My Encounter with Ayn Rand at Fourteen

I was 14 when I saw “The Fountainhead” with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. I saw the film on a Saturday afternoon at the North Park Theater in the San Diego community by that name (a 10 cents trolley ride from our home on Redwood Street).

I did not go because “The Fountainhead” was playing, but rather because that’s what kids did on Saturday afternoons when the Pacific Coast League Padres were not playing at Lane field, we took in a flick.

Looking back 67 years later, I’m certain “The Fountainhead” was heavy for a kid of 14, but it left an impression on me; a deep and abiding impression of dislike for the movie’s theme, based upon Ayn Rand’s book by the same name, but I loved Patricia Neal, and Cooper was Cooper.

It was much later when Rand entered my consciousness, but the film was a bad intro and the more I knew her story and her Objectivist philosophy, the more I came to despise her. No, really, I “despised” her; as she despised my Christian faith, believing that people of faith, Christian or otherwise, were idiots.

Sorry, I’m not an idiot.

In our time, two of the men over whom Rand has had great influence, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have been her faithful disciples; although Ryan, Christian and Catholic, had not comprehended that between Ms. Rand’s teachings and those of Jesus, existed unredeemable differences, until he was criticized for his embrace of her philosophy by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during the presidential campaign of 2012.

Ryan, who national media portrays as a “policy wonk,” because national media is too often ignorant of such things, no doubt missed what law professor Charles Reid wrote for the Huffington Post during the campaign, when he attacked Rand’s influence on Ryan, “These philosophical premises, of course, stand in contradiction to the social thought of the Catholic Church, as developed over two millennia of experience. Paul Ryan surely knows this. His tepid protest that he reads the Bible and so cannot be a follower of Ayn Rand rings hollow.”

Professor Reid continued, “The record of his [Ryan’s] public life is that of a man in thrall to a curdled, warped individualism…”

Ryan came under Rand’s beliefs while a student at Miami University of Ohio, and was so caught up in her way of thinking that as a member of Congress required each member of his staff to read “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s first book.

As for Greenspan, he and Rand became close friends in Manhattan; so close, it is alleged, they slept together. Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine anyone sleeping with Rand, even Alan Greenspan.

If that’s too catty, I’m sorry, but my dislike of Greenspan, the former Fed head, runs deep, but not quite as deep as my dislike and contempt for Rand.

I always wanted to be a member of the Senate or House finance committees when Greenspan came to testify. I wanted to ask, “Mr. Chairman, please explain your devotion to Ayn Rand.”

The question was never asked, and then the near death of the world’s financial markets happened in ’07, and some saw through Greenspan, whose leadership of the Fed four presidents had endorsed. Then the market collapsed, as Wall Street and the Big Banks were on life support, and Greenspan became suspect, and he knew it was time to leave – it had long since been time, but he and his wife were at the top of the social elite pole in Washington and no one wanted to hurt their feelings, especially his wife, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

All of that to get to this:

In leafing through Bennett Cerf’s memoir, “At Random,” the other evening, I discovered that he and Rand had become friends. To say I was surprised, is an understatement. Conservative Rand, liberal Cerf.

Who knew?

After the wild success of “Atlas Shrugged”, which had been published by Bobbs-Merrill, a conservative publishing house in Indianapolis, Rand sought a New York publisher, which brought her to Random House and Bennett Cerf.

Cerf was prepared to dislike her intently, as her beliefs appalled him, but that’s not how out it turn out, as they became friends.

When Cerf agreed to publish “The Fountainhead,” it was written into Rand’s contract no words would be changed, and nothing was – and it became, like “Atlas Shrugged,” a best seller.

But the inexplicable Cerf/Rand friendship ended when she wanted Random House to publish a book of her essays, but Cerf refused because one of her essays compared John F. Kennedy to Adolf Hitler, and Cerf thought it was preposterous, and wouldn’t do it.

Rand accused him of breaking his word not to change any of her words, and he said that commitment was to her fiction, not her fantasies about President Kennedy. (Hitler and Kennedy. Really? Talk about idiocy.)

The argument over this was intense. Cerf told Rand he had to leave, he was due home for a dinner party. She followed him from his office downstairs to the sidewalk, where he hailed a cab. She was still arguing with him, when he got in his taxi and said goodbye, while Rand continued with her remonstrance, Cerf drove off.

He never saw her again.

Good.