As I was reading the interviews in 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, lyrics from the Comden and Green song, “Just in time. I found you just in time” kept running through my head.
Oral historian Scott McConnell contacted movie stars, producers, writers, philosophers, brigadier generals, artists, photographers, and others whose lives touched that of author Ayn Rand. Knowing that some of these best and brightest are no longer with us (Mickey Spillane, Robert Stack, Patricia Neal, Julius Shulman, and Louis Rukeyser, to name a few) it becomes woefully evident that McConnell did, indeed, speak to many of them … just in time.
Fortunately, both for our sense of continuity and my own pleasure in seeing the sun come up every morning, some of the people you will meet in 100 Voices (myself included) are still above ground. And so, you will learn fascinating things about Ayn Rand from such vibrant souls as Raquel Welch, movie star; Albert S. Ruddy, Academy Award winning producer; Mike Wallace, TV journalist; Alvin Toffler, author; and Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister of Australia.
As the subject of this book, Ayn Rand is no less provocative than a drill sergeant at a peace rally. She has been vilified as a monster, and called everything from a fascist to a Nazi – usually by people who have not read her books. Equally, she has been celebrated and adored: She was invited to the White House to meet Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who called her “one of the most important writers of the last hundred years.” She was invited by NASA to attend the launch of Apollo 11. She was invited to the US Military Academy at West Point to speak on philosophy to cadets. And in 1999, she was honored by the U.S. Postal Services in their Literary Arts stamp series with a first class stamp.
People loved Ayn Rand. They hated Ayn Rand. They loved and hated her at the same time. And Scott McConnell interviewed them all. He asked enough probing questions to satisfy a gossipmonger or a historian, and he gives us robust and disconcerting glimpses into the life of a woman who was either privileged or doomed (depending on how you view it) to live with her own greatness.
100 Voices is arranged chronologically. Those who knew her longest are introduced first. The book begins with her sister, Eleanora Drobysheva, who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain for forty-seven years before reconnecting with Ayn Rand in 1973. Ecstatic about the prospect of a reunion, Miss Rand offered to help her sister and husband relocate to the United States. Philosophic differences – Eleanora preferred to live under communism and Rand was a passionate capitalist – led to an acrimonious schism, and Eleanora’s resentment of her famous sister (Ah. Family!) resulted in some of the nastiest quotes in the book.
After Eleanora returns to the USSR, we are led on a guided tour of Ayn Rand’s life, from eager Russian immigrant, to Hollywood screenwriter, to best selling author and literary icon.
Patrick O’Connor, her editor at New American Library and a self-described Trotskyite, offers insights into her relationship with her publishers. “I thought that they hated her ... They were all left-wing Democrats ... not one of them had read her books, and they had been living off her all the years. I was horrified.”
Colonel Herman Ivey, who invited Miss Rand to lecture at West Point, says, “I loved her as a person…It was like she was tossing and goring these sacred cows left and right, and I liked this. And young people liked this, and it’s good for us, and it frightens the established academic intellectuals.”