A Biography of Ayn Rand

0005_ayn_randAyn Rand was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter. Rand developed a philosophical system she named Objectivism, which advocated reason being the only means of attaining knowledge and which rejected all forms of faith and religion. Rand worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in the 1930s.

Politically, she judged initiation of force as being immoral and opposed every form of collectivism and statism. In their place, she supported laissez-faire capitalism, a policy that she believed was the only social system that protected the rights of an individual. Rand was a pro-choice, atheist Republican who resisted labels such as “conservative” and “libertarian,” though she is the poster girl for the libertarian movement, according to David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party. A 1987 New York Times article proclaimed Ayn Rand as the Reagan administration’s “novelist laureate.”

Despite the accolades, Rand was also known for being didactic and heavy-handed. She “excommunicated” many in her circle for not believing as she did. Also, her emphasis on a kind of enlightened selfishness has come under attack. Rand seems to have discarded the voluntary communal element of society in favor of extreme individualism.

Background: Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. Rand was 12 during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and, when the Bolshevik Party came into power, was in her teens when her family fled to the Crimea. She graduated high school there at age 16 and then returned to Saint Petersburg, newly named Petrograd, with her family.

After the Russian Revolution, universities opened to women, so Rand enrolled at the Petrograd State University. There, she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. Rand almost did not graduate from university, as the school had a tendency to “purge” students from a bourgeois background shortly before graduation. A group of foreign scientists protested, however, which resulted in Rand being allowed to complete her work and achieve graduation in 1924. Subsequently, Rand studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. This was the moment she adopted her pen name of Ayn Rand.

In 1925, Ayn Rand was granted a visa to visit relatives in America. She set out for Hollywood from there and took odd jobs to support herself while trying to become a screenwriter. Rand became an extra in the movie “The King of Kings,” where she met the man who would become her husband, actor Frank O’Connor. She married in 1929 and became an American citizen in 1931. Rand sold her first screenplay in 1932, though it was never produced. Rand’s second success was the courtroom drama “Night of January 16th,” first produced in Hollywood in 1934, and then again on Broadway in 1935. Her first novel, the semi-biographical We the Living, was published in 1936. It focused on the struggle between the individual and the State.

In the 1940s, Rand was a political activist. She and her husband worked full-time as volunteers for the 1940 presidential bid of Republican Wendell Willkie. Rand became involved in the public speaking aspect, where she came into contact with other intellectuals sympathetic to free-market capitalism. The Fountainhead, Rand’s first major success, was published in 1943. This success resulted in her selling the rights to the film version to Warner Brothers and initiated Rand’s return to Hollywood. Following The Fountainhead, Rand released Atlas Shrugged in 1957, which went on to even greater success, despite fairly negative early reviews by establishment critics. Today, Atlas Shrugged continues to maintain its popularity and is one of the international best-selling novels of all time. It is truly considered to be Ayn Rand’s magnum opus and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Ayn Rand was fortunate to gain work on many screenplays as a writer and script-doctor, which gave her the time to work on her other projects such as nonfiction treatment of her philosophy to be called The Moral Basis of Individualism.

While in Hollywood, Ayn Rand expanded her involvement in activism. She joined the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and the American Writers Association, both anti-Communist groups. In 1947, Rand testified as a friendly witness in front of the United States House Un-American Activities Committee, where she detailed the disparities between real life in Russia and the idealized version in the movie “Song of Russia.” In 1963, Rand received an honorary doctorate from Lewis and Clark College. In 1982, Ayn Rand died of heart failure in New York City.


More from Ayn Rand