Ayn Rand is famous for her hugely popular novels, ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Besides writing novels Rand also worked as a Hollywood screenwriter and is known for writing a play that was produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. Rand placed her political views on her fiction and non-fiction works. She was an individual whop greatly supported individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism. Ayn Rand was a philosopher in great lengths as she had mentioned reason as the sole means of acquiring knowledge. Her philosophies greatly surrounded ethical egoism. She rejected all forms of overpowering governmental set-ups which made her an opponent of ideas like collectivism and statism, fascism, communism, socialism, and the idea of a welfare state. Ayn Rand is greatly remembered for her 1932 screenplay ‘Red Pawn’ being sold to Universal Studios which made her successful in the literary world. Ayn Rand named her philosophy “Objectivism” describing it as the concept of man being in the centre as a heroic being and “…with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”. According to Rand objectivism was a profoundly systematic form of philosophy that counted on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. Ayn Rand has been honoured by several institutes, scholarships and research courses which have named her as their source of inspiration.
Ayn Rand Childhood and Youth
Ayn Rand was born as Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (Russian: Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум) on 2 February 1905 to a capitalist family in Saint Petersburg, erstwhile Russia. Rand was born to Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum and was the eldest among three sisters. Her family members were greatly non-observant Jews. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 Rand was a twelve year old kid who witnessed political situations going against their family. With the sudden rise of Bolshevik party under Vladimir Lenin Rand’s father’s pharmacy was confiscated and Rand family was forced to seek refuge in Crimea. Rand completed her high school education in Crimea. She turned sixteen before returning to Saint Petersburg, where her family faced desperate conditions and at times nearly starving.
As the Russian Revolution came to an end Universities were opened up for women and Rand enrolled herself at Petrograd State University pursuing studies at the department of social pedagogy and majoring in history. She studied on Aristotle and Plato at the University which influenced her greatly in building her ideas and thoughts on politics, state and philosophies. She also read a lot of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand was able to read French, German and Russian and as a voracious reader and academic found great interest in Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Edmond Rostand, and Friedrich Schiller who became her all time favourites.
Rand was thrown out of the university along with many of her fellow bourgeois students just before she was to complete her graduation. However, with a group of foreign scientists visiting the campus complained against this step and Rand along with all other purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate. Rand could complete the graduation in October 1924. Rand studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. This was the time that Rand decided to adopt her professional surname for writing as Rand which was a probably Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname and she took her first name as Ayn which is possibly taken from either a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning "eye").
It was in the fall of 1925 that Rand was granted a visa to visit her American relatives. She loved the skyline of Manhattan upon her arrival in New York Harbor. Her admiration for America grew strong and she decided to stay back and become a screenwriter in the United States for which she stayed with her relatives for a few months in Chicago. Ayn was allowed to watch several films for free by one of her relatives. Ayn chose to seek out her career in Hollywood, California. The steep expenses in Hollywood let Rand take up odd jobs to seek out her daily living. While struggling in Hollywood Rand met famed director Cecil B. DeMille who cast Rand as an extra artist in one of his films, ‘The King of Kings’, a silent film in 1927. Cecil B. DeMille also asked Ayn to work as a junior screenwriter. During this time Ayn met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor with whom she got married to on 15 April 1929. In 1931 Rand turned an American citizen. Rand tried hard to bring her parents to America but they were refused to emigrate.
Rand entered the path of literary success and fame with the sale of her screenplay ‘Red Pawn’ to Universal Studios in 1932 which never got produced. But Rand continued with her quest and a courtroom drama “Night of January 16th” which was written by her first got produced in Hollywood in 1934 and it was then successfully staged on Broadway in 1935. Rand’s drama became popular with the script entitling the selection of the jury members from the audience and one of the two different endings of the drama depending on the jury's "verdict", would then be performed. Rand was critical about her drama and never took part in the production.
In 1936 Rand’s first semi-autobiographical novel, “We the Living” was published.
In 1941 “Night of January 16th” was made into a movie by Paramount Pictures. In 1938 Rand’s novella named “Anthem” was published in England and it got published in the US seven years later. Rand was busy with her writing and her career which made her unaware of the fact that her novel, “We the Living” was produced into two Italian films, “Noi vivi” and “Addio, Kira” in 1942 for which neither was she contacted for letting her know nor was she asked for permission. These films were later reedited in 1960 after being found out and a newer version was approved by Ayn Rand before being re-released as “We the Living” in 1986.
Political role and Success as a Writer in the 1940s
Rand became involved in political activism in the 1940s. She joined her husband as full time volunteer for the 1940 Presidential campaign of Republican Wendell Willkie. During this time Rand started gaining her platform as a great public speaker. She came across various intellectuals who like her believed in free-market capitalism. Her involvement as a political activist helped Rand get acquainted with several eminent personalities like journalist Henry Hazlitt, economist Ludwig von Mises, libertarian writer Isabel Paterson. In 1943, Rand tasted major success with her romantic and philosophical novel “The Fountainhead”. The book positioned Rand as a popular writer. It took her seven years to finish writing “The Fountainhead”. It became internationally acclaimed and Rand decided to sell the rights for a film version to Warner Brothers, and she returned to Hollywood to write the screenplay of “The Fountainhead” in 1943.
After returning to Hollywood Rand finished writing the screenplay for Fountainhead when she was hired by producer Hal Wallis as a screenwriter and script-doctor. Her work with Wallis included the screenplays for the Oscar-nominated “Love Letters” and “You Came Along”. Rand started working on several other projects which includes a planned non-fiction treatment of her philosophy to be called “The Moral Basis of Individualism” which was not completed but a concise version was published as an essay titled "The Only Path to Tomorrow", in the January 1944 edition of Reader's Digest magazine.
While pursuing her writing career in Hollywood, Rand actively involved herself in free-market and anti-Communist activism. She joined “Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals”, a Hollywood anti-Communist group and wrote articles for the group. She became a member of the anti-Communist American Writers Association. In 1947 during the Second Red Scare, Rand testified as a "friendly witness" before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee where she described the disparity between her personal experiences in the Soviet Union and the portrayal of it in the 1944 film Song of Russia. Rand argued that the film grossly misrepresented conditions in the Soviet Union and portrayed life as being much better and happier than it actually was in the Soviet Union. She was asked about her feelings on the effectiveness of the investigations after the hearings when Rand described the process as grossly “futile”.
In 1949 “The Fountainhead” was released in its film format after going through several delays. It was said that the film used Rand's screenplay without any major alterations but Rand found the film to be disappointing as she “disliked the movie from beginning to end” because of its bad editing, acting and several other elements that she disliked.
Philosophies and More Writing
With the massive success of “The Fountainhead” Rand had found admirers who sent her letters. Her readers found the book immensely influencing and awe inspiring. In 1951 Rand after moving from Los Angeles to New York City she gathered a group of these admirers around her who were a mixed bag of philosophers from various professions. Initially the group was an informal gathering of friends who met with Rand on weekends at her apartment to discuss philosophy. In the process Rand started allowing these people to read the drafts of her new novel, “Atlas Shrugged” as the manuscript pages were already written. In 1954 Rand came into a very close relationship with the much younger Nathaniel Branden which later turned into a romantic alliance and both had their approvals from their spouses.
In 1957 “Atlas Shrugged” got published and Rand described the theme of her novel as “the role of the mind in man's existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest”. The book was greatly written about the inner doctrines of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Gradually “Atlas Shrugged” turned into a global bestseller with its elements of mystery and science fiction. Ayn Rand became a notable writer whose work received appreciations from most parts of the globe. She decided to end her writing career and become a full time popular philosopher. Rand went into a state of severe depression, after receiving international fame and massive readers’ responses which was possibly due to, her use of prescription amphetamines.
In 1958 Nathaniel Branden established Nathaniel Branden Lectures which later became Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI) to promote Rand's philosophy. Rand lectured on a wide range of topics, including literature, music, sexuality, even facial hair. She rejected students’ opinions at NBI. Rand embraced philosophical realism and atheism and she utterly rejected everything related to mysticism or supernaturalism and all forms of religion. She wrote extensively on her philosophy “Objectivism” which she described as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”. In 1979 Rand published her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” which included all her theories and concepts.
In the 1960s and 1970s Rand spread, developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her non-fiction works and by giving lectures to students at Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Harvard University and MIT. In 1963 she received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College. She gave speeches and several other talks to varied audiences.
In 1964 Nathaniel Branden started having an affair with young actress Patrecia Scott, whom he later married. Rand was unaware of this affair and she learned about it in 1968 after which she terminated her relationship with both Brandens, which resulted in the closure of NBI.
In 1974 Rand underwent surgery for lung cancer as she had been a heavy smoker throughout her life. In the late 1970s her activities within the Objectivist movement declined. Rand’s husband died on 9 November 1979. On 6 March 1982 Rand died of heart failure at her home in New York City.