Encountering Ayn Rand at Fourteen?

| March 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

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 (a 10 cents trolley ride from our home on Redwood Street on the border with South Park).

The “gang” I hung out were all from the neighborhood and were guys I mostly played baseball with, including Allen Silvera, who was a Sephardic Jew and later played with the Cincinnati Reds; Scott Armitage, whose dad was a magazine distributor; Marty Bowman, whose father owned Broadway Pharmacy downtown, and Jimmy Schaubel, whose family had a small fishing boat and caught marlin off the kelp beds west of Point Loma. While I remember my pals I do not recall who went with me that Saturday afternoon.

We did not go, however, because “The Fountainhead” was playing; we almost never knew things like that, but we did know that whatever was playing, it would be preceded by Captain Marvel, a weekly series played before the main feature. Captain Marvel was a Super Hero before super heroes. A crippled newspaper boy named Billy Batson, who transformed himself into Captain Marvel by invoking the magic word, “Shazam.” He would fly like Superman, but when he flew across the screen, you could see the cable hoisting him into the sky. We were kids but we weren’t stupid and the technical shortcomings were obvious, but who cared.

We were also at the theater that day, because when the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) were not playing at Lane field, the WPA ballpark at the foot of Broadway and across from San Diego Bay, we went to the movies.

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 and dislike for the movie’s theme, based, as it was upon a book by Ayn Rand – but I loved Patricia Neal, and Cooper was Cooper.

It was much later when Rand more fully entered my consciousness, but the memory of the movie never left me and the more I knew her story and her objectivist philosophy, the more I came to despise her. No, really, I “despised” that evil woman; as she despised my Christian faith, believing that people of faith, Christian or otherwise, are idiots.

Sorry, I’m not an idiot.

In our time, two of the men over whom Rand has exercised great influence, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and House of Representatives 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, exist 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 perverse and soul-killing thinking, that as a member of Congress he 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, but then the market collapsed, as Wall Street and the Big Banks were on life support, and Greenspan became suspect, and knew it was time to leave – it had long since been time, but he and his wife, Andrea Mitchell of NBC-News, were at the top of the long greasy pole among Washington’s social elite and no one wanted to hurt their feelings, especially Andrea’s.

All of that to get to this:?? In leafing one night recently through “At Random,” the memoirs of Bennett Cerf, the publisher’s president, I discovered that he and Rand had become friends. To say I was surprised is an understatement. Conservative Rand, liberal Cerf.

Please tell me no, but, yes, it was true.

After the wild success of “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s first novel, 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 turned 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/Bennett 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 written word of hers, but he told her emphatically that commitment was to her fiction, not her fantasies, and he would never publish a book that claimed there was a comparison between President Kennedy and Hitler.

The argument over this was extremely intense, as Rand was unrelenting in her belief Cerf owed her. He 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 the taxi and said goodbye, while Rand continued remonstrating, Cerf drove off.

He never saw her again.

Good.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com?.

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