Ayn Rand’s first-hand observation of human nature enabled her to create such characters as Howard Roark of The Fountainhead.  This artwork was created by Warner Bros. to publicize the 1949 movie adaptation.
Ayn Rand’s Depictions of Popular Entertainment: Jumping-Off Points for Keen Observations

Ayn Rand developed “a philosophy for living on Earth” which her readers could learn about in her novels and non-fiction essays.  The bestseller status of the two longest novels and the enduring popularity of her ideas are testaments to her having expressed her new and revolutionary ideas through words, events, imagery, examples, metaphors and vocabulary that readers found clear.

Ayn Rand achieved a rare combination: works presenting ideas by which readers could reinvigorate their lives while also being enthralled by ingenious and original stories.

As she acknowledged, she was given ideas by daily life, news, history and works of other.  By seeing what works were finding acceptance in the general culture, and evaluating what this reception meant, she was able to better communicate to her readers the hazards of that culture.  (A section detailing where in Ayn Rand’s non-fiction writings she acknowledged these sources, is provided at the bottom of this page.)

This web page provides examples from the popular media of Ayn Rand’s time that parallel specific events, characters and supporting arguments in her work.  These examples prove that the content of Miss Rand’s writings was not distant or contrived, as her critics suggest.

Incredible — But True

One of the less glamorous activities an architect might perform is dressing as one of his own buildings, attending a renowned annual society ball in that guise.  Ayn Rand ridicules such activities in a brief passage in The Fountainhead.  Nonetheless, Ayn Rand did not take her lead from her fertile imagination nor from her own projection of a future which would be led to from the bizarre socializing and promotion practices of second-hander mentalities.  Instead, the novelist here was using as background an actual occurrence which took place in New York City a few years before she began planning her novel.

In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand writes:


    That winter the annual costume Arts Ball was an event of greater brilliance and originality than usual.  Athelstan Beasely, the leading spirit of its organization, had had what he called a stroke of genius: all the architects were invited to come dressed as their best buildings.  It was a huge success.
    Peter Keating was the star of the evening.  He looked wonderful as the Cosmo-Slotnick Building.  An exact papier-mâché replica of his famous structure covered him from head to knees; one could not see his face, but his bright eyes peered from behind the windows of the top floor, and the crowning pyramid of the roof rose over his head;…
    Guy Francon was very impressive as the Frink National Bank Building, although the structure looked a little squatter than in the original, in order to allow for Francon’s stomach; the Hadrian torch over his head had a real electric bulb lit by a miniature battery. Ralston Holcombe was magnificent as a state capitol, and Gordon L. Prescott was very masculine as a grain elevator. Eugene Pettingill waddled about on his skinny, ancient legs, small and bent, an imposing Park Avenue hotel, with horn-rimmed spectacles peering from under the majestic tower.  Two wits engaged in a duel, butting each other in the belly with famous spires, great landmarks of the city that greet the ships approaching from across the ocean. Everybody had lots of fun.
    Many of the architects, Athelstan Beasely in particular, commented resentfully on Howard Roark who had been invited and did not come.  They had expected to See him dressed as the Enright House.  [The Fountainhead, Part II, Chapter 11]

At least three New York City newspapers published photographs of Wilham Van Alen as the Chrysler Building in editions published from January 24, 1931, to February 1, 1931.  (Val Alen appears in the photo at right.)  Of six other architects dressed as their own buildings at the Beaux-Arts Ball the evening of January 23, 1931, most if not all seemed to have been spared from appearing in more than one newspaper.

Ayn Rand was living in Hollywood at the time of this ball—attempting a career as a screenwriter while her husband had occasional work as a screen actor—and thus may not have ever seen the newspapers.  Nonetheless, during a subsequent six-months period she learned a great deal about the architecture profession and about the people who worked in it, an achievement she assured herself of by working unpaid in the office of a major New York architect.  Her boss—the only person in the office who knew she was working without pay—undoubtedly could have told her about the Beaux-Arts Ball of 1931.  His name was Ely Jacques Kahn, and he had attended as his Squibb Building.  (He is the squat man in the photo at left.)

Outside link: A New York Times story dated January 1, 2006, was illustrated with a photo of six architects as they were dressed at the party.  The Times did not reproduce the photo which had originally appeared in The New York Herald-Tribune of January 25, 1931, although the Times by 2006 had come to co-own the Herald-Tribune copyrights and although the Times did not publish a photo of the architects to accompany its 1931 story on the Ball.  (See 2006 story with photo on The New York Times web site.)  The Times picture does not show D. E. Ward, but otherwise has the same architects in the same order as the Herald-Tribune photo.  The Herald-Tribune had credited the photograph as the newspaper’s own creation, and listed the architects and buildings in its photo as follows:
• A. Stewart Walker as the Fuller Building
• Leonard Schultz as the new Waldorf-Astoria
• E. J. Kahn as the Squibb Building
• Wilham Van Alen as the Chrysler Building
• Ralph Walker as No. 1 Wall Street
• D. E. Ward as the new Metropolitan Life Building
• J. H. Freedlander as the Museum of the City of New York


Two Examples in Ayn Rand’s Most Technical Work Have Parallels in Popular Culture

Among Miss Rand’s works, the one that her fans find the most difficult to read and comprehend is Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.  A book of technical philosophy, it understandably sells only a fraction the number of copies of her novels.  A credit to the soundness of her thinking, the book sells several times as many copies as technical works on competing theories.  Writing as she was on a topic susceptible to misinterpretation, she was careful to employ few of the literary devices which make her most popular writing such a jot to read.  Humor seldom finds a place in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology but when it does, the readers find that the humor whets the appetite for the conceptual point which will follow.

A “very philosophical answer” to a philosophical question

In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, writing about the tantalizing-to-few-readers topic of concept-formation, Ayn Rand teases the reader that later in the treatise she will consider the question “Can you measure love?”  Indicating how she will approach this question, she wrote:

(Quoted from page 21 of the initial mass-market paperback edition published by Mentor; page 17 of the Expanded Second Edition published by Meridian; passage originally published in the July 1966 issue of The Objectivist)

She does not disappoint when she answers the question two chapters later.  Relying on the reader’s having learned her definitions of technical terms as used in the preceding pages, she explains: “The concept ‘love’ is formed by isolating two or more instances of the appropriate psychological process, then retaining its distinguishing characteristics… and omitting the object and the measurements of the process’s intensity.”  After providing further delineations, she gives what some might call “real world” or “concrete” examples, thereby bringing more certainty to the minds of her most intelligent readers and perhaps expanding the number of readers who will come away with a good semblance of the meaning she intended to convey.

She writes:

(Quoted from page 45 of the initial mass-market paperback edition published by Mentor; pages 34-35 of the Expanded Second Edition published by Meridian; passage originally published in the September 1966 issue of The Objectivist)

Two decades before Miss Rand wrote and published this treatise, the performer sometimes billed as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” posed the same question to his nationwide prime-time radio audience—and suggested that the answer was to be found in a song which one of the country’s best-loved songwriters had written two decades earlier still.  (Click image to play brief sound clip.)

(If the above HTML5 Canvas animation above does not function on your equipment, click here for the same content in MP4 and WebM video formats.)

As Al Jolson’s introductory remark suggests, a lot of people seem to have mused on whether it is possible to measure love.  Visitors to this site would be wrong to conclude that Miss Rand’s question and answer in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology prove she was listening to NBC radio the evening of this particular Jolson rendition.  However, visitors can allow themselves greater latitude in assuming that Miss Rand had heard Irving Berlin’s 1932 song at some time during the first fifteen years after he wrote it.  In Part I, Chapter II of Atlas Shrugged, during a conversation between Hank Rearden and Paul Larkin, Miss Rand tells us:

[Quotation: Page 46, paperback edition, in 8th and 51st printings; page 40, Random House hardback edition]

The presence of two consecutive lines from Irving Berlin’s song suggests that the lyrics had been repeated so often on radio, at parties, in music stores, or in other places that songs are heard, that Miss Rand could latch onto the words as an expression of mental passivity and resignation, and Miss Rand could know that the reader seeing Paul Larkin’s second-hand phrase would evaluate him as a lazy thinker.  Or: Miss Rand may have contemplated the meaning of the lyrics and then filed away in her mind the question and the best answer (“How far would I travel, to be where you are?”).  Or: both of the preceding—which are not mutually exclusive.  In any event, Paul Larkin’s tired remark had almost certainly been fixed in manuscript before Jolson introduced and sang the song on “Kraft Music Hall” November 4, 1948.

Ayn Rand’s private notes suggest that the month before the broadcast, she was determining details for the anniversary party scene—which occurs in Part I, Chapter VI—ninety pages of small type beyond the Paul Larkin remark.  Ayn Rand began writing manuscript (as opposed to only notes) September 2, 1946, and was writing scenes past Chapter II in 1947.  (Source: Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman, published by Dutton, 1997)

“Crow epistemology”

One of the most cited examples in Miss Rand’s non-fiction occurs in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.  In chapter 7, she writes about an experiment with crows.  The conclusion is that a mind can handle a limited number of items at any one time, after which a mind simply loses the ability to consider more unless it drops awareness of something in its focus.  Miss Rand cautions that we cannot know precisely what number represents this limit, but it likely is low:  In the example with crows:

(Quotation and citation from pages 82-83 of the initial mass-market paperback edition published by Mentor; pages 62-63 of the Expanded Second Edition published by Meridian; passages originally published in the January 1967 issue of The Objectivist)

Disciples and advocates of Miss Rand’s philosophy—called Objectivists—refer to this point in terms that come across as “secret language” to outsiders.  They say “crow epistemology,” “my crow,” and simply “the crow.”  Remarkably, the word combination “one-two-three-many” appeared in an obscure, low-budget movie twenty-four years prior publication of Miss Rand’s story and analysis.  (The movie had been sold to television in the interim.)  (Click image to play brief movie clip.)

This clip is from Tiger Fangs, produced and released by “Poverty Row” stalwart company Producers Releasing Corporation (commonly called PRC).  The leading man was noted animal hunter Frank Buck (who appears in the clip).  The film was released 1943.  Web page author’s advice: the movie as a whole is dreck.  It is not recommended as entertainment.

Did Miss Rand see Tiger Fangs?  Living in New York from October 1951 to the end of her life (1982), she had the opportunity to see Tiger Fangs on television prior to writing about crows for the January 1967 issue of The Objectivist.  On Saturday, January 29, 1966, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., the film was shown on New York’s channel 9.  A decade earlier, on Saturday, August 10, 1957, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., it was broadcast on channel 5; before that decade finished, it was shown again Saturday, January 25, 1958, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on channel 5, on Sunday, July 12, 1958, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on channel 13, on Saturday, December 5, 1958, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on channel 13, and Saturday, June 12, 1959, at 3p.m. on channel 5.  Given that the January 1967 issue of The Objectivist was copyrighted February 1, 1967, Miss Rand didn’t have time to be influenced by broadcasts of Tiger Fangs on Wednesday, January 25, 1967, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Wednesday, February 1, 1967, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., both times on channel 9.  Might she have recalled viewing the film at a time when she was contemplating Galt’s Speech but prior to writing it?  If so, she could have been viewing Tuesday, January 29, 1952, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday, January 31, 1952, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, February 5, 1952, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., or Thursday, February 14, 1952, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., each time on channel 9.  However, if the relevant scene connected with her thoughts on epistemology during the years that she was writing Galt’s speech, she might while writing Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology been drawing from wording she heard while watching a broadcast of Tiger Fangs on New York television one of the following times: Thursday, January 29, 1953, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:25 p.m., on channel 2, Wednesday, August 12, 1953, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., then repeated 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., on channel 5, Sunday, August 22, 1954, from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., on channel 7, and September 12, 1954, from 10:30 pm. until station sign-off, on channel 7.

“The great problem: Should a woman tell?”

Ayn Rand expressed in her novels her disappointment and even disgust with the entertainments that the multitude of men seemed to tolerate if not favor.  In Atlas Shrugged, the heroine observes a movie poster and a drunk couple, and in her mind pronounces a verdict on what these mean: “These were the things men lived by, the forms of their spirit, of their culture, of their enjoyment.  She had seen nothing else anywhere, not for many years.”

The movie poster described was similar to many that Ayn Rand likely saw.  In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand writes of her heroine:

She walked past a movie theater.  Its lights wiped out half a block, leaving only a huge photograph and some letters suspended in blazing mid-air.  The photograph was of a smiling young woman; looking at her face, one felt the weariness of having seen it for years, even while seeing it for the first time.  The letters said: “… in a momentous drama giving the answer to the great problem: Should a woman tell?”  [Part I, Chapter IV; page 69, paperback edition, in 8th and 51st printings; page 66, Random House hardback edition]

Movie posters of the 1930s and 1940s posed questions like that invented by Ayn Rand for that passage.  The advertisement reproduced below doesn’t present a question, but comes near to indicating to audiences that it answers the same question as Miss Rand’s fictitious poster.

01_SwnsnIndscr.gif 02_SwnsnDtail.gif

The above ad appeared in The New York Times on May 6, 1931.  The detail image is included so that readers may better read the key line.

Next two ads, below: Here are more ads from the early 1930s, each of which poses a sex-tinged question.

Gloria Swanson is featured in her sole release of two years later.  This time, the ad does include a question—“Did it work?”—albeit one that relies upon the leading copy to establish the context. 06_SwnsnUnd.jpg

Ayn Rand was a fan of Gloria Swanson, and may have formed opinions on the advertising and themes of Swanson’s movies that differed from the high regard that Ayn Rand had for Swanson as an actress and personality.  In Letters of Ayn Rand (edited by Michael S. Berliner, published by Dutton, 1995), there appears a fan letter from Rand to Swanson dated 1941.  This was on the occasion of the release of Swanson’s only movie during the years from 1935 to 1949.  Movies such as Indiscreet and Perfect Understanding essentially finished Swanson’s film career until she returned playing a grotesque version of her earlier self in the classic Sunset Boulevard (1950).

03_SScne.jpg Asking “Has a neglected wife the right to seek the attention of other men?,” the ad for Street Scene (Samuel Goldwyn/United Artists, 1931) misleadingly suggests a marital drama when in fact the movie presents a potpouri of diverse stories, all faithfully adapted (albeit abridged) from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name.
Here are two panels from a magazine ad for Common Clay (RKO, 1930) starring Constance Bennett.  Miss Bennett starred in several films of this type, and additional instances of this type of ad for others of her films are reproduced on a supplemental page to this one. 04_ClayBad.jpg 05_ClaySide.jpg


“… any movie that displayed a half-naked female on its posters”

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote:

The crowd knew from the newspapers that he [Hank Rearden] represented the evil of ruthless wealth; and—as they praised the virtue of chastity, then ran to see any movie that displayed a half-naked female on its posters—so they came to see him; evil, at least, did not have the stale hopelessness of a bromide which none believed and none dared to challenge.  They looked at him without admiration—admiration was a feeling they had lost the capacity to experience, long ago; they looked with curiosity and with a dim sense of defiance against those who had told them that it was their duty to hate him.  [Part II, Chapter IV, page 447, paperback edition, in 8th and 51st printings; page 475, Random House hardback edition]

By the time that Atlas Shrugged was completed and published in 1957, few people could find a “movie that displayed a half-naked female on its posters”—mainstream movies had long since succumbed to advertising practices imposed on the major studios and distributors which forbade the inclusion of nudity or partial nudity on any advertising material.  (Such exceptions made available from non-mainstream companies, typically burlesque performances put on film, were shown in few theaters.)  However, Ayn Rand describe posters that had been used to advertise films from major American studios starring their leading actresses.

07_SngDietrch.jpg Paramount advertised Marlene Dietrich prominently in this ad for a 1933 release.  The studio was not cheating its audience with an ad featuring Miss Dietrich disrobed.  In the film, she plays a sculptor’s model, and both she and the artist’s sculpture appear nude.
09_BlndVens.jpgParamount placed a two-page ad in magazines for Blonde Venus featuring Marlene Dietrich in a see-through top.  On this web site, the left-side page of the ad has been reproduced at one-quarter scale.  The film was released in 1932.  The combination of Marlene Dietrich as star and Josef von Sternberg as director was to have been the box-office draw for a proposed film of Ayn Rand’s screenplay Red Pawn.  Ayn Rand sold it in 1931, and in July 1934, she was at Paramount working again on it, as it was planned for Marlene Dietrich.  Director Sternberg decided after filming Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress (released September 1934) that he did not want to immediately do another Russia story, so Red Pawn was shelved and has yet to be filmed.  (See The Early Ayn Rand, hb. pg. 107, rev. pb. pg. 149; Letters of Ayn Rand, pg. 14.) 10_BlndVens2.jpg
Warner Bros. advertised Footlight Parade (1933) with skimpy, form-fitting attire on a chorus girl. 11_FtlghtPrd.jpg

08_PaintdWm.jpg 12_SlandrGrl.jpg 13_TrdrHrn.jpg

Advertisements for The Painted Woman (Fox Film, 1932) (detail only, left), The Slander Girl (advance-announcement advertisement of 1931; detail only, center) and Trader Horn (MGM, 1931) which show that exposed female flesh turned up on movie ads during the early 1930s.  The Slander Girl was announced in Spring 1931 by RKO along with an adaptation of another Rex Beach short story, The Fourth Offense, neither of which reached the screen, neither under their original titles nor under any other title on which original story credit was given Rex Beach.

In The Fountainhead (1943), Ayn Rand wrote of the boy on the bicycle:

He did not want to despise men; he wanted to love and admire them.  But he dreaded the sight of the first house, poolroom and movie poster he would encounter on his way.  [Part Four, Chapter 1.  Passage is on or near second page of this chapter in all editions.  In Signet pb. ed., pg. 505]

The above examples seems to provide part of the reason for the boy’s response.


“… the terrible fool, last week he was looking at a pair of movie comedians and loving them”

In The Fountainhead, the heroine tells her lover that she feels disgust at knowing that a person who could approach and interact with such an admirable, virtuous person as he could as easily find enjoyment in personages without the hero’s virtues.  As Ayn Rand explains:

… losing the sense of her words, she whispered: “Roark, there was a man talking to you out there today, and he was smiling at you, the fool, the terrible fool, last week he was looking at a pair of movie comedians and loving them, I wanted to tell that man: don’t look at him, you’ll have no right to want to look at anything else, don’t like him, you’ll have to hate the rest of the world, […] one or the other, not together, not with the same eyes, don’t look at him, don’t like him, don’t approve, that’s what I wanted to tell him, not you and the rest of it, I can’t bear to see that […].”  [Part Two, Chapter 8.  Signet pb. ed., pg. 289]

Readers are cautioned to remember that Dominique represents Ayn Rand “in a bad mood.”  Thus, readers should not conclude Ayn Rand’s disparagement of movie comedian pairs of all description and in all circumstances.  Nonetheless, the quoted passage does express a common Rand theme the virtues represented by the heroes of her novels provide inspiration and guidance that are glaringly absent in entertainments that denature man’s heroic potential.

Ayn Rand undoubtedly saw many teams of movie comedians in the short comedies that accompanied the feature films she saw in large numbers during the late 1920s.  (Ayn Rand’s log of the feature films she saw is reproduced in Russian Writings on Hollywood, Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1999.  The only shorts listed are a small number she apparently thought highly enough to name.)  She possibly had the opportunity to observe at least two such pairs when she worked in the costume department of RKO during the early 1930s.  At that time, the studio made feature comedies starring Wheeler & Woolsey and short comedies starring Clark & McCullough.  In the on-screen characters of these four talents, the viewer will see meakness, effeminacy, manic energy usurping the place of purposefulness, and proneness to avoidable catastrophes.


This magazine ad for RKO’s Wheeler & Woolsey comedy Hips, Hips, Hooray (RKO, 1934) lets readers gauge the personalities of this comedy pair.  The ad also suggests the bare midriffs exposed by the chorus girls’ costumes.  In the actual film, viewers see that the costume tops don’t cover the sides of the breasts, either.  (A still photo appears in Mark A. Vieira’s book Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, page 168.)


Real-Life Counterparts to Events and Characters

Ayn Rand wrote in a disclaimer that appears before the start of Part I of The Fountainhead:

No person or event in this story is intended as a reference to any real person or event.  The titles of the newspaper columns were invented and used by me in the first draft of this novel five years ago.  They were not taken from and have no reference to any actual newspaper columns or features.

March 10, 1943

This same observation can be extended to the names of movie companies, film actresses, and screen titles in the novel.  It has long been recognized that Lois Cook is based on Gertrude Stein.  Remarks that Ayn Rand jotted in her private journals (published after her death in Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman) suggest that Rand asked herself questions about William Randolph Hearst when considering at least some limited aspects of the career of Gail Wynand, the newspaper publisher she created for The Fountainhead, whereas her character Austen Heller was thought of by her one time intertwined with the era’s preeminent columnist, H.L. Mencken.

Some of the movie entities in the novel have close parallels to actual entities of the 1920s and 1930s—the decades depicted in the novel—and likely struck chords of recognition in the minds of readers who read the novel upon publication in 1943.  In Part I, chapter 14, Ayn Rand writes about a bathing-suit-attired young actress photographed on behalf of movie company Cosmo-Slotnick Pictures, which was then promoting such movies as “I’ll Take a Sailor” and “Wives for Sale.”

Let it be said that Ayn Rand invented those titles.  The Cumulative Copyright Catalog of Motion Pictures for 1912-1939, published by the United States Copyright Office, lists no movie with the title “I’ll Take a Sailor” copyrighted during those years.  “Wives for Sale” has a slightly-different status.  One can surmise that Ayn Rand never heard of it, because the only copyright listing is for an M-G-M release of a one-reel short made in Germany and designated an “Oddity” in the description provided by the studio for copyright purposes.

Moviegoers of the 1920s may have sensed that these titles could have passed for major studio releases.  In place of a feature film called “Wives for Sale” the Hollywood studios released such actual feature-length potboilers as Exchange of Wives (MGM 1925), Borrowed Wives (Tiffany 1930), The Marriage Market (Columbia 1923), and Wives at Auction (Macfadden 1926).

Rising young actresses of the 1920s participated in publicity campaigns similar to that described in The Fountainhead: “I the Sunday [newspaper] supplements there were photographs of Cosmo-Slotnick starlets in shorts and sweaters, holding T-squares and slide-rules, standing before drawing boards that bore the legend: ‘Cosmo-Slotnick Building’ over a huge question mark.”  A group called the WAMPAS Baby Stars appeared in well-circulated news photos of this kind.  (See Wikipedia entry on the WAMPAS Baby Stars.)  Among the 1924 starlets chosen for WAMPAS on the belief that they were on the verge of stardom were Dorothy Mackaill (who in 1931 starred in one of the films selected for its poster to be reproduced on the supplemental page to the current web page) and the actress who would be the most popular at the box office during the decade: vivacious and sensitive Clara Bow.

Clara Bow never appeared in a film titled “I’ll Take a Sailor” but she made up for it by starring in Get Your Man (1927), The Fleet’s In (1929), and True to the Navy (1930).  She made them for Paramount—which in 1926 erected the famous Paramount Building with a 3600-seat theater at ground level and 29 stories of offices.  One may assume that Ayn Rand thought of this when she wrote: “Cosmo-Slotnick Pictures of Hollywood, California, had decided to erect a stupendous home office in New York, a skyscraper to house a motion-picture theater and forty floors of office.”  (Historic images of the Paramount Building attest to its similarity to the fictional Cosmo-Slotnick.)  The name Cosmo-Slotnick is not far afield for a movie company, either.  When you consider that “Cosmo” connotes “gargantuan” and “significant” and that “Slotnick” sounds like a European small-country surname, it’s easy to see a parallel in “Metro-Goldwyn.”  It might be objected that this is a poor match to an actual company, because the well-known M-G-M stands for “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.”  While this has been true for most of the company’s history, it didn’t start out with “Mayer” in the name.  Though Louis B. Mayer was head of production at the merged company from its beginning, having merged his own company into the new entity at the same time as did the others, his name originally appeared on credits as the presenter rather than as part of the corporate identity.  (See illustration alongside this paragraph.  The image is a detail from a poster for the merged company’s first production: He Who Gets Slapped (1924).)

In picking a character name for an actress young and pert be photographed on the steps of the Rheims Cathedral in a bathing suit, Ayn Rand might be allowed a choice too similar to a possible Hollywood counterpart.  The Fountainhead gives this actress’s name as Sally O’Dawn.  An examination of the WAMPAS Baby Stars roster reveals a 1926 member named Sally O’Neil.  Unlike Miss Bow and Miss Mackaill, Sally O’Neil had an uneasy rise out of supporting roles, generally getting her lead parts at Poverty Row companies.


Ayn Rand published a “horror file”—to expose the culture’s deficiencies

As a story creator and as an observer of the culture, Ayn Rand was often critical of the ideas found in the popular entertainment so readily available at the times she was writing.  Her characters often stare upon the signs of contemporary entertainment and cultural milestones as though it were a test of endurance just to recognize that such works could find favor with a mass or elite audience.  Occasionally, Ayn Rand would praise a popular work.  Where an author or artist brought clarity or vital new throught to a subject, she recommended it to her audience.

This web page has provided samples from popular media that show that the examples which Ayn Rand used in expressing her ideas were not distant or contrived but rather of the type found in the common experiences of the human beings living in America at the same time she was.  Ayn Rand herself wanted her audience to understand that she depicted in her writings a culture that her readers could recognize for themselves if only they would reject the self-made blindnesses that made them fail to even consider such possibilities.  In her speech “Is Atlas Shrugging?” (reprinted in her anthology Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal (1966)), Ayn Rand quoted from general-circulation newspapers and magazines to prove that the outrageous beliefs, legislation and practices dramatized in her novel Atlas Shrugged had real-life counterparts expounded, proposed or enacted by college professors and lawmakers.  Subsequent to her giving that speech, Ayn Rand in her magazines The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivists, in some but not all of the issued dated from June 1965 to August 1971, published a column of excerpts called “From the ‘Horror File.’”  Typically, the collection began with an explanatory sentence such as this: “For those who wonder whether the intellectual level of today’s culture is as low as we charge, the following should prove illuminating.”

Elsewhere in her magazines, non-fiction writing and lectures, Ayn Rand commended works which were illuminating on the terms envisioned by their creators.  She pointed out that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not mere horror because, although the doctor’s physical change is impossible, the symbolic device lets the author express a psychological truth about one human being trying to live by two contradictory sets of psychological premises.


It would be an injustice to Ayn Rand to leave without providing an eloquent example of the many comments by Ayn Rand that express her insight on what a discerning observer can learn about a culture from the movies that appeal to its citizens.  Consider this:

Have you noticed the proliferation of trashy science-fiction movies dealing with the same preposterous theme: the stealthy takeover of this earth by some evil creatures from outer space, in the form of giant insects, conscious vegetables, or shapeless sponges growing at uncheckable speed? These stories are true, in the way that ancient myths were true—as an attempt of primitive men to express an inexplicable fear by projecting an emotional equivalent: by inventing some mysterious phenomenon, such as a supernatural monster, which they had no power to identify; the phenomenon was fantasy, the emotion it evoked was real.

(Ayn Rand, in The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. III, No. 26, September 23, 1974)


Want to find out which movies, actors, directors and source works were admired by Ayn Rand?  Visit my web site on Movies of Interest to Objectivists.  Quotations from Miss Rand are provided wherever appropriate.  (Also at this linked site: still more comparisons of incidents from Ayn Rand novels to actual movie people active at the time that Ayn Rand set her novels or was writing them.)

To learn more about the Motion Picture Production Code imposed by the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors Association (now named the Motion Picture Association of America), visit my web site on the Motion Picture Production Code.  To learn specifically about changes demanded by the Production Code Administration on the three produced screenplays written by and credited to Ayn Rand, take this direct link to my article Ayn Rand versus Hollywood Self-Censorship.

See more movie posters and advertising which document that the criticisms of movie posters implicit in Ayn Rand’s novels are indeed based on actual advertisements of the “pre-Code” era.  Click here for the supplemental page.




This page is part of the Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry web site
© 2009 David P. Hayes