Ayn Rand (1905-1982) began to form her philosophy of rational self interest, which she called "objectivism," at an early age. This view became the basis for her immensely popular writings, which included The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Ayn Rand was born Alice Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 2, 1905 to Fronz and Anna Rosenbaum, the first of three daughters. Fronz Rosenbaum was a moderately successful chemist who was able to provide a good living for his family. As the years of Czarist Russia came to a close, violence surged throughout the country. Rand's parents believed that their children should be spared news of the revolution, and kept them mostly ignorant of political events. As the revolution moved closer and encroached on the family, Rand saw her father's chemistry shop confiscated by Soviet authorities in their attempt to nationalize the economy. It was her first introduction to collectivism, and was one of the early events that led to her philosophy of self-importance.
Rand knew early in life that she wanted to be a writer and focused her attention on that goal. At the age of six she taught herself to read and, two years later, was inventing her own stories and plots. By the age of nine she had discovered her first fictional hero and was determined to become a writer. Rand was a precocious child who began thinking in "principles" as early as 12 years of age. After reading Walter Scott and Victor Hugo, the writers she most admired, she looked upon herself as a European writer, disdaining the works of Russia authors. She became familiar with U.S. history in her last year of high school and immediately embraced America as a model for what a nation of free citizens could become.
Rand entered the University of Petrograd in 1921, where she studied philosophy and history. She felt that the study of history would give her the background she needed to write on broad social issues that interested her. Rand graduated in 1924 and entered the State Institute for Cinema Arts to study screenwriting.
Left Russia Behind
Rand's opportunity to leave Russia came in 1925 through an invitation from relatives in Chicago, Illinois. She convinced soviet authorities that she would only be gone for a short time. By the time of her arrival in New York, in 1926, she had adopted the pseudonym of Ayn Rand, taking her first name from a Finnish writer and her last from her Remington Rand typewriter. Rand detested the Communist system that spread rapidly throughout Russia and adopted her new country with a passion. In America, she enjoyed the freedom of writing and saying whatever she thought without fear of government retribution. She obtained an extension on her visa and, in 1931, became a naturalized citizen.
By September 1926, Rand was on her way to Hollywood with the intention of becoming a screenwriter. Shortly after her arrival, she was hired as an extra in Cecile B. DeMille's film, King of Kings. It was here that she met actor, Frank O'Connor. He was her physical opposite—tall, blond, and handsome. They were married in 1929 and remained together until his death in 1979. Shortly after her marriage, RKO studios hired Rand in the wardrobe department. By 1932, she had risen to become the head of the wardrobe department. During this time Rand continued her writing on weekends. She sold her first screenplay Red Pawn (1932) to Universal Studios and produced her first play, Night of January 16th, in Hollywood. Rand completed her first novel, We the Living, in 1933. The manuscript floated to various publishers until it was accepted by Macmillan in America and Cassell in England and published in 1936. An autobiographical novel based on her years in the Soviet Union, it was not well received by American audiences. In 1938, she published Anthem, in which she warned her readers about the hardships of life in political dictatorships.
Rand began writing her first major novel, The Fountain-head in 1935 under the working title Second-Hand Lives . She wrote volumes in her personal diaries about the theme, characters, and plot of the novel. They contain extensive architectural research and her expanding philosophy of objectivism. The Fountainhead examines an architect's struggle to maintain his integrity against those who would have it compromised. The character of Howard Roark embodies her philosophy of rational self-interest, which encourages human beings to live for themselves. Rand's thesis compares individualism to collectivism and applies it to man's inner soul. She uses the book to examine the struggles put forth in such a conflict. The Fountainhead was rejected by a dozen publishers before Bobbs-Merrill accepted it for publication in 1943. It was the first book to achieve best seller status through word-of-mouth, two years after its publication. The rights to the movie version of the novel were purchased and Rand was hired to write the screenplay. She returned to Hollywood in 1943, but wartime activities delayed the production until 1948. Rand was fiercely protective of her intellectual property and refused to allow even one word of her screen adaptation to be changed.
Rand continued to use her novels to express her philosophy of Objectivism. In 1951, after completing the screenplay of The Fountainhead, Rand returned permanently to New York and continued work on her next mammoth novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Considered to be her "magnum opus," it tells the story of two industrialists who struggle to continue their business in a decaying society. The book was criticized for its harsh characterizations. In one of his most important articles, Whittaker Chambers published a savage review of the work saying, "The book's dictatorial tone is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained." Although Rand did not read the review, she was angered by it, as were many of her admirers. It is considered by others to be an epic story of suspense in which Rand successfully integrated theme and plot, ideas and action.
Life After Fiction
With the completion of Atlas Shrugged, Rand stopped writing fiction. She became a visiting lecturer at Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Ford Hall Forum, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the United States Military Academy at West Point. She began to publish and edit a newsletter, The Objectivist Newsletter (name later changed to The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter ). This new forum provided her with a continuing venue to expand on her philosophy of self-interest. Rand became more deeply immersed in the philosophy that she had begun to embrace as a child. To her, individualism and self-interest were the most important values. Altruism and organized religion were anathema. Rand is considered by her detractors to have been a huge egotist because of her belief in self-importance.
Rand published six fiction books and plays and six non-fiction works. The major non-fiction works she produced during this time included, For the New Intellectual (1961); The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964); Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966); The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (1969); The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971); and Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982).
Rand continued to refine her theories of self-interest and self-importance. She spoke openly of her loathing of Communism and, in 1947, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. She became a prominent player in the post-World War II Hollywood witch-hunts when she spoke of the influence of Communism on the film industry. In Alliance news releases, Rand wrote that the purpose of Communists in Hollywood was "to corrupt our moral premises by corrupting nonpolitical movies (by) introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories—thus making people absorb the basic principles of collectivism by indirection and implication."
In 1950, Rand developed a close friendship with a young Canadian-born couple, Barbara Weidman and Nathaniel Blumenthal, who were students at UCLA. Blumenthal, who later changed his name to Branden, wrote to Rand expressing his interest in her philosophy. Rand became their mentor. She eventually entered into an adulterous liaison with Blumenthal, despite a 26-year age difference. The relationship lasted over 13 years. Rand is said to have proposed the affair to Branden's wife and her husband, then proceeded to open the topic for discussion. She is said to have rationalized the proposed affair, proving it to be reasonable according to the tenets of Objectivism and claiming that it would not threaten either marriage. Apparently that was true for Rand, who remained married to O'Connor for 50 years, until his death in 1979. The same can not be said of the Brandens, who later divorced. Details of the split between Branden and Rand are sketchy. However, the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a think-tank originally formed to promote Rand's philosophy, closed in 1968, shortly after the end of their relationship.
Rand remained an active lecturer until 1981, when she gave her last public speech. She died in New York on March 6, 1982, but her legacy lives on. Several of her works were published posthumously, including The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (1988), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd Edition (1990), and The Letters of Ayn Rand (1995). The writings of Ayn Rand have sold more than 20 million copies. Her vision has impacted thousands of lives.
Further Reading on Ayn Rand
Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, HarperCollins, 1987, 1991.
Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, 1993.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99, Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1998
Madsen, Axel, Stanwyck Harper Collins, 1994.
Tannenhaus, Sam, Whittaker Chambers, Random House, 1997.
Who Was Who in America, Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1982-1985.
National Review, October 9, 1995.
Newsday, February 13, 1998.
Reason, February 1, 1996.
Toronto Star, August 7, 1998.
http://www.aynrand.org/aynrand (October 25, 1999).
A Brief Biography of Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Institute, http://www.aynrand.org/aynrand/biography.html (October 28, 1999).
Ayn Rand, http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Biblography/AynRand.html (October 18, 1999).
Major Works of Ayn Rand, http://www.vix.com/objectivism/Biblography/AynRand.html (October 24, 1999).