Ayn Rand: Biography

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on 2 February 1905. Her parents named her Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum. They owned a pharmacy. She had two sisters. She grew up in the tumultuous time of the foment of communist revolution. 1905 had seen a revolutionary movement put down by the government. Subsequent years would see strikes and fighting in the streets of the Russian capital.

Drawing of Ayn Rand

As might be expected Ayn was a precocious child. She taught herself to read at the age of six and found it opened a window on the world. By age nine she had already set her course in life. She wanted to become a writer of fiction. Her ambition was sparked by meeting one of her heroes, Victor Hugo.

In 1914 the First World War (the Great War) broke out, creating considerable stress on the Russian government. Soon Russian politics was descending into chaos. First, a republican government was formed under Kerensky, nudging aside the Czar, Nicholas II. This government, in turn, was violently displaced by the Bolsheviks under V.I. Lenin. The Rosenbaum family moved to the Crimean peninsula to avoid the violence churning in the Russian cities. It was in the Crimea that Alissa discovered America. She took a course in American history and was impressed by the ideals and the implementation of those ideals. Meanwhile the totalitarian government confiscated her father's pharmacy and the family was reduced to poverty.

The Rosenbaum's returned to Petersburg. Ayn Rand attended the now renamed University of Petrograd where she studied philosophy and history. During her time there, the University was completely taken over by communist ideologues who clamped down heavily on free thought. Interested in movies and movie-making, on her graduation from university in 1924 she applied to the State Institute for Cinema Arts. While here she wrote a booklet about Hollywood.1

In 1926 she got permission to leave Russia for a visit to the United States. On her way over she adopted a pen name, Ayn Rand, the first name came from a Finnish writer, the last came from the face of her Remington Rand typewriter. The visit to the U.S. turned into a life-long stay. She visited family in Chicago for six months and then moved to California to look for work as a screen writer. Amazingly, on her second day of job hunting in Hollywood, while standing in front of a studio, she met Cecil B. DeMille who quickly offered her a job, first as an extra, then as a script reader. It was here that she met and married her husband of 50 years Frank O'Connor.

While working for the studios in various capacities she found time to write. She wrote a screen play, a stage play, and her first novel, We the Living which was an autobiographical work reflecting her early life living in Communist Russia. In 1937 she produced the novelette, Anthem, which depicted life in a completely collectivist society and whose hero innately understood that he must break out of the moral morass collectivism produced. In 1943 she published The Fountainhead, her vision of what heroic man ought to be. It would become a best-seller and a movie was made (1948) staring Gary Cooper for which she wrote the screen play.

In the late 40s she was asked to testify in congress about communism in Hollywood. She spoke of many trends of communist propaganda seeping into the movies. She even wrote a pamphlet to help guide movie makers in recognizing the propaganda inserted by screen writers. In 1951 Ayn Rand, with her husband returned to New York.2

Atlas Shrugged, probably Rand's greatest work, was published in 1953. It depicted heroic producers as they cut themselves off from a resentful collectivist society, the implications for themselves and the implications for the society. The book is a clear enunciation of her philosophy called Objectivism.

Her subsequent career was spent writing books about Objectivism (six in number), making speeches, and doing interviews in an effort to popularize her philosophy. In 1959 she did a television interview with Mike Wallace in which she spelled out much of her philosophy in clear and concise terms, while Wallace, in his usual adversarial style attempted to demonize her. It is interesting to see how Rand comes off as rational and Wallace as naive and pandering to the public.

Ayn Rand continued her work until she died in her apartment in 1982 from heart failure.

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