Statements from those who knew Ayn Rand from NBI & such


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A while back, while a debate was raging on SoloHQ about the authenticity of the image of Ayn Rand's personality portrayed in The Passion of Ayn Rand, I asked Barbara if she knew any people still alive who had attended NBI who would be willing to state their impressions. I figured that if the portrait given in PAR could be corroborated by people from the NBI days with respect to Rand at that time, this would form an important body of evidence.

Barbara contacted several such people and put e-mails from them in two zipfiles to me, both dated October 10, 2005.

At that time, the subject of the debate had moved on to another anti-Barbara topic and people who defended Barbara were being accused of being "conduits" for her if they posted quotes from anything she wrote to them off-line (her account had been suspended due to her break with SoloHQ).

I decided to wait a bit before making these e-mails public. I suppose I could have done so back then, since I was the one who requested this information. But the debating atmosphere at that time was highly inflammatory and interest in obtaining information from others was at a very low point of priority. Also, a specific Branden-bashing agenda was in full bloom. Thus, I am convinced that I probably would have been seen as an outright "conduit" for doing so and the value of these important witnesses to history would have been buried in the process.

I will start with three. There are others, but as this is a new site, permission is being sought to post the other e-mails here.

I want to stress that my purpose is not to debate the issue of the validity of Barbara's portrayal of Ayn Rand. I will let these e-mails - and future statements from people who knew Ayn Rand - speak for themselves. They may be taken at face value or questioned elsewhere (unless there are technical things like names and dates and so forth).

My aim is to present these statements as an online archive.

Barbara asked these people if, while they were present, Ayn Rand denounced students in NBI Q&A sessions when some of the students asked questions. So these first emails deal specifically with an answer to that question.

However I hope to add many more statements from people who knew Ayn Rand as time goes on. Thus, I would also like to invite anyone else who knew Ayn Rand from the NBI days to present their views of what she was like.

I hope these statements are useful to scholars and historians.

Michael

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These two statements were included in the October 10, 2005 zipfile Barbara sent to me.

Michael

Allan Blumenthal, psychiatrist, former member of the "Collective," friend of Rand for many years, lecturer at NBI.

Allan:

Many of my patients used to tell me that they were terrified to ask questions because of the way Miss Rand might respond to them.  They knew that the answer might be that the question revealed a bad psychoepistemology or an immoral value system.  Or she might say "Can't you read? That's not what I said,"  In answer to an unfortunately phrased question like "Don't you think your characters are unrealistic?" she would say "I don't answer questions like that!" when she might have taken the opportunity to explain what is and is not required of fictional characters so the questioner might learn something.

Joan Blumenthal, painter, former member of the "Collective," friend of Rand for many years, lecturer at NBI.

Joan:

I attended many lectures given by Ayn Rand at NBI and at other venues. During the question and answer period, It happened many times that Ayn would say that the questioner had a bad psychoepistemology, a "malevolent universe" premise, even that the questioner was not honest or similar personal remarks.  At those times, her tone of voice was harsh and condemnatory. Often, I felt embarrassed by this behavior.

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These two e-mails were included in the October 10, 2005 zipfile Barbara sent to me.

Michael

Daryn Kent-Duncan, actress, former NBI student and long-time friend and secretary to Ayn Rand.

Dear Barbara,  

I remember that Ayn most certainly did get very angry at some of the questions asked and did rip into questioners when she didn't like the questions. Is that what you mean? There's no question that that happened. I believe June Miller, an actress I knew and still see occasionally, was one who got ripped into. If I'm not mistaken she mentioned being very upset at how Ayn lit into her for some question she asked.

Dear Barbara,

Memory returns slowly. Yesterday when I saw your message, "denounce" meant to me "I denounce *you...". *  But I'm sure what I saw is what you're talking about. She would be very angry, and tell the person off for asking some kind of question that wasn't carefully thought out or that showed they didn't understand or whatever that she objected to, and tell them to Check their premises, and also tell them in no uncertain terms what was wrong with their thinking, etc. It was not simply an explanation to them, it was a lambasting or "denunciation".  

I do not remember specific examples, however, except for my friend June whom I told you about yesterday. Partly I think it happened a lot because she was very torn about doing those question-answer periods in the first place.  

I remember when I was working for her how frustrated she would get at being bothered by Nathan with things about NBI. She was in tears of anger one day and went on to me about how she resented being bothered with this stuff. And answering dumb questions or what she considered to be dumb questions was undoubtedly part of that. Anyway, I hope that's helpful. I can't imagine anyone denying that she did that who was actually there.  

Love,  

Daryn

Barbara recently added the following note to me:

Michael, note that Daryn mentions how irritated Ayn often became when Nathan "bothered" her wth things concerning NBI. This is very relevant to his discussion of his loans in his answer to Ayn's To Whom It May Concern. She wanted him to handle everything involving NBI without her.
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The following is an abridged post from Ellen Stuttle on November 28, 2005, on the then existing SoloHQ at the following link: http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/ArticleDi...541_8.shtml#178

Her husband, Larry Gould, was one of the panel on Rand's epistemology seminars (1979-81) that are now part of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and she was part of the Rand milieu during that time period (information provided by Roger Bissell in a post on the same thread). Ms. Stuttle has been kind enough to grant us permission to post this.

... I *knew* Ayn Rand. I was there in New York City from mid-September 1968 to the end of 1980 (a year and a few months before she died). I know just how "controlling," etc., she actually could be. My opinion, based on both my first-hand observations and many reports from persons other than the Brandens who knew her well, is that the portrait of her characteristics presented by the Brandens is substantially accurate. And, for that matter, I even thought, years before The Split, that she was romantically involved with Nathaniel. The Split came as no surprise to me...

... I didn't even like Nathaniel prior to The Split. Today I consider myself a distant friend of his, but my relationship with him didn't start until 1997...

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This e-mail was included in the October 10, 2005 zipfile Barbara sent to me, however it is from 2004 and another discussion. I have included Barbara's original question at the time. The author asked to remain nameless for now, because as he wrote, "I prefer to remain anonymous in a subculture where civility is honored mainly in the breach." However, I have his name on file and if a future scholar or historian should need it, this person can be approached for permission.

Michael

A long time student of NBI and Objectivism.

In a message dated 5/4/2004 8:34:49 PM Central America Standard Time, BBranden1 writes:

Dear ________,

Would you do me a favor? Someone in a discussion group I'm involved with insists that Ayn Rand never denounced people in NBI question periods. I say that often she did. Would you tell me what you observed in those question periods, since you were present at so many of them?

The question is formally worded, for good and proper reasons.

Barbara

Well, of course she did. I don't think anyone who was at those lectures, no matter how great their admiration for her, would deny that. There were many young, naive people in the audience, and Ayn would get very angry when she thought a question indicated an immoral premise on the part of the questioner. She denounced many people for harboring such ideas.  

Maybe the problem you are having involves differing understandings of the word denounce. Some people might think it meant something like "any good person would have nothing to do with you," or "I hope you rot in hell," or words to that effect. I never heard her say anything like that, but she certainly did become quite angry at various questioners and she did angrily accuse many people of harboring/advocating immoral ideas. She would often continue by analysing peoples' psychology in front of the group, to show how badly a person's thinking processes had to be to have led to the Q that the person asked. I think it's reasonable to use the word "denounced" in such situations.

Again, these are not controversial statements. Anyone who took the courses (if they attended enough lectures) heard these things.

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  • 2 months later...

This statement, dated February 12, 2006, is in an email from Robert Hessen to Barbara that she sent to me.

Ayn Rand's Angry Answers--A Statement by Robert Hessen:

Those seeking to canonize Ayn Rand have an obstacle blocking their efforts: Barbara Branden's THE PASSION OF AYN RAND (1986). Hence the continuing -- and recently intensifying -- efforts to discredit that biography. One line of attack accuses Ms. Branden of lying when she claimed Ayn Rand sometimes gave angry answers during question periods.

As an eyewitness to many such outbursts, I can verify that Ms. Branden's claim was accurate and not exaggerated. I remember many occasions when Rand pounced, assuming that a question was motivated by hostility to her or her ideas, or that the questioner was intellectually dishonest or irrational, or had evil motives, or was her "enemy." The key, I believe, to Rand's reaction was an assumption that every question was unambiguously clear, so she never asked anyone to clarify or rephrase a question that appeared to be critical.

I could end my comment right here, having attested to Ms. Branden's truthfulness on this specific issue, but I think my testimony will carry more weight if I offer examples of what I witnessed.

My earliest memory goes back to Ayn Rand's appearance at Yale University in February 1960. The morning after she gave a public lecture, she spoke to a small philosophy class and invited questions from the students. A young man asked if her brief characterization of Immanuel Kant's philosophy was accurate, and she exploded that she had not come here to be insulted. I was surprised at the heated tone of her response because he was not antagonistic to her and he had, as I watched him, no glimmer of malice or "gotcha" in his eyes.

I attended five or six speeches by Ayn Rand at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston. All were marred by one or two angry answers. But anger was not her only inappropriate response. On one occasion a young girl asked Rand what she thought of the artist Maxfield Parrish. It was obvious from the girl's tone of voice that she was asking her favorite writer's opinion of her favorite artist, so I was struck by the cruelty of Rand's answer (in its entirety): "Junk. Next question." So much for objectivity, or sensitivity. She gave a similar reply ("Not much") the next year when someone asked for her opinion of Arthur Koestler, the writer.

After Ayn Rand's break with Nathaniel Branden in 1968, he claimed that she did so because he had given her a paper in which he explained that the 25-year age difference between them was an insuperable barrier for him to have a romantic relationship with her. This oblique remark clearly implied that they had earlier had such a relationship. In her first public appearance after his statement, she participated in the Q&A at one of the reconstituted Objectivist lectures series. A longtime student of Objectivism, Alan Margolin, asked her to comment on the truthfulness of Branden's allegation. Rather than admit it was accurate, or denounce it as false, she gave an angry-- and evasive-- answer: "If you could ask me that question, why would you believe my answer?"

My over-all impression of that era is that NBI students were apprehensive that a poorly formulated question might unleash her anger. To spare audience members public humiliation at her hands, they were invited to submit their questions to her in writing -- and anonymously.

The accuracy of Ms. Branden's claim about Ayn Rand's style of answers need not depend on anyone's personal recollections. Numerous examples can be found in the audio tapes of her Q&A sessions during the Branden years, or later during the Peikoff succession, or her Ford Hall Forum tapes, or her appearances on various TV shows, such as Phil Donahue.

If the censors and air-brushers at The Ayn Rand Institute have not deleted such scenes, and if access to original sources is open to independent investigators (two dubious assumptions indeed), then more examples of Rand's short fuse could be documented.

Pending the release of unexpurgated tapes, evidence of her anger and rage can be found in the published collection of Ayn Rand's Marginalia, filled with her tirades against F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, Helmut Schoeck's Envy, and even one of Ludwig von Mises' books. I am no fan of the first three of these books, but her marginal scribblings are an embarrassment to her -- and a challenge to anyone who claims that she was invariably a gentle, sweet-tempered person.

Ayn Rand was undeniably a genius whose intellectual achievements have not received the recognition they deserve. But why must some of her fans venerate her as a saint, or imply that her "benevolent universe" premise made it improbable, indeed impossible, for her to give angry answers? It is time to separate her personality from her intellectual creations. Indeed it is something I believe she would have wished. I recall a conversation I had with her about B.Traven, the shadowy author of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, whose identity was a mystery because he preferred anonymity. She thought he was lucky because his creation could be judged apart from the details of his personal life.

If anything, Ms. Branden's portrait of Ayn Rand's personality is too gentle and too forgiving. Those who condemn her biography (without actually having read it, of course) should go to their nearest public library and consult pages 329-30. After a brief, undetailed account of Rand's anger, she offers mitigating considerations to excuse Rand's inexcusable anger, rudeness and cruelty. She generously omits naming some of Rand's most ludicrous opinions: that Mozart was "pre-music," or her revulsion at actor Spencer Tracy because his nose was too big or at Ingrid Bergman because her lips were too full. Nor does she speculate about Rand's intense loathing of any form of "facial hair" (beards, sideburns or mustaches), despite the fact that her beloved father, Zinovy, sported a luxurious handlebar mustache. These likes and dislikes were not merely Rand's personal preferences; they were self-evident truths to her, which any rational person had to accept or else be suspected of irrationality or "bad premises."

In rising to Barbara Branden's defense, let me acknowledge that her biography contains 5 or 6 errors of dating, a couple of dubious interpretations, and that minor discrepancies exist between her memories and those of Nathaniel. But these are trivial and do not detract from the over-all accuracy of her account. We now know that she was wrong about how Ayn Rand adopted her American name, (the Remington-Rand typewriter legend), but not because she evaded or distorted any sources that were open to her scrutiny. And it is preposterous to claim as false or fanciful her account of how Rand was smitten by Frank O'Connor's good looks when she spotted him on a bus in Hollywood. The account that appears in The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986) is virtually identical to what Branden wrote in her biographical essay in Who is Ayn Rand? (1962) I can attest, having served as Rand's secretary during the period the book was being written, that she reviewed and approved every single word in it.

Barbara Branden deserves appreciation for her achievement -- telling the story of Ayn Rand's life to the best of her ability, despite being denied access to letters and papers that have been withheld from independent researchers for 24 years, ever since they fell into the control of her literary executor and economic heir. It is time to open up those archives -- and to stop vilifying Ms. Branden.

---Robert Hessen, an historian and biographer, was closely associated with Ayn Rand from 1957 to 1980.

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This statement by Brant Gaede is dated February 16, 2006. It was posted on the thread, "A quote (from AB) and comments re AR's journals" here in the Branden Corner on OL.

I was a student of Objectivism in NYC before, during and after the break in 1968. I saw Ayn Rand in action in many Q & A situations at the Ford Hall Forum, NBI, and the Bronx Community College (1970). Robert Hessen's memory of such is precisely correct, including the question about Maxfield Parish. It was never a situation of AR occasionally getting angry; anger and the fear of her anger was the leitmotif of these sessions. It was interesting to me that Hessen cited an incident going all the way back to February 1960.

--Brant

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This statement by Ellen Stuttle is dated February 16, 2006. It was posted on the thread, "A quote (from AB) and comments re AR's journals" here in the Branden Corner on OL. It is a modified version of a June 2003 post from her on the Atlantis_II forum.

Although the issue of AR's anger isn't what I was talking about in my comments regarding her journal entries, it's a subject which keeps coming up. So I might as well re-post here a June 2003 post of mine from the Atlantis_II list in which I told my favorite story of an AR explosion. I've made four minor editorial changes: rearranging the order of the phrases in one sentence, adding a couple commas for clarity in another, and correcting a couple misspellings. I've also deleted a paragraph (originally third paragraph from the end) which referred to comments another poster had made. And I've substituted "[X]" for the name of the poster to whom I was responding. The rest is a verbatim copy of the original post.

--- START re-post

Date: 6/28/03 Subject: [Atlantis-II] AR's Aura (was: Necessarily Wrong)

[X] wrote:

> *sigh* I am again glad that I didn't meet Rand, though I am very curious

> about her and wonder what she would have been like in person. I would love

> to have observed her in action. That is: watched her body-language and

> physical mannerisms while listening to her speak. I am a relatively good

> reader of people and am very curious what I would have found. Anyone want

> to comment?

I might be the only person on this list who *can* comment in any detail, since I think I'm the only person here who was around her on more than an occasional occasion. I was never at a social event where she was present, and I only a few times had any direct conversation with her (I didn't attempt to initiate conversations with her, since I could predict what would have happened: it wouldn't have gone well); but I did attend three lecture courses at which she was present -- one of them Allan's music course where I deliberately always sat in the row in front of where she was sitting so I could eavesdrop on her comments to Edith Packer (Edith always sat next to her at those lectures). I also attended the Ford Hall Forum lecture for five or six years running.

To this day when I remember Ayn as person -- her physical person -- I still feel a palpable sense of her aura. The phrase which immediately comes to my mind attempting to describe that aura is "a presence of power." But this can be misunderstood unless it's taken in a particular sense of the word "power." There was no quality of aggressiveness, of an attempt to "obtrude" herself, to exert command. The "power" I mean was a quality of certainty of mind. Maybe a sense of it will come through as I proceed.

I assume that you've seen pictures of her, that you know that she was short -- not a lot taller than I am (I'm 5'2") -- and that she was "squarely," almost stockily, built. Another word which comes to mind is "stalwart." When she would stand at the podium she would stand straight, four-square, maybe with one or both hands resting on the podium while she read her speech or answered questions. She didn't move or gesture much while speaking, though there was a particular gesture she'd make as a sort of emphasis, a "there it is, that is the thatness of it" statement, a punctuation mark of finality. This gesture was a sweep of her lower arm and hand, palm down, on a sharp line from her body outward. She used that arm/hand sweep several times during the first lecture of hers I attended. That was before I moved to New York; it was at McCormack Place in Chicago. Between then and the next time I saw her, the split had happened and Nathaniel's and Barbara's replies to her statement had been published. In his reply he refers at one point to "a characteristic gesture." I've never asked him, but I'd bet that the gesture he was thinking of was the one I'm describing.

She would read a speech in level tones, the words neither hurried nor dragged, but paced so that each could be distinguished. She showed no signs of nervousness -- or even of any awareness of the audience as audience. She did none of the things one is taught that good public speakers do -- and which in fact most of the people whom I've considered good public speakers have done -- such as trying to make eye contact, trying to develop a "rapport," a "relationship" with the audience. Instead it was as if she was entirely unconcerned about the audience's reaction. Except when she would make one of her "jokes." When she would use one of those wry twists she could do on an image (an example is "The Chickens' Homecoming," the title of one of her essays), she would pause slightly as if awaiting a laugh, then look mischievously pleased for a moment when the laugh materialized.

Despite -- or maybe even partly because of -- her typical apparent unconcern for gauging audience reaction, her effect on an audience was riveting. It was as if her mind was a lens gathering and focalizing thought, and the audience would respond with a concentration answering hers. Of course, most of her lectures which I attended were at the Ford Hall Forum, where the audience was almost entirely composed of "students of." But the effect was the same at the McCormack Place lecture, where she was talking to a general audience numbering in the hundreds. There was soon a "you could hear a pin drop" intensity of attending to what she said. And judging from Nathaniel's and Barbara's reports, she achieved this same response wherever and to whomever she was lecturing.

Come the question period, though, her channeled calm would usually evaporate at least once and her wrath would emerge like a sudden unscheduled intrusion from the percussion section (using a musical analogy, since it's Doug I'm answering). Regulars at Ford Hall got so that they could tell when it was coming. Someone would pose a question by which she felt insulted or otherwise irritated, and she would let loose with anger. And then immediately calm down again and proceed, with clarity and no sign of lingering emotional upset, to answering the next question.

I was often fascinated by the sudden contrast. My favorite example needs some background to describe. The moderator at the Forum was Judge Lurie, an interesting person in his own right. He was diminutive in size, slim, agile; rather elfishly twinkling -- and sharply quick-witted. Judge Lurie would always repeat so the whole audience could hear it whatever question had been asked. Well...one time this guy started asked her something to the effect (I don't remember the exact words), Why had she allowed so bad a screenplay of her book *The Fountainhead* to be shot? (I have no idea if this guy knew that she herself had had a big hand in the screenplay, or if the question was asked in ignorance of its being insulting to her.) She started to rip into him. But Judge Lurie held up a hand and said in his inimitable speech cadences: "*Miss* Rand, *Miss* Rand [the reprise at a lower decibel level], wait until I repeat the question." She sort of ducked as if a little embarrssed and smiled at him with a shy girlish look. "Oh, I'm sorry, Judge," she said. So he repeated the question. And THEN she let the guy have it. After which she proceeded to give the next question a penetratingly thoughtful answer as if none of the above had just occurred.

Returning to my comment above that her aura of power wasn't an issue of her "obtruding" herself or appearing to try to exert command: It was something to do with her being intent and not displaying the sort of social nuances which most people display. For instance, when she would walk into the lecture room at one of the New York lectures, she wouldn't be looking around for people she knew, pausing, smiling at people. She would just walk into the room headed for her chair. And if someone would stop her trying to make light conversation, she would just make some acknowledging response to the person's presence but continue on her way. Also when she would talk to people -- for instance in the autograph line -- it would be as if she had no awareness of her effect on them; instead as if she was solely occupied, with those enormous eyes of hers searching the person, only on assessing the level of intelligence with which she was confronted.

[....]

There's more I could say, but I'm hoping that this note might by seen by [X] before he leaves for the TOC seminar, which starts today. If you do see this before leaving, [X], and if you get a chance at the seminar, ask David Kelley and Marsha Enright the question about Ayn's body language. David might not have much of a description to offer, since he would probably have been mainly noticing the details of what he talked to her *about* instead of her manner of talking. But Marsha could tell you interesting stories regarding her cat conversations with Ayn. Marsha had this way, unlike anyone else I ever observed, of getting into non-philosophic "chit-chat" (for short) exchanges with Ayn during the breaks at lectures. (I used to try to lurk near the edges where I could hear, I was so intrigued by the difference from her usual patterns in the way Ayn would react to Marsha.)

Signing off of this one now. I'm in a rush myself preparing to leave for the evening.

Ellen S.

--- END re-post

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Today, February 19, 2006, Tibor Machan provided OL with a chapter out of his book, The Man Without a Hobby, Adventures of a Gregarious Egoist (Hamilton Books, 2004, available at LFB and Amazon), with permission to post excerpts on this thread. Despite this book being published, the episodes of contact between Machan and Rand are memories of her that are not widely available. Also included are a couple of episodes with Nathaniel Branden, as he was Rand’s official voice at that time and undoubtedly she heard about them and approved.

After a disastrous letter to Rand, Machan tried several approaches to get closer to her other than Branden – through Robert Hessen, Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger – all to no avail. The full story is in the book.

Machan’s last episode with Rand (given here) speaks for itself.

In the fall of 1962 I left the Air Force and entered college. I had read about Claremont in National Review—in a column by Russell Kirk, who talked about how wonderful and independent the place was. So I contacted the admissions director, Emery Walker, and managed to gain admittance. But before starting school I also managed to gain an audience with Ayn Rand. I went to New York and met with her for about half an hour at her office.

It was a wonderful experience. What stuck in my mind was how warm, calm, sensible and friendly Rand was. She showed none of the prickly traits I would later hear about. I remember saying to her that perhaps I liked her work because I, too, was a refugee from communism. She said she hoped this wasn’t the case, since her ideas were meant to have universal significance, not appeal only to those who shared her personal experiences. There was no badgering or finger wagging; she was like a sensible aunt or grandmother. I promised to send her a letter I had written to my friend the priest, concerning the struggles I had been having with religion, and when I got back to Washington I sent it off to her.

Rand replied with a wonderful letter commenting on how mine, to the priest, exemplified her principle of the sanction of the victim—which it did. In it I had expressed dismay about a book Father Novicky gave me, Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, with its denigration of the human desire to know (the desire that Aristotle, at the very beginning of his Metaphysics, states flatly is inherent in all of us). Rand wrote that she was “deeply impressed with the letter you wrote to the priest. If The Fountainhead has helped you to find a way out of such a terrible and tragic conflict, I am very happy to know it. Your letter to the priest projects, with startling accuracy, what an honest and intelligent young person would have to feel if he attempted to practice the altruist morality fully and conscientiously.

“The most terrifying indictment of religious morality is contained in the following lines of yours: ‘The trouble is that I am always asking for the logic. And the more I will know the more I will want to know. What should I do[,] stop wanting to know?’ I hope that you realize fully to what extent you were on the premise which I call ‘the sanction of the victim.’ You were accepting as a sin the thing which was your greatest virtue and the greatest of all human virtues: your rationality, the desire to know and to understand. I am sure that you will never make that mistake again, but I want to stress, as the most important advice I can give you, that no matter what intellectual errors you may make in the future, do not ever accept the idea that rationality is evil or that it can ever be proper to discard your mind. So long as you hold this as an absolute, you will be safe, no matter what errors you make. But if one doubts or rejects one’s own mind, one commits an act of spiritual suicide and the greatest evil possible to man. I believe that you know it now.” I found her advice extremely sound and have tried my best to follow it.

When I had been at CMC for a while and begun writing for the student newspaper to promulgate as best I could the ideas that I picked up from Rand and found sensible, a few of us on campus decided that we should start a 14-campus student newspaper filled with diverse intellectual ideas. I designed the logo—an abstract drawing of various shapes and lines—and we called the newspaper Contrast. I was also assigned the job of contacting Rand and asking her to write something for us. I was eager to comply for I was sure that her ideas would win readers for her works. She didn’t reply, although I wrote several letters. At one point I asked that she at least let me know why she couldn’t grant my request. In response to this I did receive a brief letter in which Rand observed that it “requires no philosophical knowledge, only common sense ethics and etiquette, to know that one does not ask for the free professional services of any profession, whether doctors, lawyers or writers. If one permits oneself the breach of asking it, one has, at least, the decency to know that one is asking a favor—and one does not pretend that one is offering a value in return. And when one is refused, one does not demand to know the reason.”

Ouch. Clearly Rand did not appreciate my persistence in the matter. I was hurt and then angry—why was this person unable to see the good will and supportiveness of my suggestion? But I didn’t give up, instead writing several more letters, explaining that she must have misunderstood me. For I had certainly meant to do only one thing, namely, get her ideas before student readers. I got no response to any of these efforts.

One night my suitemate Greg Smith, an outspoken leftist and fellow staff member of Contrast, asked about my progress with Rand. I explained that I hadn’t gotten anywhere. Thereupon he started to poke fun at me—”How do you like your rational hero now?” Goaded, after he left I jumped to my typewriter and dashed off a scathingly hostile letter. I was often jumping to my typewriter and dashing things off, but this time it was a very bad idea. In a typical passage I remonstrated against Rand for “criticizing the world and its inhabitants of wholesale irrationality (as true as this may be) [while continuing] to practice identical methods in dealing with those who address you, who seek your advice or who wish to clarify some points with you. This approach draws no distinction between those who consider your philosophy—Objectivism—good, and right, and those who are approaching it skeptically or antagonistically. You are making it quite difficult for the first group to create a better world for themselves.” The letter went on in a similar childish vein, sometimes getting rather nasty as it unloaded my pent-up anger.

Not long after I sent this tirade, a letter arrived from Nathaniel Branden advising me that, “At Miss Rand’s request, all mail that comes to this office addressed to her is read by me. In the event that she receives crank and/or obscene letters, she has asked that these not be forwarded to her. As your letter is in the same moral category, it has not been forwarded to her.” He also warned me not to reprint Rand’s letter to me, lest I be the subject of litigation. “Please do not write to this office again. We do not wish to hear from you. I have instructed Mr. Peter Crosby, my Los Angeles representative, that you are not to be admitted to any lectures, should you attempt to attend.”

(…)

In 1967, while studying for my Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara, I asked Branden whether I might quote Rand or Branden in some article I was writing. I had not yet become adept at the game of scholarship and I was also too literal about the idea of intellectual ownership. I should have predicted the response: “Please try to understand, once and for all, that I dislike and disapprove of everything I know about you, I have no interest in your thoughts whatever, and I sincerely wish that you would stop sending me letters... In answer to your letter of June 17, permission to quote from Miss Rand or myself is unreservedly denied.”

Obviously, I was getting on Dr. Branden’s nerves.

(…)

Eventually I would be on better terms with Branden, but only after his 1968 split with Rand paved the way. Not long after that noisy event I met him and found that he was not very eager to talk to me about the past, nor about ideas. At first I found him largely unfriendly. We still know each other and meet now and then and speak openly, and he’s even become a rather pleasant chap—but I never quite managed to cast out of my mind either his gleeful letters of rebuff or his longtime failure to apologize for hurting my feelings at a time when I was all alone, growing up and looking for a bit of intellectual companionship. To be fair, Branden probably has a very long list of people from those days who might deserve his apology, and one cannot spend one’s whole life apologizing to people seriatim. (And recently, when I aired these sentiments with him he actually did apologize and quite sincerely, if belatedly.)

(…)

In retrospect, despite my strong desire to connect with Rand and her clique, I am glad I was blackballed. I might have become a dependent as so many others did.

I am glad, too, that being cut off was not so devastating a blow that I renounced the good ideas I found in Objectivism. In the years since, I have become one of the most prolific of the neo-Objectivist thinkers, probably giving more scholarly exposition to Rand’s ideas than anyone else (with the exception, perhaps, of Doug Rasmussen and Doug Den Uyl, and more recently of Chris Matthew Sciabarra).

(…)

I had a final word with Ayn Rand on July 4, 1976. I called to express my thanks for being the most crucial contemporary thinker to stand behind and strengthen the meaning of the Bicentennial. Her husband Frank O’Connor answered. I asked for Miss Rand and she came on the line. Here is our conversation verbatim, as best I can remember it:

“This is Ayn Rand. Who am I speaking to?”

“Miss Rand, I am a longtime admirer and wish to simply thank you on this day for what you have done to keep the idea of the American Revolution alive.”

“Who is this?”

“My name is Tibor Machan.”

“Goodbye.”

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Today, March 1, 2006, Robert Davison made the following statement on the Rebirth of Reason website. He was talking about Ayn Rand during Q&A sessions of lectures he attended, but the lectures are not specified. He has authorized me to post his comment here.

Michael

I attended many of those lectures.  She gave an angry response to questions a couple of times per session, but she went seamlessly from grouch on one question to patient mentor on the next.  Since the questions were in writing, there were times  she denounced a question and excoriated the interrogator without letting the larger audience in on what the question was.

In an email to me dated March 1, 2006, he also stated:

I did not know her, but met her briefly on two occasions.  She also answered a letter of mine in one of the issues of The Objectivist regarding Wagner and sense of life.  I will add this.  Upon meeting her I knew I stood in the presence of greatness.
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