Who is Marion Wrenn? Marion Wrenn is the fearless and inimitable co-editor of the literary magazine Painted Bride Quarterly. She is also a gifted poet, a perceptive essayist, a profoundly knowledgeable media historian, and a piercingly brilliant cultural critic. She teaches writing at New York University, where she earned her Ph.D, and is currently an inspiring and inspired faculty member of their Expository Writing Program. (And in case you are wondering, I added all those adjectives to her bio myself, because I think Marion is the greatest.) She and I would also like you to know about Painted Bride Quarterly's upcoming special Food and Punishment issues (those are two separate issues, although together they would be mighty topics) and that you should check out their website at pbq.drexel.edu. Okay?
Now, we are very lucky, because Marion has consented to be brought in for questioning by Best American Poetry's own House of Un-American Activities Committee! She'll be answering the questions posed to writer and famed solipsist Ayn Rand on October 20, 1947, about Communists in the motion picture industry. (Yes, there were a few.) Enjoy! -- Rachel Shukert
1. Raise your right hand please. Do you solemnly swear the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
We share a faith in truth, so I don’t deny your right to believe in God; but your faith in God denies the empirical possibility of this thing you call the whole truth, does it not?
2. Will you state your name, for the record?
I am Ayn Rand.
3. Is that your pen name?
I was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, but I prefer the more objectively beautiful, streamlined sound of Ayn Rand. It feels good to the American mouth. I spit my Russian name.
4. And what is your married name?
Mrs. Frank O’Connor. You know this handsome actor? My beloved.
5. Where were you born?
6. When did you leave?
Do you mean mentally or physically?
7. How long have you been employed in Hollywood?
Many years. I worked and worked and then I met Mr. DeMille. He gave me a job and I took that job and made my way. I read scripts. I worked hard. I became head of costumes too. Mr. DeMille was a smart business man and made a smart investment in me. He gave me nothing I did not earn. He is a genius type. A captain of leisure, a dream-factory hero.
8. Have you written various novels?
Various? Well, yes.
9. Were those best-sellers?
Of course. The free market reveals genius. The best sell.
10. Do you know how many copies were sold?
I am entitled to my excellence. Humility would be corrupt. I admit I take pleasure when I acknowledge my own achievement.
11. You have been employed as a writer in Hollywood?
This is true.
12. Could you name some of the stories or scripts you have written?
I adapted The Fountainhead for the screen, of course. And I also wrote Red Dawn.
13. Now, you have heard the testimony of Mr. Louis B. Mayer, have you not?
I listened to him. He is more dreamer than hero. I don’t deal with those who disagree.
14. Which says the picture Song of Russia had no political implications?
You can tell a lot about a writer’s mind from the screenplay he writes. This is why these fearful weak-minded writers feel so threatened by this honorable, legitimate committee.
The screenwriter is a laborer, the studio boss is the hero: the hero knows that art should not be about real life or the gutter or half-wits. It should be about possibility, not what is.
15. Would you give the committee a break-down of your summary of the picture relating to either propaganda or an untruthful account or distorted account of conditions in Russia?
My mouth works like that of a Vampire…. I have an accent like a Transylvanian Countess…. injecting corrupt sympathy for absolute libertarianism into the culture…. But I am not a cult.
16. Could you talk into the microphone?
Yes, to say again, my work concerns power, critiques empire, and celebrates a pure philosophy of individuality. I believe art contains ideas. Movies inject ideas into audiences. We know this to be true for the masses. And if movies are a hypodermic needle to the collective brain, then the screenwriter has loaded the syringe.
17. Is that a ballroom scene?
It is a dance, is it not?
18. At this peasant's village or home, was there a priest or several priests in evidence?
Yes, I see you see my point: priests and peasants. We are all potential victims of mystical magics. Let us embrace the talisman of rational choice.
19. I gather, then, from your analysis of this picture your personal criticism of it is that it overplayed the conditions that existed in Russia at the time the picture was made; is that correct?
I have complete loathing for the ugliest and most mystical materialist mysticism found there. No soul, no mind, just body.
20. Do you think, then, that it was to our advantage or to our disadvantage to keep Russia in this war, at the time this picture was made?
21. You paint a very dismal picture of Russia. You made a great point about the number of children who were unhappy. Doesn't anybody smile in Russia any more?
Only the retarded children.
22. Don't they do things at all like Americans? Don't they walk across town to visit their mother-in-law or somebody?
I hate the word responsibility. I disapprove of altruists. I consider them evil. Altruism is a kind of suicide. Americans know this.
23. Mr. Nixon, do you have any questions?
I don’t look at the stars. I don’t look at them. I am filled with wonder when I look at skyscrapers.