Ayn Rand and the World She Made
By David Henderson
I posted briefly on Anne C. Heller’s book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, and have now finished it. It was good from cover to cover. When I finished the last page Sunday night, I turned to my wife and said, “How sad.” It seems clear to me that Ayn Rand’s drug habit–taking amphetamines for decades–helped make her withdraw and become increasingly impatient with people who had the nasty habit of being human. I had known a lot of this from the two books by the Brandens, Judgment Day by Nathaniel Branden and The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, and from the late Roy Childs, whom Anne Heller quotes at one point.
The takeaway lesson for me, which I had already learned much earlier in life, is the importance of admitting mistakes. I don’t know how you grow without admitting mistakes. That’s why one of the biggest growth experiments in my life was when I was about 12 and I had done a childish prank that was mainly thoughtless but whose effect was cruel. The prank was on a woman who was on the edge because her housebound husband was dying of cancer. She complained to her neighbor, June Staite, who was my mom’s best friend. Because my mother wasn’t around, June made me go next door and apologize to Mrs. Durham, the woman whom I had mistreated. Notice that I still remember it. Rand didn’t seem to have the idea that she needed to be considerate of others. Co-blogger Bryan posted recently on what constitutes “maturity.” There’s my candidate: admitting when you’re wrong and being accountable.
I’ll give one horror story from the book but will end with a fun story.
Horror story (in a passage where Heller discusses Ayn Rand’s affair with Barbara’s husband, Nathaniel, an affair that Rand and Branden had insisted that their spouses bless.):
Once they began meeting for sex, she protected their time together fiercely and became impatient, to say the least, if anything interfered. This included Branden’s occasional preoccupation with Barbara, who had recently begun suffering from panic attacks and night terrors. [DRH note: I wonder why.] One night, Barbara called Rand’s apartment from a pay phone, choking with anxiety and pleading to come over for a little while. She had been walking for hours in a state of panic, an image that brings to mind the haunting scene in which James Taggart’s young wife, Cheryl, commits suicide after wandering the streets. She needed their help, Barbara told Nathaniel. In a rage, Rand took the phone and railed, “Do you think only of yourself? Am I completely invisible to you?” The older woman refused to let her join them, pointing out that no one had helped her in her times of trouble. “Why should I be victimized for Barbara’s problems?” she said to Branden afterward, who though horrified and worried stayed with Rand, an indication of the loyalty and fear she had already commanded in him. Amazingly, not until much later did either of the Brandens connect Barbara’s increasingly painful anxiety to the affair.
And now the fun story:
Gossip columnists reported on the progress of her movie and employment deals, and her presence in Hollywood produced a flurry of social invitations. Even after The Fountainhead had been delayed, actors and actresses were vying for the parts of Dominique and Roark. Joan Crawford gave a dinner party for her in which she dressed as Dominique, in a flowing white gown decorated with green-blue aquamarines. Barbara Stanwyck, a political conservative and the godmother of Warner Bros.’s purchase of The Fountainhead, befriended Rand and lobbied Blanke for the part. Making reference to Dominique’s helmet of pale-blond hair, Veronica Lake let it be known that the part had been written for her. Rand preferred Garbo. As to Roark, she had always pictured Gary Cooper in the part but read in the gossip columns that Alan Ladd and Humphrey Bogart hoped to be considered. Clark Gable, then a volunteer lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, was rumored to have read The Fountainhead on a transcontinental train heading east and to have hopped off during a stop to call MGM, his employer, and demand that the studio secure the part for him: MGM reportedly responded by offering Warner Bros. $425,000 for the movie rights, vindicating Rand’s prediction that the book would be worth more than she was paid for it.