Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ayn Rand: chance events, lucky breaks and unseen influences

After reading through Barbara Branden’s biography The Passion of Ayn Rand yet again, I noticed that she had some lucky breaks in her life. Although she knew what she wanted and was very pro-active in preparing herself for and going about getting it, her life might have been very different and we might never have heard of her without some fortuitous incidents that helped her along her way and got her through some key stages in her life.

Reprieve from university expulsion
When Ayn Rand was studying at university in Russia, there was a plan to expel some socially undesirables. Ayn was on the list; she would not be permitted to attend any other college ever again; being without a degree would have been a death warrant for her future plans. Luckily, a delegation of foreign visitors heard about the proposed purge and they were very indignant about it. In an attempt to make a good impression on the prominent visitors, the expulsions were cancelled for some of the students, including Ayn. A reversal of this kind was a unique occurrence.

Getting a visa to enter the USA
Ayn Rand knew that she just had to go to America. It seemed like her only chance to make something of her life. She could never live under the oppressive Communist regime.

She had a difficult interview with an American consul; she needed to convince him that she planned to return to Russia after her trip to the US. (She actually intended to leave for ever). She happened to notice a card on his desk. It said that she was going to marry an American. This gave her an idea: she said that it was a mistake and that she was going to marry a Russian man on her return. She was thinking of her still-beloved Leo. The consul realised that her details had been confused with someone else’s; he had been about to refuse her a visa, but her quick thinking made him revise his decision.

She was doubly lucky: she got out before the doors were closed and Russian citizens were prohibited from leaving their country.

Meeting Cecil B. DeMille
Ayn Rand had goals and a strategy. She had decided to go to Hollywood and offer her services as a script-writer. This would earn her a lot of money and make her name known; after that, she would be free to concentrate on writing novels. In preparation for this step, while still in Russia she had learned English and attended a movie school.

She left the relatives she had been staying with when she first arrived in the US, and travelled to Hollywood. She decided to present her letter of introduction at the DeMille Studios. She got on a streetcar going in the wrong direction. The additional travel time caused by her mistake made her arrive at her destination much later than she had intended – and, by chance, at just the right time to encounter Cecil. B. DeMille. She had done her homework and recognised him immediately. 

DeMille noticed her looking at him, and was intrigued enough to start talking to her. He took a liking to and an interest in her.

The rest is history…not only was she ‘in’, but she became a favourite of the great man.  He gave her a job as a film extra, where she earned what seemed like a small fortune. She could save money to live on when she started writing her novel. Not only this, but she met the man, a fellow film extra, who was to become her husband of more than 50 years.

Ayn Rand’s husband
Ayn Rand first caught sight of Frank O’Connor when she was travelling to work on the streetcar. She immediately recognised her ideal man, someone she had been thinking of for most of her life. She was terrified that he would get off and she would never see him again – she was much too shy to approach him.

The torture ended when he got off where she did, and she realised that he was a fellow film extra. He completed his work a few days later; she got talking to him on his last day, which she didn’t know at the time, but he left without giving her any contact details. She was unable to obtain his address from the casting office. 

The next nine months were one long torture session. She was afraid that she would never see him again; yet on a deeper level she was sure that she would, because she needed it to happen. 

Disappointment, uncertainty, unbearable pain and longing were no strangers to her; not being able to take any action to relieve the pressure was something new. All avenues seemed closed.

DeMille gave Ayn a story to adapt. It was about skyscrapers and construction workers. Ayn took her work seriously; she needed to learn about construction work in order to do a good job. She made an appointment with a construction company; when she arrived, she found that the man she was going to see had been delayed and would not be able to see her for another hour. She had to kill the time somehow, so wandered aimlessly around then decided to go into a nearby library and read until it was time for her appointment. She went in – and saw Frank O’Connor. He too had a delayed appointment.

This was the start of a very long relationship, a relationship that seems to have elements of delusion, wishful thinking and role reversal. Frank may well have looked like Ayn Rand’s ideal man, but inside he was very different. Does a hero arrange flowers as a profession? I wonder whether he was sucked in and trapped.

I am very much reminded of Stella Gibbons’s husband, who was also an actor. He was a weak man, but she married him knowing about and accepting this.

Anyway, Ayn wanted Frank and she got him, after fate and destiny had taken a hand.

The contract for the publication of The Fountainhead
Ayn Rand submitted the first part of her great novel The Fountainhead to several publishers, who all rejected it. Then, she found another suitable publishing house, where a young editor put his job on the line to get it accepted. Ayn and he discussed terms and came to a verbal agreement. The next step was to draw up a contract. 

Pearl Harbour was bombed before the contract had been signed; America was on the brink of war. The editor told Ayn that if their unofficial agreement had happened even one week later, he would not have been able to produce a contract. The publishers would have rejected The Fountainhead: they were concerned about a possible paper shortage - the book was very long - and they also expected the market for books to change in wartime.

This was a very close call indeed. She needed the agreed advance payment to enable her to finish the book.

How can all this be explained?
Assuming that these incidents really happened as described, can they all be attributed to just luck and happenstance?

Ayn Rand certainly made her own luck by researching, studying, planning and working for what she wanted. She didn’t expect to get everything on a plate. And yet, unseen influences may have been at work in her life.

Could telepathy or other psychological forces have been involved? When people desperately wish for something they may get it; when they feel threatened with the annihilation of their hopes, they may subconsciously effect a reprieve.

Could it be a case of God helping those who help themselves? Perhaps because she did her best, the universe did the rest.

There is said to be a price for everything; did she earn the interventions by paying the price – in pain and suffering?

Was the help at critical moments arranged as a reward for all the preparation, learning English for example, and her persistence despite enduring the torment of all the uncertainty, suspense, disappointments, delays and setbacks?

Could some supernatural entity have taken an interest and stepped in to lend a hand at crucial moments when needed, to keep things on track and as planned?

Was it all predestined?

I have had similar occurrences in my own life, and I just don’t know for sure.

The Passion of Ayn Rand has inspired four articles so far. I am sure that reading more about her life and works will result in at least one more.