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by David P. Hayes
The judge is ready to instruct the jury. A pivotal scene in The Fountainhead is about to unfold. Viewers of this movie have followed much of the same struggle and conflict encountered by Howard Roark as have readers of the novel. At this point, those who have read Ayn Rand’s monumental work of literature may be incredulous. The judge instructs the jurors about how they are to approach the fate of Howard Roark, but his words often have no counterpart in the novel:
Further, you are instructed that the extent of the monetary loss suffered by the owners is not a matter to be considered by you. The liability of the defendant for any financial loss is a question to be determined in a civil suit. You are concerned here only with the criminal action. You are to determine whether the defendant is guilty or innocent of the specific crime with which he has been charged.
There had been in the novel no differentiation between “the specific [action] with which [Roark] has been charged” and the concomitant destruction of a construction site. When the judge and jury in the novel consider Roark’s guilt or innocence, they are focused strictly on the broader question of whether Roark had been justified in challenging society. Regardless of the verdict in this criminal matter, the Howard Roark of the novel is not expected to face “a civil suit” over “financial loss” and its “liability.”
Were we watching a movie other than The Fountainhead, we might cast aside questions about the significance of this alteration. Screenwriters in Hollywood frequently change subtle aspects of thematic material when they adapt novels for the screen, yet The Fountainhead was not adapted by some talentless hack unversed in the meaning of the original. The novelist herself, Ayn Rand, shares screenwriting credit with no one when her name appears conspicuously during the opening titles. Might it be, then, that viewers should entertain the possibility that this great political thinker modified her concepts about the appropriate functions of the judicial system after she had written the novel but before the filming of the movie? Here the movie does the novelist a disservice, for it affords viewers no way of knowing from it that the novelist had to accept the dictates of others if she was to have the movie made.
Ayn Rand had written in the whole of The Fountainhead an affirmation of the benefits and virtues of a life lived by integrity. For her to have sundered her own to have pleased the commands of people whom she would not have chosen as collaborators, seems a sign of degeneracy when it appears in the work of someone who masterfully integrated a world view into an absorbing story. Biographical facts about Miss Rand point to her having sought to sidestep this trap. Before the shooting schedule had run its course, she obtained from Warner Bros. the right of approval on changes and additions. This was unprecedented for writers, let alone one who did not have a track record of successfully writing for the screen. What she could not avoid was the mandate to which all writers for the studio had to submit: that they please the industry self-censorship organization which the studio had long ago pledged to obey.
The screenplays of Ayn Rand were submitted to a quasi-governmental organization that could demand the rewriting of her words. When she wrote screenplays for major movie producers, she knowingly consented that her dialogue and character actions could be altered by those of lesser talent. The usurpers with the prerogatives held power over all of Hollywood’s writers, producers and directors. The producers treated her with more respect than was customary to the successful and praised novelists who labored as screenwriters in Hollywood. Nonetheless, producers and studio heads seeking to put the most truthful representations of their ideas into the films they released had nothing stronger in their corporate arsenals than their power of argument. They, too, were at the mercy of others. The adversaries of these behind-the-scenes dramas were Hollywood’s self-hired censors.
The word “censors” in this context in not entirely accurate. The Federal Government of the United States never had an oversight committee examining the contents of American movies. There had, however, been threats of this. Several states and cities in the nation did have censorship boards that would exact cuts in some Hollywood films before these state boards would approve a film for exhibition within that locale’s boundaries. Early Hollywood was mindful of the damage that could be done a story or performance and the consequent lower box-office receipts. From the 1920s, the major Hollywood studios had financed an industry watchdog organization to keep from production certain stories that would not be permitted by local and state censor boards, attempting through internal restraint to communicate to the distant governments that the governments needn’t bother to discern unwholesome content within new movies because Hollywood would do that for the nation. This self-policing did not prevent renegade producers from producing unapproved scenarios nor did it have the authority to rein in member studios when some found that sin paid off at the box office. The denouncers of the gradual erosion of this early self-policing found sympathetic ears not in the industry’s Studio Relations Committee but rather in nationally-known religious leaders who mounted boycotts and threatened Hollywood with the loss of millions of patrons were the studios not to accede to their demands. The religious leaders were not willing to settle for some films having admission limited to “adults only.” They sought that all studios offer full slates of movies devoid of the types of sexual morality and violence that had brought on the boycotts. In 1934, they got their wish. Intransigent religionists were installed as leaders of the Production Code Administration, which operated as part of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. Although the MPPDA had long existed, its dictates would now have “teeth.” (The aforementioned Studio Relations Committee was essentially the same as the Production Code Administration, with the old name and personnel being replaced by the new in 1934.)
Owing to these “teeth,” Ayn Rand would eventually write a 225-word speech to placate the Production Code Administration. Intended for inclusion in the Fountainhead screenplay, it survived in the script only as the briefer, 106-word judge’s instructions delivered in the movie (and quoted at the top of this article). The 225-word version, which has until now never been published nor otherwise made available to the public, appears on the fourth page of this web article.
In 1943, when Ayn Rand sold the movie rights to her then-recently-published novel The Fountainhead for the somewhat high sum of $50,000, she realized that she was allowing Warner Bros. to adapt the novel in a manner that the studio would choose. The failure of the assigned writers to produce an acceptable adaptation prompted the studio to contact Miss Rand, known to them to have been employed in the past as a junior screenwriter and reader for other studios. Warner Bros. proposed that the novelist adapt her book for the screen. She agreed, although this might have meant her name appearing before movie audiences who could be misled into believing every word on screen was hers. No guarantee prevented corruption of her script. Here she had written an ode to the integrity practiced by her lead character, yet her own work might be diluted by others, the precision of her language intruded upon by uncredited others. In Spring 1948, her screenplay ready for the cameras, she had yet been accorded a guarantee that her screenplay, once accepted, would not be subject to rewriting by others. However, so strong was her ability to convince others by the validity of her arguments that people who worked with her seem to recall that she did have this guarantee far earlier than she did. When she did get the guarantee, it was a provision ordered by studio chief Jack L. Warner. (The producer of The Fountainhead movie, Henry Blanke, recalled, “She told me she would blow up the Warner Brothers lot if we changed one word of her beautiful dialogue. And we believed her. Even Jack Warner believed her. He gave her a cigar.”1) What the executives at Warner Bros. could accept, however, was not entirely a matter of their tastes and will. As a signatory to the MPPDA and its Motion Picture Production Code, the studio could not produce or release a movie that violated the tenets of that Code. To do so was to face being fined $25,000 and being left holding a movie that could not be shown in any theater that had pledged to show exclusively those movies which had been approved by the Production Code Administration. Since the establishment of these rules in 1934, no major studio had ever defied the Production Code Administration by releasing a picture not approved; to do so was to have no theaters in which to show a film other than the few “art” houses which then as now specialized in foreign films and revivals, and to the theaters whose vulgar patrons were used to years of crude low-budget films from “Poverty Row” production companies. A major studio, realizing itself to be a business, would rightly fear being stigmatized as the purveyor of what was regarded as filth; reputations of this kind were repelled as surely as these same studios expended good money to suppress the reporting of vice charges filed against major stars.
By the time that Ayn Rand completed the last of several scripts for The Fountainhead—albeit the one that would be approved by the Production Code Administration—she had worked as a screenwriter for independent producer Hal Wallis and had seen produced two screenplays she had written based on stories written by others. Situated in an office on the Paramount Studios lot, she was just a short distance from her first Hollywood boss, Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille nearly twenty years earlier had been sufficiently impressed by her to first show her the process by which he was making his latest epic before he hired her to conduct research and recommend screen properties; he had been her favorite American director in her native Russia (where his religious epics were not shown and were unknown to her). At Paramount in the 1940s, she almost certainly had been coached by other screenwriters, by Wallis, by DeMille and by other creative talent in how best to protect one’s written work from being emasculated by the Production Code Administration. Hollywood was awash in suggestions and stories of how various producers had been permitted to retain certain salacious content in their scripts and completed films by means of bargaining, subterfuge, carefully-laid content and argument. Hal Wallis, in his previous occupation as a producer at Warner Bros., had been allowed by the Production Code Administration to have in Casablanca an adulterous relationship by means of Ingrid Bergman’s character having read a mistaken report of her husband’s death and by Wallis removing from the Paris flashback a meeting between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in what seemed to be a brothel. Wallis had had no intention of communicating to audiences that Bogart or Bergman played characters who would ever visit such a place, but Wallis found it useful to make it appear to the censors that he would be compromising his vision of the characters by merely removing them from this location, thus giving him a wedge to exact concessions elsewhere from the PCA.
(The author of this article has also prepared a web site reproducing the Production Code and reporting on where many films violated or circumvented that Code. A duplicate link to that site appears at the bottom of this article and in additional browser frames visible to visitors to this site who are seeing the frame-enhanced version. The reader who visits only the pages herein on the Ayn Rand screenplays will not need more knowledge on the Production Code than what is supplied herein.)
A thorough examination of Ayn Rand’s struggles in Hollywood would chronicle her clashes with Hollywood’s self-imposed censors from the first inception of a production to the final editing of the filmed performance. Unfortunately, such a report does not seem possible. People who would know what happened are deceased and apparently did not leave behind accounts of their experiences. When a film was in pre-production, the first influences of the Production Code Administration took place in informal meetings of which no notes were put to paper. Inasmuch as studio personnel were aware of the dictates of the Production Code Administration and might have found it financially prudent to fashion their story treatments with that Code in mind, it’s likely that for most productions on which creators intended content that would violate the code, the creators “censored” themselves. In this way, concessions were in effect made to the Production Code before a single sheet of paper was written upon and before any request for a meeting was ever delivered to a member of the Code’s administrative body.
Although no notes or participants of this Code-imposed editing are known to survive from the earliest stages of the crafting of Miss Rand’s screenplays, there is documentation about decisions that were part of later stages of pre-production and production. The Production Code Administration communicated in writing with studios once the producers and writers were drafting their screenplays. This correspondence has survived and is available to researchers. Quotations from these letters and memos are extensively reproduced in this article.
Ayn Rand received screen credit for three productions on which she was employed specifically to write dialogue and actions for the performers. (This number does not include adaptations of her work on which she had no direct participation, such as the 1942 Italian production of her novel We the Living and works made after her death.) The first of these three labors was the Hal Wallis production Love Letters. Here, a novel by Chris Massie (titled Pity My Simplicity in that writer’s native England but retitled Love Letters by its American publisher) was adapted by Miss Rand without any participation of Massie. The second production to benefit from Ayn Rand’s participation was again one for Hal Wallis, this time the then-topical You Came Along, which Robert Smith had originated. Smith wrote the story as well as the first draft of the screenplay. Ayn Rand was hired to polish Smith’s work but never worked concurrently with him. Although the resulting screenplay reflects no “give-and-take” collaboration, the nominal partnership meant they were jointly credited as co-screenwriters. In that Love Letters sat unreleased for eight months after its production wrapped as against the four-month wait accorded You Came Along, movie audiences had the opportunity to see You Came Along first.2 For the purposes of this article, You Came Along will be treated as the second movie made from an Ayn Rand screenplay. Any reader who even implicitly understands the process of deduction should surmise that the third and final produced Ayn Rand screenplay was the aforementioned The Fountainhead.
This article © 2000, 2005 David P. Hayes
1. Quoted by Nora Ephron in “A Strange Kind of Simplicity,” The New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1968. Although the article begins on page 8, the quotation appears on the last page of the article (pg. 43). (Return to text)
2. This reversal of release order was not a reflection of film entertainment qualities or worries about marketing, but almost certainly determined by the end of hostilities in Europe with the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II in early May 1945. Studios rushed to market their remaining movies about service personnel lest these stories become outdated and unpalatable in the eyes of stateside moviegoers. (Return to text)