The Six Million Dollar Rand Neil Parille

100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand Scott McConnell, editor New York: New American Library xviii + 638 pp., index Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster. — The Six Million Dollar Man, ABC Television Series, Opening Narration (Season 1, Episode 1: “Population: Zero,” 18 January 1974)

Even in this age of identity politics and socially constructed reality, it is still the mark of the sophisticated person that he concerns himself with ideas and not the person who holds them.1 Yet when it comes to Ayn Rand, much of the popular criticism of her philosophy turns on her personality and how the alleged flaws in her philosophy result from purported character flaws. To some extent Rand set herself up for such criticism. Her claims about herself were indeed dramatic. She asserted that she had the same philosophy since age two and one-half, never relied on others for help, had few intellectual debts, never had an emotion she couldn’t account for, was a completely integrated person, and had no peer among the intellectuals of her day and perhaps none in history.2 She asserted that she had created the most rational philosophy in history, Objectivism, and that she lived it consistently and without exception.3 If Rand didn’t live up to these exalted claims, then she is an easy target for those who would dismiss her ideas as misguided projections of her personal flaws. But was Ayn Rand flawed, at least from the perspective of her own philosophy? The first complete biography of Rand was The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986) by former associate Barbara Branden. There is much in Passion
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that is commendatory. Rand was a brilliant thinker with a magnetic effect on her followers and even on many of her critics. She was independent and hard working. She fought tirelessly to promote her philosophy even when reviewers heaped scorn on her novels. She was kind and patient with newcomers who were interested in her ideas. Yet Passion revealed a person whose behavior and ideas were often at odds with her self-reported claims. Rand had a volcanic temper, frequently directed at her close associates. She broke or caused breaks with numerous followers for no other reason than their inability to accept her demanding personality. For all her commitment to reason, she held eccentric ideas such as “bad premises” being the cause of cancer. She allowed what might, with some exaggeration, be called a cult to grow up around her. Indeed, the implication of Passion is that Rand was not always quite in touch with reality. Rand would praise herself, some of her followers, and her husband Frank O’Connor on account of qualities they did not possess. Most poignant was Rand’s relationship with O’Connor. By all accounts, this mild-mannered, non-intellectual man was devoted to Rand and an Objectivist; however, he was far from the heroes in her novels even though she would proclaim him as one. Yet, perhaps the most damaging aspect of Passion is that it revealed for the first time Rand’s affair (while she was married) with Barbara Branden’s then husband Nathaniel Branden (25 years Rand’s junior), her second in command in the Objectivist movement. This unusual relationship, now known in Objectivist circles as “the Affair,” was grudgingly consented to by their respective spouses. It almost led to the destruction of the Objectivist movement in 1968 after Nathaniel lost interest in Rand and turned his attention to a much younger woman, a fact that he concealed from Rand for more than four years. On learning of Nathaniel Branden’s new affair and his concealment of it, Rand denounced both Brandens and split with them “totally” and “permanently,” although not revealing anything about the Affair (Rand 1968, 1). Most non-Objectivists would have found Rand’s contention naive that as moral giants she, her husband, and the Brandens would succeed where others were doomed to fail. Rand’s remaining followers, rallying around her legal and selfreported “intellectual heir” Leonard Peikoff, were enraged at Barbara

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Branden’s account. Peikoff and Peter Schwartz denounced the book as “arbitrary,” using a Peikovian extension of Objectivist thought. Branden’s assertions, even those that were obviously true (for instance, that Rand was born in Russia), were to be considered arbitrary and not worthy of comment (Campbell 2008).4 Since his initial denunciation of Barbara Branden’s biography, Peikoff has supported several works containing generally oblique criticisms of her and her former husband. 5 However, it wasn’t until James Valliant’s book The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics (2005) that Peikoff took direct aim at Passion. Valliant argued that Passion (and the even more critical memoirs of Nathaniel Branden) were not merely arbitrary, but dishonest. In spite of an initial flurry of support from some of Rand’s more orthodox followers, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics does not appear to have changed the perception that Barbara Branden’s account was accurate.6 Indeed, two biographical studies published in the years following, Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market (2009a) and Anne Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009), largely concur with Branden’s account, albeit with different nuances and occasional corrections to the historical record.

The Oral History Project
The Oral History Project (OHP) of the Ayn Rand Archives began interviewing Rand’s friends, family and associates in 1996. The Ayn Rand Archives are associated with the Peikoff-sponsored Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) in Irvine, California. The culmination of the OHP is 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand (2010),7 a collection of interviews (all conducted by the OHP), edited by Scott McConnell. McConnell, who is no longer employed by the Archives, was aided in the project by chief archivist Jeff Britting. Unfortunately, no discussion of any material associated with the Archives can take place without reference to the fact, first reported in detail by Burns, that Rand’s posthumously published material was rewritten by persons associated with the ARI. Burns revealed in 2009 that six works of Rand’s posthumous material were “significantly rewritten” with an ideological agenda of making Rand appear to be a more consistent and articulate thinker (Burns 2009a, 291–93). This was confirmed recently by Robert Campbell (2011). In a detailed analysis of Ayn Rand Answers, Campbell compared the questions and


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answers as published in 2005 by editor Robert Mayhew with what Rand actually said during these sessions and found dramatic differences. Many answers were substantially rewritten and edited. Answers that would put Rand in a bad light, such as her claim that no non-fiction writers influenced her during her years in America, were omitted. Answers that mentioned followers with whom Rand or even Peikoff broke were edited to leave out their names or omitted in their entirety. Although neither the original recordings of the interviews nor the interview transcripts used in 100 Voices have been made available to most independent researchers (Burns being a rare exception), it would be unfair to lump McConnell’s volume with the six books mentioned by Burns. First, the material does not include any interviews of Rand, recordings of Rand speaking, or unpublished writings of hers. Second, the volumes that Burns criticized were all personally sponsored by Leonard Peikoff. 100 Voices is not: Peikoff is neither among those interviewed nor is he mentioned in the introduction. Third, Burns (2009b) reports that the archivists themselves are unhappy with the quality of the posthumous material released through 2009. Finally, McConnell (2010, x) states that all the interviewees (or their heirs) approved the interviews as published. While this work should be used with caution for reasons to be mentioned below, I think it is a fair assumption that the interviewees said what is attributed to them. 100 Voices’ chapters are arranged chronologically, generally in terms of when each interviewee met Rand, beginning with Rand’s sister Eleonora Drobysheva and concluding with a lengthy interview of Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger. Certainly 100 Voices gives the impression of completeness. Everyone, or so it seems, from Rand’s secretary in the 1940s, her veterinarian, her physician, her publishers, the woman after whom Peter Keating in The Fountainhead was modeled, to her devoted housekeeper has been interviewed. McConnell even found space for interviews with Dorothy Gotthelf, who talked to Rand once on the phone, and actor Robert Stack, who apparently never met Rand or talked to her. Those interviewed are not necessarily Rand’s ideological friends. Rand’s housekeeper, Eloise Huggins, was an Evangelical Christian. Rand’s New American Library editor Patrick O’Connor was a Trotskyite. As McConnell puts it:

Parille — The Six Million Dollar Rand I selected the interviews in this collection to cover a broad range of years, contexts, relationships and observations, and to supplement the limited number of reliable biographical sources available elsewhere. Not all the interviewees are fans; nor did they all admire Ayn Rand or agree with her ideas. Those interviewed provide new and valuable perspectives on Ayn Rand. . . . Discussing her will be a former prime minister, a rock guitarist, Hollywood stars, TV celebrities, university professors, fiction writers and philosophers. (McConnell 2010, ix; emphasis added)


For the most part they tell a consistent story: Rand was kind to a fault, generous with her time, and (above all else) unfailingly devoted to her husband. It is not difficult to see the conclusion that McConnell wishes his readers to draw: if such a diverse group of people find Rand nothing but commendable, then the accounts from those with whom Rand broke over personal disputes or the finer points of Objectivist philosophy must be colored by bias or bitterness. And the biographical accounts that use them as sources must not be reliable.8 However, McConnell either did not interview or chose not to include those who knew Rand in other contexts, in particular when it came to the “movement” side of Objectivism. The list of those omitted from 100 Voices reads like a Who’s Who of the Objectivist movement from the 1950s to Rand’s death in 1982. Allan and Joan Blumenthal, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Robert Hessen, John Hospers, and Henry and Erika Holzer are just a few of the omissions. 9 Rand had a falling out with each of these people. 10 McConnell’s criterion for inclusion actually extends beyond those with whom Rand split: a potential interviewee’s status with Peikoff appears to have been determinative. Economist George Reisman and his wife, psychologist Edith Packer, are not interviewed even though they never split with Rand. The same applies to philosopher David Kelley. Reisman, Packer and Kelley all fell out of favor with Peikoff. Packer’s reminiscences in particular would be valuable since Rand often confided in her toward the end of her life (Heller 2009, 406). It is unfortunate enough that McConnell did not interview such people. Even worse, McConnell elected to largely omit them from


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100 Voices’ historical narrative. Reisman is mentioned once, with a reference on the same page to an “Edith” (McConnell 2010, 158). When John Ridpath reports that the Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” was read at Rand’s funeral, neither he nor the editor reports that Kelley read the poem (360). Kelley, in fact, is not mentioned at all. McConnell’s decision not to interview Nathaniel or Barbara Branden is defensible considering Rand’s repudiation of them in 1968. The same however cannot be said of his omission of the Affair in a book that purports to contain a good selection of the “contexts” and “relationships” in Rand’s life. Certainly some mention of the Affair is necessary, if for no other reason than putting in context the repeated comments about Rand’s devotion to her husband and Cynthia Peikoff’s reference to various unspecified “lies” Nathaniel Branden told to Rand. In addition, McConnell should tell his readers that Passion is held in low esteem in ARI circles. How else are they to make sense of Cynthia Peikoff’s claim that Barbara Branden’s final meeting with Rand in 1981 was misrepresented in her (unnamed) biography (554–55)? Curiously, even Rand’s sister Eleonora takes a jab at Branden’s (again unnamed) biography, calling it “dirty and slanderous” (6). Since Nora did not appear to speak English and Passion was never translated into Russian, one wonders why McConnell finds her judgment noteworthy.11 Unfortunately, there is every reason to conclude that the accounts in 100 Voices are not only selective in topics covered, but also in their description of Rand. One need only compare what some of the interviewees say in the book to what they have told other interviewers such as Heller and Barbara Branden. Particularly interesting is Ruth Beebe Hill’s interview, which, like most others in 100 Voices, is almost entirely positive. Hill rented Rand’s home in Chatsworth, California after Rand moved to New York City. While Hill reports that Frank loved the home and ranch and hoped one day to return, her account as provided to Heller is somewhat different. There she reports that Rand’s protestations that Frank was really happier in New York City were dishonest. Hill also told Heller about the uncleanliness of the Chatsworth house and Rand’s claim to have seen a UFO. Of particular note is Hill’s description of her final meeting with Rand. Rand returned to California once to check on the house; during the visit, Rand became irate at Hill because she refused to become a distributor

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of Nathaniel Branden Institute tapes without first listening to them (Heller 2009, 334). There are similar omissions in the interviews of Fern Brown, Richard Cornuelle, Don Ventura, and others.12 While I am unable to compare the published version of the interviews with the originals, it is unlikely that the interviewees did not say any of the negative things that they mentioned to Heller or Branden.13 It should be noted that these omissions occur in a book sufficiently spacious to include 9 pages about Rand’s infatuation with actor Hans Gudegast (aka Eric Braeden of The Rat Patrol and The Young and the Restless), not to mention repetitive accounts of her love of Scrabble, her affection for her cats, and the decency of her husband. Readers might be forgiven if they are more interested in the rise and fall of the Objectivist movement in the 1950s and 60s than in Rand’s disappointment with Gudegast’s facial hair. Yet 100 Voices still contains hints that Rand’s biographers have got it basically right. Richard Cornuelle reports that in the early 1950s Rand phoned to tell him that he should side with her and not Ludwig von Mises, because of Mises’s support for the draft. Cornuelle notes that “It wasn’t the argument that mattered. She didn’t want me to agree with her. She wanted me to discontinue my relations with Lu [Ludwig] as a way of showing I was on her side. . . . I remember Ayn’s belief that people were your adversaries in almost the inverse proportion to their proximity to your position” (McConnell 2010, 153). This is a particularly telling concession since it dates from before the Objectivist movement entered full swing, and it certainly helps to explain how Rand could be cordial with her Trotskyite editor but extremely difficult with members of the Collective. Al Ramrus reports that at Saturday evening meetings with the Collective, Rand and Nathaniel Branden were treated as “demigods” and, while Rand didn’t ask for such adulation, “she had to be aware of it” (163). Shelly Reuben says that Rand was “naive” for not realizing the sycophancy of so many of her followers (372). Albert Ruddy, who was going to direct a movie version of Atlas Shrugged in the early 1970s, reports that Rand wanted a clause in the contract requiring that she be flown to California in a private jet because, if the Soviets found out that she was in a commercial airliner, they would hijack the plane (510). Brigadier General Jack Capps of West Point, where Rand spoke in 1974, reports that during Rand’s talk she “was congratulating the


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cadets and officers for their devotion to duty, et cetera, et cetera, but it gave me the feeling that she realized that she had these people going, and she played them rather like an angler with a trout on the line, and this I didn’t care for” (498). Rand’s veterinarian describes Rand’s borderline narcissistic response to the impending death of her beloved cat Frisco. “‘Doctor, why my cat?’ . . . ‘But why Frisco? Why my cat?’” (303–4). In spite of various problems with 100 Voices (in particular its repetitive nature), one should not downplay its value. Many interviews are a pleasure to read and shed much light on Rand, though occasionally in a way that McConnell might not have intended. For example, social worker Evva Pryor tells how she signed Rand and her husband up for Social Security and Medicare. “Whether she agreed or not is not the issue, she saw the necessity for both her and Frank” (521). The interview with fellow author Mickey Spillane is another highlight. The relationship between two writers, neither of whom was always on the friendly side with critics, appears to have been one of the happier ones in Rand’s life: We discussed subject matter, ways of writing a story. One of the things she always appreciated was the fact that people don’t read a book to get to the middle. They read a book to get to the end and hope the ending is so great that it justifies all the time they spent in reading it. You have to get to the end of the book and “Wow!” Now that’s the biggest part of the book. Anyway, we talked about things like that. (232–33) Spillane tells how he would go to Rand’s apartment and her disciples were “hanging onto every word,” even the inconsequential ones. He and Rand would ignore them (233). The interviews that stand out are those like Spillane’s or June Kato Kurisu’s, because Rand was relating to a non-Objectivist. Rand the non-Objectivist was always a kinder person than Rand the Objectivist. Particularly touching is the interview with Rand’s housekeeper of 17 years, Eloise Huggins. Huggins was from British Guiana and a convert from nominal Anglicanism to Evangelical Christianity. As

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Rand got older and Frank O’Connor became sicker, Huggins became Rand’s companion, always joining her when she went out. They debated religion; whereas Huggins tried to convert Rand, Rand never tried to convert Huggins. On learning of Rand’s impending death, Huggins flew back from a vacation in Barbados. “When I first got to the hospital, she said, ‘Oh Ellie, you’re back.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She says, ‘This is not going to be a death-bed conversion!’” (449).14 In the end, these interviews bring far more value to 100 Voices than the occasional clumsy attempts at building a better, stronger, faster Ayn Rand.

I thank Gordon Burkowski and Robert Campbell for their comments on this review. The usual caveats apply.

1. Consider Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who had to repudiate her claim that as a Hispanic female she was more likely to decide cases correctly than white males. 2. For example, when philosopher Allan Gotthelf told Rand that she had done for consciousness what Aristotle did for reality, she responded “that’s true” (Binswanger and Gotthelf 2005). 3. So far as I can tell, the only mistakes Rand conceded were being occasionally unfair or angry to questioners and misjudging some of her associates, such as Nathaniel Branden. 4. Shoshana Milgram is presently writing an authorized biography of Rand (Burns 2009a, 295). No publication date has been announced. 5. See Paxton 1997; Sures 2001; and Britting 2004. 6. For a critique of Valliant’s work, along with background on the controversy about Rand’s life, see Parille 2008. 7. Heller cites a pre-publication edition of 100 Voices (418). One wonders whether 100 Voices’ publication was held back to constitute something of a response to the 2009 biographies—an observation I owe to Gordon Burkowski. 8. As Harry Binswanger states in his brief review on, “I agree with the other reviewers here that this book demolishes the image of Ayn Rand pushed by her detractors (and accepted from them by several biographers). Most of the people interviewed have no axe to grind, not being friends, associates, or advocates of her philosophy. Even a self-proclaimed Trotskyite found her irresistible” (Binswanger 2010). 9. The Archives did not ask to interview Henry Holzer, Erika Holzer, or David Kelley (personal correspondence with Henry Holzer and David Kelley). The Archives did not respond to my request for a complete list of those interviewed. 10. It should be noted that McConnell did interview some people with whom


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Rand split, such as Ruth Beebe Hill and Don Ventura, but they were less important to the movement. (For Rand’s break with Hill, see Heller 2009, 334; for Rand’s break with Ventura, see 359.) 11. These examples illustrate an unfortunate aspect of 100 Voices. The interviews are edited in such a way that they are constantly responding to some reported criticism of Rand, but McConnell almost never tells his readers what this criticism is. For example, Eloise Huggins and Harry Binswanger are asked if they ever observed changes in her personality over time and they respond no (McConnell 2010, 431, 579), apparently in response to claims that Rand’s use of amphetamines affected her behavior. The amphetamine use and its possible effects had been rumored for years, and were largely confirmed by Burns and Heller (Burns 2009a, 89; Heller 2009, 147). Likewise, Tania Grossinger’s report that, upon arriving at Rand’s apartment, she saw the author wearing an apron (McConnell 2010, 296) appears to be a response to the claims of Ruth Beebe Hill and others that Rand’s house in Chatsworth, California and apartment in New York City were unclean (Heller 2009, 238, 280–81). McConnell is certainly entitled to take issue with reports critical of Rand; however, it is not fair to his readers to do so without providing the context needed to evaluate such reports. Since many readers of 100 Voices have read one or more of the three biographies of Rand, or will likely read them in the future, it is selfdefeating as well. In fairness to McConnell, he states that Eleonora considers false Barbara Branden’s contention that Natalia (her and Rand’s middle sister) got on people’s nerves with her piano playing. However, no reason is given for Nora’s overall appraisal of Branden’s biography (McConnell 2010, 6). Presumably, McConnell (through an interpreter) read or described parts of Passion to her. 12. The interview with Jan Schulman was edited to remove critical information about the split in 1968: Something that I had mentioned in my interview [with the OHP] which was not quoted was that when the Split occurred between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, we (my then husband, Peter Crosby and I, who were running the Nathaniel Branden Institute lectures in Los Angeles) were called by someone associated with Ayn Rand’s group in New York City and asked which ‘side’ we were on. Since we had no idea what was going on, we responded that we could not comment since we didn’t know what was happening. Therefore, we were told by the New York group that we were persona non grata and would be removed from their mailing list. We were not allowed to subscribe to any of the publications they produced from then on, nor could we be legitimately tied to anything having to do with “Objectivism.” In fact, we were “excommunicated” along with everyone else who did not sign some sort of pledge to repudiate the Brandens and all they had to say. It was kind of sickening and very disturbing since we had been the first “branch” of Objectivism to provide lectures away from New York (on tape recorders). In fact, we had suggested the idea to the Brandens when we visited them in New York after we heard of the lectures (we were living in Baltimore at the time where my husband, Peter, was stationed in the Army). They told us to see what we could do on our own to promote the lectures in Los Angeles

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when we returned there a few months later, which we did, and which were subsequently quite successful. We ran those lectures until NBI folded when Rand and Branden split (personal correspondence with Jan Schulman, 6 December 2011).


13. That the interviewees (or their heirs) approved the interviews as printed does not indicate that they are vouching for the overall portrait of Rand presented in 100 Voices, a portrait they likely did not know of. Approximately 25 of the interviewees died before the book’s publication, indicating that in many of these cases it was the heirs who approved the printed interview. How many of these interviewees or heirs knew of the controversies over Rand’s life? 14. In spite of her affection for Huggins, Rand did not leave her anything in her will. Cynthia Peikoff was “shocked” and encouraged Leonard Peikoff to give her a gift from Rand’s estate, which he did (560).

Binswanger, Harry. 2010. I learned a lot from this book. review of 100 Voices. Online at: < Viewpoints=0&pageNumber=2&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#R 20R7IVQZ9W17F>. Binswanger, Harry and Allan Gotthelf. 2005. Centenary reminiscences of Ayn Rand. Online at: < reminescences.html>. Branden, Barbara. 1986. The Passion of Ayn Rand. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. Britting, Jeff. 2004. Ayn Rand. New York: Overlook. Burns, Jennifer. 2009a. Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ___. 2009b. In the Archives, Part 2: The Edited Letters and Diaries. Online at: <>. Campbell, Robert L. 2008. The Peikovian doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 10, no. 1 (Fall): 85–170. ___. 2011. The rewriting of Ayn Rand’s spoken answers. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 11, no. 1 (July): 81–151. Heller, Anne. 2009. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday. McConnell, Scott. 2010. 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand. New York: New American Library. Parille, Neil. 2008. The Passion of James Valliant’s Criticism. Online at: <http://www.>. Paxton, Michael (director). 1997. Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Film produced by AG Media Corporation. Rand, Ayn. 1968. To whom it may concern. The Objectivist 7, no. 5 (May): 1–8. Sures, Charles and Mary Ann Sures. 2001. Facets of Ayn Rand. Irvine, California:


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Ayn Rand Institute Press. Valliant, James S. 2005. The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. Dallas, Texas: Durban House.