Ayn Rand Biography

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Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905. She was brought up without religion, as neither of her parents believed in it. Her family was comfortably wealthy - enough to send her through school and college, and she was a bright and successful student. She faced the reality of communism early, when the government, after the communist revolution, nationalized the store that her father owned. Her family, once affluent, was now having trouble getting necessary items like everyone else. Her parents, who had worked hard for their money, were now just as poor as everyone else. This reality disgusted Rand.

Early on in Rand's writing, she began to experiment with the idea of an ideal man, one who lives to fulfill his true potential. This would be a theme throughout her later writing as well. In 1926, at the age of 21, she escaped the communist regime in Russia to come to the United States, knowing she would never return. Alisa Rosenbaum changed her name to Ayn Rand, the last name reportedly coming from a Remington-Rand typewriter, and the first possibly from the German word "ein" which means "one." She began to look for work as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and she met Frank O'Conner, who became her husband. She always insisted that her protagonists in her books were based on him, but others who knew O'Conner said that he was passive, not very intellectual and nothing like Rand's protagonists.

Rand also waited tables and did odd jobs to pay for living expenses while she wrote her first two works, the novel We The Living and the play Night of January 16th, both completed in 1933. In 1934, she moved to New York City. Rand's battle with the publication and production of Night of January 16th was similar to Roark's struggle in The Fountainhead to have his buildings built. Rand got offers for Broadway productions of her play with the stipulation that the producers could make changes, but she refused. Finally a movie was made. Rand signed a contract for a Broadway production that she believed would give her control over the script, but it did not. The producers changed it, and she hated the final product. Not until 1968 was a version published that she was happy about.

During this time, Rand wrote Anthem, which was only published in England at first, having been rejected by American publishers. She began to form in more detail her theory about the selfish versus the selfless man. Deciding that the protagonist of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, would be an architect, she immersed herself in the study of architecture for two years, going to work in the office of an architect, Eli Jacques Kahn. Many publishers rejected the Fountainhead, but eventually the Bobbs-Merrill Company, at the insistence of Archibald Ogden (an editor), accepted it. Soon after its publication, the movie rights sold, making Rand financially comfortable. She and her husband moved to L.A. and Rand wrote the screenplay for the movie, which would star Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. Though it received bad reviews, Rand was pleased with it.

In 1951, Rand moved back to New York to begin writing Atlas Shrugged, the most complete explanation of her philosophy in novel form. After the publication of The Fountainhead, a man named Nathaniel Branden wrote a fan letter to her; he impressed her so much with his ability to see her vision and expand upon it that she asked to meet him; they began a friendship that would last until 1968. Atlas Shrugged, when published, was dedicated both to her husband and to Branden. Around Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, his wife and another devoted fan, grew a cult following of Rand; she at times let the small group read parts of Atlas Shrugged before it was published to get their ideas.

In the 1960s, Ayn Rand received some recognition, including a Doctor of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College, and lectured at several prestigious universities. In 1968, Rand broke with the Brandens; she said that they had profited from the use of her name, creating the Nathanial Branden Institute to teach her philosophy. It was later exposed that Rand and Nathaniel Branden had been having an affair since 1955; Rand battled with depression after the publication of Atlas Shrugged. The break in her friendship with the Brandens came when she wanted to rekindle the affair but Nathaniel had fallen in love with another woman, Patrecia Gullison. Leonard Peikoff, a cousin of Barbara Branden, became the next heir to Rand's theories; in 1985 he would found the Ayn Rand Institute (www.aynrand.com) with the goal of spreading Objectivist theory.

In the seventies, both O'Conner and Rand became ill; Rand developed lung cancer and O'Conner died in 1979 of health problems. Rand died three years later, on March 6, 1982.

In addition to her novels, We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, and her stage play, Night of January 16th, Rand also published several nonfiction books explaining her philosophy of Objectivism: For the New Intellectual (1961), The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal (1966), The Romantic Manifesto (1969), The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979), and Philosophy: Who Needs It (1982, published posthumously).


Gladstein, Mimi Reisel. The New Ayn Rand Companion, Revised and Expanded Edition. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1999.

Machan, Tibor R. Ayn Rand. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.: New York, 1999.

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. Signet: New York, 1943. Twenty-fifth anniversary edition.

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