-awhile a new naive teacher would call on him. His response would be the truth and of course would drop a bomb-shell in the middle of the lesson and totally dusrupt the whole class. As a result he was told by church leaders to keep his mouth shut in church.

    I remember quite well when The Relief Society (a group of Mormon women) asked him to give a book review on his new book “Nightfall at Nauvoo”. Now you must know Sam, he was an accurate writer who would not publish work without researching his subjects in depth, he was a respected writer and he wrote the truth. But the truth about early Mormon history is a embarrasement. And this is what came out before the True Blue Mormon woman members that morning. Learning that their beloved prophet Joseph Smith engaged a fist fight right there on the streets of Nauvoo with another man who published the truth in the Nauvoo Expositor News.. Didn’t fit their visual ideal of a Prophet

    The Woman ran screaming the their Bishops, the Bishops went dashing to the Stake Presidency and they inturn related the nasty lies Sam made to the ladies of the Church to their District Leaders.. Reverberations all the way back to Salt Lake City.. Sam was just about excommunicated.. He was told to keep his yap shut and no more talks or book reviews to church members!

    Sam was an expert of Mormon Church History. He learned the truth from his BYU professor one night as he was invited into the basement. A basement full of Mormon history and literature, real history that was kept silent by Church authorities.

    I really respected Sam Taylor and knew that he was true to his calling as an excellent author.. Thank you Sam for being brave enough to write and to speak the truth!

  6. Samuel Taylor is my grandpa’s brother. I personally knew him,(that is to say I have meet him twice, and studied his works.) He had a similar personality to that of many of his brothers and sisters including my grandpa, that being the ability to speak (or write) what they know as truth, and let the consequences fall where they may. Sam’s Father John W. Taylor was the same way, as I believe was his father President John Taylor. I find the same characteristics in myself and it doesn’t always work to my advantage. I loved and respected my grandpa, his brother Samuel, and their siblings that I knew. They were a great generation, bright, energetic, and fearless. They were much more concerned with staying true to themselves, than in pleasing anyone. One of many lessons I have taken to heart by my grandfather and Sam, is not to fear the truth. The truth is there to be told, and unfortunate are they that deny it or chose to fight against it. Rare however, is there subject matter regarding Church history that is controversial. To me none of it is controversial, or embarrassing. I love and embrace it all, as I believe Sam did. And thank you Roger for the information you shared.

  7. .

    I was thinking about boasting that I have a copy of the Vertigo script, but since the author isn’t Mormon and since WorldCat tells me that the script is now in more than two libraries nationwide (including BYU — which would have made that paper a lot easier), I no longer feel quite as special. Alas.

  8. .

    (me again)

    I was just reading on Amazon that the stories that the flubbery movies were based on were originally spoof advice letters to FDR from a smalltown editor.

    That is a great conceit. Maybe I’ll publish some fake letters to president-elect Obama…..

  9. Odd thing this flubber short- story he wrote. Seem William Pene du Bois wrote Peter Graves 11 years before Disney’s movie. Here’s a short synopsis of the story:
    Peter Graves (1950) is a novel about marketing. The title character is a well-meaning but mischievous boy who encounters a gentlemanly and not-very-mad scientist named Houghton Furlong. Furlong is the inventor of an antigravity material named Furloy, and a Furloy-based invention called “the ball that bounces higher than the height from which you drop it.” In an unfortunate accident with the latter invention, Peter destroys Houghton’s house. Little of value is left in the wreckage except six balls of Furloy, each about the size of a tennis ball, with an antigravity pull of 25 pounds-force (110 newtons) each. Peter commits himself to spending the summer with Houghton in an attempt to earn the $45,000 necessary to rebuild his house. The implied puzzle is: how can Peter and Houghton make use of the six Furloy balls to earn $45,000? Hmmmm, Bouncing balls of flying rubber. Money needed to solve a problem. Hmmm. Wonder what du Bois, thought of it.

  10. Vertigo was written by different author named Samuel A. Taylor. Totally different gentleman.

  11. I have a book he wrote; (Samuel Woolley Tayor) called FAMILY KINGDOM. I have ir from the estate if Anna Blake Mezquida; and the book is signed by him to her.

    I decided to read the book and I found it fascinating. I was looking up to see if he was still alive and I am disapointed to now know that he is not. I would have liked to spoken with him – and also to find out what he knew of Anna Blake (who lived forever in San Francisco) as she as well was fascinating.

    Admittedly; I found it somewhat appalling that his father could have sired all these children and basically left them with very little but each other. If he was not driven from the church for his insistence that he adhere to the old ways (polygamy) he should have been at minimum called to responsibility to his children. Anyone who is interested in this book may contact me. It was really quite interesting!

  12. Okay – I am writing again. I am not seeing this book mentioned in anything above – does anyone know about this book? Now that I know he lived in Redwood City it does make sense how he might have known Anna. Does anyone here know her as well???? If any of the sons are interested – I would like to know more about the man who wrote this book Family History.
    I live in Europe most of the time but am in the US at present.

  13. Mardelle, IIRC, Family Kingdom is non-fiction, a memoir of Taylor’s family life. While I wouldn’t say that its outside of what we cover here, its also not quite in the middle of our focus.

    I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t comment on its comments. But from what I understand it is important for its portrayal of what polygamous families were like.

  14. I read a library book by Samuel Taylor in the mid-80’s. It was excellent, and I wanted to read it again. I can’t find it listed in the library now. The only one they have is “The Last Pioneer,” and I am sure that is not it. I remember some parts of it: blacks were going to come into the Salt Lake Valley in trains and cause problems, Mormons in Utah County had sloppy yards and homes until someone commented on their sloppiness in an article and that changed them into people with neater homes and yards. I was glad to see some recent posts on this and wondered if anyone could tell me what the title of that book is and where I could get a copy. Thanks

  15. I knew Sam since 1961 or so when my parents moved into the Redwood City 1st Ward. I was just seven or eight. My father(Bruce Jones) went on to be bishop, twice, the first time I was in high school. Sam was a really peculiar member of a peculiar people. I liked him a lot, and he was our family’s home teacher for a time. Like much of his approach to the church, it was a less than a 50/50 proposition he’d show up. More times than not, Sunday mornings were spent at the V/.A . golf course in Palo Alto rather than in priesthood meeting. But when Same went, there was always the potential for real excitement. Sam was a rascal–in the very best sense of the word. He was very bright and accurate and never really unfair. I hate to see posts or opinions stating he was anti-Mormon. He was not, but he was a genuine critic of sweeping things under the rug. Looking back, I wished I’d have talked to him more. He was an Elder iinto his 70ths, until my father had a talk with him and basically made him a High Priest. Sam went down fighting. He liked being a “senior” elder, perhaps the oldest in the church.

  16. I met Samuel W. Taylor at education week at the Menlo Park Stake Center in 1976. He made some interesting comments in a class on history so I grabbed him after to find out more about who he was and since he had mentioned his books I wondered if I could buy any from him. He invited me and my husband and my boys 2 and 4 years old to his home. He was very gracious. My husband was fascinated by his extensive collection of historical books. Samuel grabbed a cardboard box and told my husband to take whatever he would like. He said he couldn’t keep them forever. He gave me a brand new copy of Nightfall at Nauvoo and autographed it to me personally. He found an older copy of Family Kingdom and gave that to me. He promised that as soon as he had a copy of The kingdom or Nothing from the publisher he would mail it to me. He did and it was autographed too. We had a great time at his home. He gave us VHS copies of Flubber and Son of Flubber. My husband had a treasure trove of books. Samuel invited us back again and gave away more book. He was a delightful man. I wish I could have known him a lot longer but I treasure the memory of those two visits and also how gracious he was to my two boys. I wish they could remember that great evening.

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