Betsy Speicher

100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand

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24 posts in this topic

Guess who posted the first review on Amazon -- after reading around the clock to finish the book?

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES!

As interest in America’s greatest philosopher skyrockets and sales of her magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged” jump from 100,000 to 200,000 to 500,000 copies per year, it’s wonderful to see this wealth of new material. The book’s 638 pages are crammed with insights into Ayn Rand’s life, character and personality, from a wide range of people and perspectives, covering every period of her life.

The 100 interviews are arranged chronologically, starting with her long-lost sister Nora, who is perhaps the only one in the book to outspokenly dislike Ayn Rand. The sisters were close as children, but were separated upon Ayn’s escape to America in 1926. By the time they were eventually reunited in 1974, Nora had been psychologically broken; Ayn Rand offered her a chance to stay in the United States, but she chose to return to the Soviet dictatorship. No wonder the two sisters failed to get along.

There are interviews with friends, relatives, students, philosophers, economists, her lawyers, agents, doctors, dentist, veterinarian, West Point officers, and many others. As movie producer Al Ruddy said of “Atlas Shrugged,” this book is an “embarrassment of riches” (p. 509)

One new perspective is offered by four interviews with those who were children when they met Miss Rand:

Rosalie Wilson, her “goddaughter,” whom Miss Rand and her husband Frank O’Connor cared for during one summer in the late 1920s, when Rosalie was six, has this to say:

“I liked her, she was sweet to me, she was kind of distant …. Frank and Ayn didn’t look down to me and just were very matter of fact, and I liked it …. They didn’t think of themselves as older and me as younger. I was never baby-talked to. They treated me like a person .” (pp. 30, 32)

Tammy Vaught’s family hosted Miss Rand at Cape Canaveral in 1969:

“Mrs. O’Connor came to stay at our house during that weekend Apollo 11 was launching, and I also got to know her through her [postage] stamps. She was just a nice lady …. I was only eleven or twelve at the time …. We mainly talked about stamps, and things I’d done at school, and my friends …[she] was more of a grandmother, or an older person, that just took an interest in you, and just kept in touch …. She didn’t act like a famous person …. They were very nice to us, and wrote back to us .… She was like a friend.” (pp. 414-421)

Anna Lively, in 1978, just before her twelfth birthday:

“she looked like somebody’s little grandmother … She was so warm and sweet … And I felt totally at ease; she didn’t make me nervous, because she was so friendly, and so loving and sweet.” (p. 282)

Dana Berliner, aged eleven, also met Ayn Rand in 1978:

“I remember being surprised by how nice she was. I had thought that she was going to be somewhat frightening, but she was really, really sweet, and I remember thinking initially that she was like someone’s grandmother. She was very easy to talk to. She asked me a lot about what my school was like, and what I liked about it, and what the classes were like …. I asked her what she thought about children. She replied that childhood is a time when your mind is coming alive and that children are capable of understanding things and thinking about issues.” (pp. 533, 534)

* * *

Miss Rand’s personality comes up again and again, throughout the interviews. Avowed communist Patrick O’Connor, who was her editor at New American Library, says: “She was wonderful and warm-hearted and sensitive and friendly and charming … People think she was other than she was, but I tell you that in my experience she was sweet-natured.” (pp. 450, 455)

Most interviewees say the same thing: “My goodness, she was a very sweet lady,” “Warm and friendly,” “She was very generous to me,” “she exhibited at times a shining, childlike innocence,” “I thought she treated people with respect and cordiality. She was never rude—she was emphatic without being unpleasant,” “There were no hidden agendas—no ego agendas—no personality things anybody had to get out,” “Very much like a young girl, open to life and to happiness, and a ‘face without pain or fear or guilt’ … very open, uncomplicated,” “Quiet surprised to find her so easy to be with,” “I found her charming, and I thought she was very gracious,” “Charming, friendly. She was fun; she was nice,” “Never in all the years that I knew her did I ever see her be anything other than kind and very generous with her time,” “she was so gracious,” “Miss Rand was so sweet and considerate,” “She was genuinely warm, gracious and kind, and immediately made me feel very comfortable and relaxed,” “I remember this gracious, pleasant, well-mannered woman, a lady, in the best sense of the term,” “There was absolutely no ‘Do you know who I am?’ or ‘Do you know to whom you’re talking?’ That was simply not in her character,” “I was expecting to meet an intellectual Sherman tank, all focused, intent, serious … [but] the atmosphere became one of happiness, benevolence, consideration, even warmth.”

These interviews should thoroughly discredit the smears in Barbara Branden’s malicious pseudo-biography, which she did not publish until Miss Rand was dead and could not sue for libel.

Professor John Ridpath comments appropriately: “those who seek to diminish her, to characterize her negatively, are—to paraphrase Nietzsche’s condemnation of Christianity—a rebellion of everything that crawls on the ground, against that which has height.” (p. 360)

Miss Rand’s long-time cook and housekeeper Eloise Huggins, too, expresses shock at Branden’s slurs against Frank O’Connor. (p. 441) Secretary Cynthia Peikoff describes a dishonest trick Barbara Branden tried to pull, in an attempt to gain legitimacy for her book (pp. 553-555).

There are so many fascinating sidelights offered in “100 Voices” that I can only refer to a few of them:

Actor Robert Douglas, who portrayed villain Ellsworth Toohey in the movie version of “The Fountainhead,” really agreed with the book’s message: “I thought it was wonderful, a very exciting book” (p. 69)

Al Ramrus, having read only the bad reviews of “Atlas Shrugged” and not the book itself, asked her, “Is it possible you get these lousy reviews because you’re a lousy writer?” Miss Rand walked into the other room, returned with a copy of “Atlas,” and said “Find an example of lousy writing.” Ramrus looked for one, tried page after page, finally looked up and acknowledged he couldn’t. He later became an enthusiastic supporter of her ideas. (p. 158)

Miss Rand’s reaction to a Martin Luther King demonstration in New York City that blocked traffic, causing the patient in an ambulance to die (p. 177)

Her reaction to the shooting of President Kennedy (p. 177)

“You need some things in life that are just fun, that are frivolous” (p. 184)

She had unexpected admirers in writer Mickey Spillane (p. 232), rock guitarist Duane Eddy (p. 364), and actress Racquel Welch (p. 566).

Miss Rand disliked Ronald Reagan, because in the 1940s when Communist infiltration in the movie industry was a serious problem [don’t let anyone tell you differently: learn the facts before you repeat any ill-informed smears about “McCarthyism”] Reagan was for compromise (p. 283)

In 1964, following her interview in “Playboy,” Miss Rand played a wicked practical joke on Hugh Hefner’s publicist at the Playboy Club (p. 298)

Her opinion of fractional-reserve banking (pp. 353-354)

Her beloved cats, Frisco, Thunderbird, etc. (numerous references)

Duane Eddy guessed what song really inspired “the Song of Broken Glass” (in “We the Living”) (p. 366)

She got to speak on the phone with her favorite director, Fritz Lang shortly before he died, and tell him how highly she thought of his great silent film “Siegfried;” Lang in turn said he was an admirer of hers (p. 469)

After Stalin’s regime effectively cut off communication in the 1930’s, Miss Rand had no news of her family back in Russia. USIA worker Lilyan Courtois relates how in 1973 she received a letter from a woman behind the Iron Curtain, saying she recognized Ayn Rand’s name and asking that her letter be forwarded to the writer. As Ms. Courtois read the letter over the phone to Miss Rand, “she realized who it was from—her sister Eleanora … She got very emotional and I got emotional. She was in tears and I was in tears. She said she hadn’t seen her sister in 47 years and said, ‘She’s alive. I thought she was dead.’” (p. 472)

Her life centered so much around her husband Frank O’Connor that her internist said, “She made less fuss about her [lung] cancer than she did about him having a cold or bronchitis” (p. 501)

Miss Rand chose Valhalla Cemetery as the final resting place for her husband and herself, because Rachmaninov was buried there (p. 530)

Miss Rand said the Beatles wrote music, compared to “noise” of the pop music that came after them (p. 590)

At the age of six, Ayn Rand’s future husband Frank O’Connor took himself out of the Catholic school his parents had sent him to, and enrolled himself in the Ohio public schools. “Ayn said he was harder against religion than she was.” (p. 598)

She wanted Vincent Price to play James Taggart, in the movie version of “Atlas” (p. 602) Tom Selleck or Clint Eastwood to play Rearden, and Racquel Welch to play Dagny (p. 516)

She thought she could edit Galt’s speech down to three to seven minutes; no one else but she could do it (pp.517-518)

The closing interview is with philosophy professor Harry Binswanger, who sums up: “That’s what her life was about, actually. The dramatization of the human ideal and the formulation of the philosophy that underlies it, the system of principles that explains and defends the heroic in man.” (p. 611)

* * *

That Miss Rand was a warm, benevolent person comes as no surprise to me. I was fortunate enough to meet her in 1971, after her speech at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum. Here is my recollection:

Miss Rand sat at a table, smiling benevolently at the fans who packed the room and towered over her, cheerfully signing dozens and dozens of autographs on programs, books, pamphlets, anything that came to hand. She didn’t look like a world famous writer. She was as natural and unpretentious as could be, and seemed innocently, almost childishly happy to be meeting people who loved her books.

After a while the manager came and told Miss Rand it was time to close the building. “Oh, couldn’t we stay just a little while longer?” she smiled up at him, and he relented.

After almost an hour, I finally reached Miss Rand’s side—the last person to do so that night. The building was closing; the custodians flicked the lights on and off, and the crowd started heading for the exit. “Miss Rand?” I said. She looked up. I told her: “I just want to say hello; I’ve come all the way from Indiana just to be here tonight.” She reached out, took my hand and said sweetly, “Thank you very much for coming.”

“Thank you,” I replied, a little stunned ...

With me on that occasion was my late friend Ken MacKenzie and his wife Jane. One personal touch that makes me especially happy with this book, is that Ken was one of the interviewees. He was probably the first Objectivist ever to run for Congress (in the district for Muncie, Indiana, some time in the 1980s). He recounts how, as a congressional aide, he called Miss Rand’s office for permission to put the essay “Gold and Economic Freedom” into the Congressional Record, along with an introduction by himself, and unexpectedly got to speak with Miss Rand herself (p. 462)

Ayn Rand is a hot topic. Unfortunately, a couple of recent books about her exhibit slipshod scholarship and little depth of knowledge of her ground-breaking ideas. Still, there are good books about her: “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life,” by Michael Paxton, reproducing the text and many pictures from his Academy Award nominated film, and Jeff Britting’s “Ayn Rand.” “100 Voices” now joins them, as an invaluable resource that expands our knowledge of the great writer’s life. It will be treasured and enjoyed.

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This sounds intriguing. Thanks for the tip, I think I'll be getting this book.

“You need some things in life that are just fun, that are frivolous”

Is this a quote from Ayn Rand herself?

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Thanks for that excellent review, Bill. I'll be ordering my copy soon.

I've read about the first 150 pages. It is absolutely fascinating!

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This sounds intriguing. Thanks for the tip, I think I'll be getting this book.

“You need some things in life that are just fun, that are frivolous”

Is this a quote from Ayn Rand herself?

Yes. See page 184.

Cf. The Virtue of Selfishness : "Pleasure, for man, is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need."

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I'm about two-thirds of the way through, taking my own sweet time, really enjoying what everyone has to say, and how they viewed Ayn Rand and Frank O'Conner (who seems such a strong man in his quiet way). This morning I wrote this bit of verse:

First of the best in all the land,

Lifting herself up high to stand,

And over her happiness have command,

With all things light, easy, grand,

A woman not sad, forlorn or tragic,

Nor bowed in prayer, nor wishing magic,

But reality so glad to see,

Shake hands with A, and smile on B,

And wink, and think what should become

When creatively mixed to a Rand new sum.

Ah! Her goodly name snuck in!

Impossible to stop!

Whenever "best" is mentioned

Ayn Rand is at the top!

________________________________________

Brian Faulkner

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That's a good one, Brian.

I wonder what the best way to buy this book is, for someone living in Sweden?

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That's a good one, Brian.

I wonder what the best way to buy this book is, for someone living in Sweden?

Thank you, L-C. As for your question, perhaps someone else can answer it.

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I wonder what the best way to buy this book is, for someone living in Sweden?

I assume you want to minimize shipping costs. Amazon ships internationally. See what you can find here:

amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/d...nodeId=11072981

amazon Germany: https://www.amazon.de/gp/help/customer/disp...l?nodeId=505554

Compare with the Ayn Rand Bookstore (ARI) rates: http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/shipping.asp#shipinfo (you have to ask them directly for international shipping costs)

More generally you can search here with "destination" set to Sweden: http://www.bookfinder.com/

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That is useful, ewv, thanks. Looks like the low dollar makes US stores the cheapest options. This should be good.

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That's a good one, Brian.

I wonder what the best way to buy this book is, for someone living in Sweden?

You can also download a Kindle edition.

You do not need to own a Kindle device; just download the (free) Kindle for PC application.

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Here's a wonderful review of this wonderful book written by someone who is in it. (link)

"For those who are curious about Ayn Rand’s relationships with her colleagues in the wardrobe department at RKO, her editors, her lawyers, her doctors, and (my least favorite sections) her fans, this is a must-read book."

Bold added. Wonder why this is the case?

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That's a good one, Brian.

I wonder what the best way to buy this book is, for someone living in Sweden?

Thank you, L-C. As for your question, perhaps someone else can answer it.

To the best of my knowledge, I you are a Swede, like me you will have to order this book (which I have not received yet, although I have ordered it) from The Ayn Rand Bookstore. This book *might* also be available from the Swedish Internet book seller www.adlibris.se . I have not had time to check for this new book there yet. But Adlibris does carry many titles by Ayn Rand (and, unfortunately, also some of the pseudo-Objectivist books by people such as the Brandens and Libertarian commentators on Objectivism).

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Here's a wonderful review of this wonderful book written by someone who is in it. (link)

Thanks for the link, Betsy. I've just sent for a couple of Miss Reuben's detective books from an outlying library.

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Here's a wonderful review of this wonderful book written by someone who is in it. (link)

Thanks for the link, Betsy. I've just sent for a couple of Miss Reuben's detective books from an outlying library.

Let us know what you think of them. In verse would be interesting, but also in straight prose for clarity and precision!

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Here's a wonderful review of this wonderful book written by someone who is in it. (link)

Thanks for the link, Betsy. I've just sent for a couple of Miss Reuben's detective books from an outlying library.

Let us know what you think of them. In verse would be interesting, but also in straight prose for clarity and precision!

If the tales are well-spun, I'll tell; if they are not, I'll tell as well.

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I was some what hesitant about purchasing and reading this book as I have very little concern about what other's think about Ayn Rand. With that stated, I bought the book the other day after convincing myself what I may be able to get of value out of it. Overall it is a very enjoyful book as you get a glimpse into the day to day thoughts and actions of Ayn Rand, and the people that were fortunate enough to be around her. For example; Kathleen Nickerson, who met Ayn Rand in 1955, is asked by Scott McConnell, "Did you see Ayn Rand angry?" After more than a full page of descriptions of Ayn Rand's evaluations of a few particular situations Kathleen Nickerson ends with:

"All who were lucky enough to have dealings with Ayn Rand had the chance of a lifetime to observe her intelligence in action at lectures and other venues. She was always judging the content of what was said around her and to her. But if you couldn't withstand the heat of that, you didn't belong there."

Scott McConnell's book is filled with little gems just like the one above and for those that might value from something like this, I can now recommend it without hesitation.

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Published in 1988, "Julian Solo" is Shelley Reuben's first book. A detective story? Throw that classification out the window! I have read only 103 of its 216 pages and have been amply rewarded with a veritable blockbuster of a story. Yes, there is a very unique mystery here, but it does not involve hidden clues, like a drop of blood or hard-to-break false alibis. The mystery is in the characters, but the characters do not in the main consist of people with a multitude of dirty secrets. For the most part, the characters are healthy, radiantly alive, rational, purposeful men and women. The author describes them beautifully, bringing each one to vivid and individual life. And the setting---New York---oh, how Miss Reuben loves New York! She loves writing about it and you, the reader, can feel and experience that love yourself. Here one finds glittering jewels of descriptive passages---which don't annoy, but move right along with the story. They are also a celebration in themselves. The writing is brilliant, just as the unique structure of the story is brilliant. "Julian Solo" might be called "light reading", but so far (after only a hundred pages) it is a serious and joyous light reading.

I heartily recommend this book.

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Published in 1988, "Julian Solo" is Shelley Reuben's first book. A detective story? Throw that classification out the window! I have read only 103 of its 216 pages and have been amply rewarded with a veritable blockbuster of a story. Yes, there is a very unique mystery here, but it does not involve hidden clues, like a drop of blood or hard-to-break false alibis. The mystery is in the characters, but the characters do not in the main consist of people with a multitude of dirty secrets. For the most part, the characters are healthy, radiantly alive, rational, purposeful men and women. The author describes them beautifully, bringing each one to vivid and individual life. And the setting---New York---oh, how Miss Reuben loves New York! She loves writing about it and you, the reader, can feel and experience that love yourself. Here one finds glittering jewels of descriptive passages---which don't annoy, but move right along with the story. They are also a celebration in themselves. The writing is brilliant, just as the unique structure of the story is brilliant. "Julian Solo" might be called "light reading", but so far (after only a hundred pages) it is a serious and joyous light reading.

I heartily recommend this book.

Now I have finished the story. The next hundred pages were gut-wrenching and the outcome was satisfying. A very well told tale, of which Miss Reuben should be proud.

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The reason I'm just about to order this book is that I think anecdotes can be very useful, not to supplant formal biographies or her own books, but to supplement them. They enable you to watch this magnificent person's actions and reactions during real events. In a way, I think it helps concretize Objectivism through Ayn Rand herself, much like the advice Leonard Peikoff offers in his podcasts.

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