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A Meeting with Ayn Rand

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Bill Bucko

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by Bill Bucko

What was Ayn Rand like in person? I had a chance to find out, in 1971, when I flew to Boston to hear her speak at the Ford Hall Forum.

A couple of friends and I arrived at the doors of the New England Conservatory of Music about 1 P.M. that chilly November day, to be sure of getting good seats. There were only half a dozen people ahead of us. Miss Rand’s speech was scheduled for 8 P.M.; but we were so excited we didn’t find the wait long at all. We stamped our feet against the cold, all afternoon, but our mood was happy and cheerful. When it was getting dark the management took pity on the long line of several thousand people circling the building, and opened the doors early. We hurried inside, found seats close to the stage, and waited.

Miss Rand’s talk that evening was “The Moratorium on Brains,” on Nixon’s wage-price freeze. After giving her a standing ovation, we listened with the rest of the audience to the logical, heavily-accented words of the short, stocky philosopher in the evening dress. In spite of the somewhat grim subject matter, she seemed enthusiastic and optimistic. She closed by describing the uniquely American sense of life—expressed in the spirit: “Don’t push me around”—as her basis for optimism.

During the question and answer period a diffident young woman respectfully questioned Miss Rand’s views on femininity.* Miss Rand nodded gently, acknowledging that the issue was not self-evident, and politely recommended, “Well ... think about it.” A tall, hippyish young man asked if she had read “The Epistemological Base of Anarchism.” She shook her head, dismissing him: “I have Aristotle,” she said firmly.

When the question and answer period was over and the huge, happy crowd was milling around, we heard a rumor that people could meet with Miss Rand in the “green room” (where musical performers waited before going on stage). We had no idea where that was, but we followed the crowd. After more than an hour in the slow-moving line of wall-to-wall people, shuffling down hallways, around corners, and up stairs, we arrived at the door of what we guessed was the green room, and by craning our necks we could see inside.

Miss Rand sat at a table, smiling benevolently at the fans who packed the room and towered over her, cheerfully signing dozens and dozens of autographs on programs, books, pamphlets, anything that came to hand. She didn’t look like a world famous writer. She was as natural and unpretentious as could be, and seemed innocently, almost childishly happy to be meeting people who loved her books.

An earnest young man reached her side, and uttered some solemn words of thanks. She listened quietly, then nodded her head in acknowledgment when he was done. As far as I could guess, though, she seemed more comfortable with the more casual attitude of the majority of her fans, whose mood I think I could sum up as: “Hurray! Isn’t it fun that we get to meet each other? (And please could you autograph this for me, as a souvenir?)”

After a while the manager came and told Miss Rand it was time to close the building. “Oh, couldn’t we stay just a little while longer?” she smiled up at him, and he relented.

At one point the hippyish youth reappeared, and tried to give her the pamphlet on anarchism. “Leave me alone!” she snapped, when he kept persisting. There was so much she still wanted to learn, she told the circle of people around her—higher mathematics, for instance—that she didn’t want to waste time on such an aberration as anarchism. “I love this earth,” she said; and she wanted to spend her time studying it.

After almost another hour, I finally reached Miss Rand’s side—the last person to do so that night. The building was closing; the custodians flicked the lights on and off, and the crowd started heading for the exit. “Miss Rand?” I said. She looked up. I told her: “I just want to say hello; I’ve come all the way from Indiana just to be here tonight.” She reached out, took my hand and said sweetly, “Thank you very much for coming.”

“Thank you," I replied, a little stunned ...

We walked back to our hotel, under the stars, through the cold night air, feeling thoughtful and exhilarated. My friends talked about Miss Rand’s description of the American sense of life ... and they told me they’d overheard her plans for the rest of the evening: she was going to ride back to New York on the Greyhound Bus, with her beloved husband Frank O’Connor at her side.

What we saw that evening flatly contradicts the view of Miss Rand presented in a certain derogatory pseudo-biography. According to that “biography” (from the same non-objective publishers who push psychic surgery, astrology, UFO abductions, and claim Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy), Miss Rand at this time was a bitter, lonely neurotic, afraid of the world and hostile toward her fans. But we saw a warm, friendly, youthful old woman, with the innocence of a young girl. We saw a person who was delighted to see us, apparently at peace with herself and deeply happy.

And that makes sense to me. Could anyone less than a hero(ine) have written Atlas Shrugged ?

Copyright © 1992 by Bill Bucko

* Rightfully so, I think. I believe Miss Rand’s unique psychological situation—knowing herself to be at the top of the “pyramid of ability,” having no one above her—coupled with her passionate need to look up and admire—may have led her mistakenly (though understandably) to elevate the status of men above women (in the limited respect in which she did do so). But if “the essence of femininity is hero worship,” as Miss Rand said, why can’t the essence of masculinity be ... heroine worship?

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... Miss Rand was a wonderful person! :D

You're welcome. I think many people would be surprised at how comfortable it was to be around Miss Rand. If you've only heard her make speeches, you don't have a full picture of what she was like. A better impression of her personality can be gathered by listening to her "Fiction Writing" lectures, in which she was speaking in her own living room, to a circle of friends.

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