Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Holding Court - June 14, 2005
by Barbara Branden

A Note on Anne Bancroft
Material Cut From Passion
A New Edition of Passion

June 14, 2005

A Note on Anne Bancroft

I was very saddened to learn of the death of Anne Bancroft. She was a remarkable actress, and my impression of her was that she was a remarkable and highly intelligent human being. I met her only once, some time before the movie rights to The Passion of Ayn Rand were purchased by Showtime; the purpose of our meeting was to discuss the possibility of her starring in the movie when and if it was purchased. Before we met, she asked that I bring with me whatever television interviews of Rand were available - particularly those that discussed philosophical issues.  That impressed me.  A movie star interested in philosophy?
When we gathered at the home of Marilyn Lewis, the woman who had taken an option on Passion (and who spent seven years, never once discouraged, attempting to sell it to a movie company), I realized that one of my fears was unwarranted. I had been told that she might be too old to play the part of a woman in her late forties. She was much more youthful looking than her years, and much more beautiful than she appeared in her movies. She was gracious, and warm, and funny. After we watched two of the interview tapes, she suddenly - it was astonishing to see - became Ayn Rand. Everything about her changed: she spoke with a heavy Russian accent, her posture became that of a heavier and less graceful woman, her face hardened and became set and slightly dour, it seemed that her eyes had grown larger.  Only one thing was wrong: I looked down at her legs, and shook my head - and she immediately uncrossed her legs and planted them solidly apart.
During the afternoon, she said to me: “It’s my part. I understand her. I must do it.” I agreed with her, and when Showtime decided to cast Helen Mirren instead, on the grounds that Anne was too old, I was deeply disappointed. That is, disappointed until I met Helen and saw what she would do with the role.
I shall miss seeing Anne Bancroft on the screen, and I shall never forget her incredible performances, especially in The Miracle Worker. And I shall miss having the opportunity to renew our acquaintance. But that afternoon with her remains in my mind as a brilliantly lit memory of a great lady.

Now to your questions:
1.  What details were cut from the biography, especially re the section on Rand's childhood? 
When I had finished a reasonably completed draft of the biography, I met with my editor at Doubleday, Loretta Barrett, to hear her reactions. I was nervous in advance of the meeting: I had sent her every two or three chapters as I finished them, and she had made almost no comments, pro or con. I once asked her why she had so little to say, and she replied: “I’ll tell you when something is wrong.” But her relative silence unnerved me nevertheless. Was she now going to tell me that wholesale changes were necessary? My fears were soon allayed. As we went through the manuscript, page by page, her objections was almost always to issues I had either known or at least sensed required work, and her constant compliments were heartening. She is, in my view, a great editor – that is, she never lost the overall sense of the book, and thus was aware whenever I lost that perspective and became mired in details that did not further the major theme; and she never once imposed her views on me, always saying: “It’s your book, Barbara. You make the final decisions. But this is what I think.”
There was one section that she thought was much, very much, too long, and that was the more than 200-page section on Rand’s childhood. “No child born to woman,” she said, “has ever been that interesting.” I had to agree, and when I returned to Los Angeles to work on the final draft, I eliminated a great deal of the section. I can barely remember the material I cut, because it was in large part simply a repetition, through endless unnecessary examples, of points I already had made. I cannot tell you specifically what details were cut; but I assure you they were unimportant and extraneous. (I must admit that as many pages as I cut from my presentation of Ayn’s childhood, I added to the manuscript as I worked on other sections.)
There was another, more serious problem with the manuscript that Loretta pointed out to me. When we reached the section where Nathaniel and I first met Ayn, which I had begun with the line: “Nathaniel and I met Ayn Rand on an evening in 1950. . . “ Loretta said: “You’ve turned this into two books. One deals with Ayn Rand, the second, beginning here, is about you and Nathaniel.” I saw that again she was correct, but neither of us saw a way to solve the problem. After fruitless hours of discussion, I said to her: “Let’s leave it for now. When I’m back home and sitting at my computer, I’ll know how to fix it. I don’t know what that ‘fixing’ will consist of, but I know I’ll be able to do it.” I had had that feeling throughout the writing of the biography: that I would know how to do whatever needed doing. And when I was home and sat at my computer, I wrote: “It was during this period of intensive work on the writing of Atlas Shrugged that Ayn agreed to meet two young fans of The Fountainhead.” That shift in focus, along with a few other minor changes, solved the “two book” problem to Loretta’s satisfaction and mine.

2. Is there any assessment in the biography that you would now revise? Would you ever produce a new edition incorporating information from Rand's notes and correspondence?

I can think of no significant assessment that I would revise. I would probably add material to some of the assessments in the light of issues I have more fully understood in the years since the biography was published. I would like, one day, to issue a new edition which would allow me to revise the Epilogue, in which I discussed Rand’s influence. Today, that discussion is badly in need of an update. Her influence has now spread throughout our culture and abroad, carried by the millions of sales of her books to the farthest corners of the globe. As to incorporating material from works that were unpublished when I wrote, yes, I would want to comment on them, although I had read her short stories, some of her letters, and those sections of her private journals that dealt with Nathaniel and me.

There is one issue I’ll clear up now, since it has been touched on in SOLO posts: the issue of how Rand chose her pen name. I wrote in Passion that her cousin, Fern, with whose family Rand - then Alice Rosenbaum - stayed when she first arrived in America, told me:  “She had an old typewriter that she had come with. One day, she was sitting at the typewriter and she called me over. She said, ‘I’m going to be called Ayn’. . . And she wrote it in her slanty foreign handwriting: A Y N. ‘But I need a last name,’ she said. ‘I want it to begin with an R, because that’s my real initial.’ She was writing down different possible names, and then she looked at the typewriter – it was a Remington Rand - and she said, ‘Ayn Remington . . . No, that’s wrong. . . I know! - Ayn Rand!’ That’s how she got her name.”

What I did not mention, because I did not think that Fern’s story would be questioned, was that I heard the identical story from Ayn.

There are a number of other issues, now that the publication of her private journal entries about Nathaniel and me has refreshed my memory of them, that I would want to comment on. But I prefer not to go into them here.

That’s all for now, SOLOists. To those of you whose questions I have not yet answered, please be assured that I will get to them in future columns.  And I welcome further questions.

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