The Intellectual Activist
An Objectivist Review
The Life of Ayn Rand
Categories: Ayn Rand, Objectivism

Ayn Rand, best known as the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was an activist and a philosopher. How did Rand, a woman in early 1900’s Russia, become the powerful voice we know her as today? Rand had the drive and a vision that would pull her beyond the devastation of the Bolshevik Revolution and launch her into history.

The Early Years

Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, on February 2, 1905, to a middle-class Jewish family in Saint Petersburg. Ayn was the oldest of three girls and showed her brightness from an early age. Having taught herself to read by age 6, Ayn found school to be largely boring and turned her attention to writing her own stories. She wrote her first screenplay at the age of eight and her first novel when she was just 10 years old. It wasn’t long before Ayn would take an interest in politics, deciding that the monarchy was not the way for Russia and that the voices of the labor party should be heard. The political tide created a wave of unsafe and uncertain times for many families, including Ayn’s. When Lenin took control, it forced the Rosenbaum’s to flee the fighting and seek refuge in the Crimean Peninsula. The family would not return to Saint Petersburg, known as Petrograd until Ayn was 16 years old.

The College Years

By StefanoRR [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many universities were opened to women after the Russian Revolution, which allowed Ayn to attend Petrograd State University. It was during this time that Rand, majoring in history, was introduced to the teachings of the famed philosophers who would become her greatest influences, Aristotle and Plato. Despite being forced out of college for being an “undesirable”, Ayn was able to complete her education in October of 1924. While at college, Ayn attended American political history classes and found the Declaration of Independence to be particularly interesting. This interest in American ideals, along with the movies she’d seen coming from the western world impressed her enough to travel to the United States to visit cousins.

The United States

Ayn arrived in New York City on February 19, 1926, with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. These dreams intensified while, during her stay with relatives in Chicago, she was able to view movies as often as she liked at their family owned movie theater. Chicago quickly grew tiresome for Ayn as she dreamed of a bigger life in California. So after only a few months in the Midwest, Ayn obtained an extension on her visa and set out for Hollywood. As fate would have it, Ayn met Cecil B. DeMille on her second day in Hollywood and he offered her a job as an extra and script reader. Fate was not done with Ayn yet. During her second week working at the studio, Ayn would meet an actor by the name of Frank O’Connor. They would be married in 1929 and stay together until his passing some fifty years later. By 1931, Ayn had become an American citizen, however, she continued to struggle in her attempts to make it as a writer in Hollywood.

Her Early Career

Ayn persisted in her writing while performing odd jobs around the studio. In 1932, she sold her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Studios although they never produced it. Then, in 1934, Rand’s courtroom drama Night of January 16th was produced by E.E. Clive. By 1935 the show had hit Broadway. The cast would select a jury from the audience and, based on their verdict, one of two endings would be performed. Ayn’s first novel, We the Living, would be published the following year. The story was set in Soviet Russia and examined the struggle between the individual and the country. Ayn would later claim that this was the closest she would get to writing an autobiography. American sales were sluggish despite the relative success the novel saw in Europe. While taking a break from penning The Fountainhead, Rand would write Anthem in 1937. In this novella, she takes a look at a dystopian future that has eliminated the individual in favor of the collective. Although American publishers passed on the story, the book was published in England in 1938.

Activism and Fame

During her work on The Fountainhead, Rand and her husband would become politically active, working on presidential campaigns and participating in speaking engagements. This activism brought her into contact with other intellectuals that would encourage and embolden her thoughts and philosophies. By 1943, Rand had hit the bestseller list with the publishing of The Fountainhead. That same year she sold the film rights to Warner Brothers and wrote the screenplay. The onset of WWII delayed the production until 1948, during which time Ayn worked as a screenwriter for Hal Wallis Productions. This period was extremely productive for Ayn. She worked on extremely successful screenplays, including Love Letters and You Came Along, as well as beginning work on Atlas Shrugged. Rand also found success during this time working as an activist. She wrote articles for anti-communist groups and joined the anti-communist writing group, American Writers Association. After the war, Ayn moved to New York to work on Atlas Shrugged full time. The novel was published in 1957 and became an instant bestseller, despite some negative reviews.

The Later Years

For the next two decades, Ayn would dedicate her time to developing the philosophy that she called, ‘Objectivism’. Her philosophy focused on the idea that obtaining true happiness is the result of doing what is best for the individual. She would write numerous essays and give lectures around the country despite suffering from depression and mood swings likely brought about by her long-term use of amphetamines. In 1976, after battling lung cancer, Ayn retired from most of her activities surrounding ‘Objectivism’. Her husband, Frank, died a few years later in 1979. Ayn succumbed to heart failure on March 6, 1982. Having no heirs, she left her estate to Leonard Peikoff, a dedicated student of ‘Objectivism’ and longtime friend. He carries on the Rand legacy through the Ayn Rand Institute and his works promoting her philosophy.

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