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The History of The Fountainhead

Journalist Nora Ephron wrote an essay on Rand's first successful novel, The Fountainhead, that was published in May 1968, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the novel's publication. The excerpt below discusses the history of the novel's writing and publication.

In 1926, after a Chicago relative offered to sponsor her passage to the United States, Miss Rand joyfully left [Russia] for New York. As she sailed into Manhattan, she once recalled, "There was one skyscraper that stood out ablaze like the finger of God, and it seemed to me that the greatest symbol of free man.... I made a mental note that someday I would write a novel with the skyscraper as a theme." The tallest skyscraper at that time was the elaborately Gothic Woolworth building.

In the seventeen years that elapsed between her vow and its execution, Miss Rand, among other things, lived at the Studio Club in Hollywood, was an extra in the film The King of Kings, wrote motion-picture scenarios, stuffed envelopes, waited on tables, and married Frank O'Connor, a painter, who is not to be confused with the short-story writer. (His painting of a skyscraper under construction adorns the cover the deluxe edition of The Fountainhead.) In 1934 she and her husband moved to New York; in 1936 her first novel, We the Living, was published, and her play, The Night of January 16, a melodrama, ran seven months on Broadway. And she set to work -- in architect Ely Jacques Kahn's office -- on her new book.

By late 1940 she had completed one-third of the manuscript, then entitled Second-Hand Lives, and had been rejected by twelve publishers. When funds ran out, she went to work as a reader at Paramount Pictures; there she showed her book to the late Richard Mealand, a Paramount story editor. Mealand, who loved it, showed it to Archibald Ogden, editor-in-chief of [book publisher] Bobbs[-Merrill]; Ogden, who loved it, sent it to Indianapolis to Bobbs president D.L. Chambers; Chambers, who hated it, sent it back with orders not to buy it. "I do not care much for allegories myself," he wrote, "I presume you will not with to proceed further with your negotiations." Ogden wrote back: "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." To which Chambers wired: "Far be it from me to dampen such enthusiasm. Sign the contract." Miss Rand signed -- and received a modest one-thousand-dollar advance.

The final manuscript -- seventy-five thousand words shorter than Miss Rand had written it -- continued to displease Chambers. He suggested that the book be cut in half. Without telling Ogden, he ordered the first printing cut from twenty-five thousand copies to twelve thousand and insisted it be printed from type: there was no point in making plates for a book that would clearly never sell out its first printing.

And, of course, it did. The Fountainhead -- the title was changed at Ogden's suggestion -- has become known in the trade as the classic cult book. The classic book that made its own way. "It was the greatest word-of-mouth book I've ever been connected with," said Bobbs-Merrill's trade-division sales manager, William Finneran. "Over the years, we spent about two hundred fifty thousand dollars in advertising it, and we might as well have plowed it back into profits for all the good it did us." Six slow months after publication -- and its purchase by Warner Brothers for a film that starred Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal -- sales began to build; ultimately, the book appeared on the best-seller list twenty-six times through 1945.

From "The Fountainhead Revisited," by Nora Ephron, in Wallflower at the Orgy, pp. 49-51. Editorial clarifications are marked with brackets. All punctuation and spelling is from the original.

Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Any Rand


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