Nearly 30 years after her passing, Ayn Rand is experiencing a renaissance as the economy sputters and government efforts to spur growth fall short. With over 25 million copies of her books in print, including “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” Ms. Rand had a history of engaging groups of dedicated followers on her small government, free market, and individualist philosophy. Now, she's gaining fans among tea party activists and others worried about the spread of government. Here are six things even her fans probably didn’t know about her:
#6 Capitalism and the stock market
The long-time friendship that existed between Rand and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan may be old news. But a lesser-known detail is that, despite financial guidance from Mr. Greenspan, Rand never invested her money in the stock market, says biographer Anne Heller, author of “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.” “The greatest proponent of capitalism was afraid to use the greatest mechanism of market capitalism.”
When Rand died in 1982, she left nearly $800,000 in her estate, much of which she kept in a savings bank across the street from her apartment, Ms. Heller says in a telephone interview. “She was a timid woman. Fierce as she was, she was also a little frightened.... She didn’t trust anything she didn’t understand, and she lived incredibly modestly.”
Time played a key role in Rand’s decision not to invest in the market. “To me, it was somewhat like not taking vitamins: that she’d have to do too much research herself to feel comfortable doing it,” Kathryn Eickhoff, Rand’s friend and later financial adviser, said in a 1999 interview.
“She didn’t want to invest because she was worried about the effects of government inflation and controls on the economy,” Harry Binswanger, a philosophy professor at the Ayn Rand Institute, says in a telephone interview.
“[A] dangerous collapse is inevitable," Rand said during a Q&A session after a 1965 lecture at Suffolk University in Boston. "What I wouldn’t care to guess is when. The situation is so precarious that it can be tomorrow or it may stretch a few more years,”
Through the encouragement of Ms. Eickhoff and other financial advisers, Rand eventually did invest in some special bonds. “These were a specific series of government bonds, which, while they were at the time selling at a discount from par because interest rates were high, in case of death they could be used at face value to settle estate taxes," Eickhoff said in the 1999 interview.
#5 FDR supporter
Rand became a US citizen in 1931, and voted in her first US presidential election the following year for, surprisingly, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat. “She voted for her nemesis,” says Heller. FDR’s campaign promised low taxes, small government and staying out of European wars. Rand was under the impression Roosevelt wanted to restore the business environment in the United States, and was drawn to his promise to end Prohibition. “She thought Prohibition was a crime against an individual’s right. People should be able to do as they please,” Heller says.
Rand began writing “Atlas Shrugged” in 1946 after Roosevelt’s third term in office, which parodied his New Deal policies and encouraged resistance to the growing power of government.
#4 The name’s not Ann
Born Alisa Rosenbaum, Ayn Rand changed her name after moving to the US in 1926. When said correctly, Ayn should rhyme with “line.”
Been calling her “Ann” or “Ian” all these years? According to the book “Letters of Ayn Rand,” edited by Michael Berliner, Rand was addressing questions about her name as far back as 1937. In response to a fan’s letter that year, she wrote:
“… I must say that ‘Ayn’ is both a real name and an invention. The original of it is a Finnish feminine name … Its pronunciation, spelled phonetically, would be: ‘I-na.’ I do not know what its correct spelling should be in English, but I chose to make it ‘Ayn’ eliminating the final ‘a.’ I pronounce it as the letter ‘I’ with an ‘n’ added to it”
#3 A fierce individualist promotes relationships
Rand's work and influence are more visible than ever. In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, book sales for her 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged” soared to more than 500,000 copies, a record, then fell back to nearly 350,000 copies in 2010. In September 2011, Penguin released a new “Atlas Shrugged” book app on iTunes, which includes the full text of Rand’s novel along with interactive features such as videos, audio interviews and essays.
Rand fans can even find a likeminded romantic partner on the social networking and dating site “The Atlasphere.” The online community, which “connects admirers of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged,” was founded in 2003 and lists over 26,000 profiles of members around the world. “Tolstoy and Dickens might move you,” says Joshua Zader, founder of The Atlasphere, in a telephone interview. “But people really identify with Ayn Rand’s ideas and with the characters of her novels. So we get hungry to connect with people who identify in the same way we did.”
Actress Eva Mendes can relate. In 2007 she told Askmen.com that any potential boyfriend “has to be an Ayn Rand fan.”
#2 Atheism and Israel
Rand was a life-long atheist with a secular philosophy. “She was Jewish, but she always said her religion had no meaning to her," says Jennifer Burns, a history professor at the University of Virginia and author of the biography “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.”
But in 1973, she made the first monetary donation of her life to the state of Israel. Scholars are still trying to explain it.
Some say the donation had nothing to do with religion. “Rand had a tendency to overlook certain facts when she was enthusiastic about something,” says Heller.
“You have to remember what was happening in the region at that time,” says Edward Hudgins, director of advocacy at the Atlas Society, in a telephone interview. The second Arab-Israeli War began in October 1973. “In a sea of the most irrational and savage barbarism philosophically and politically, Israel was one shining place that valued the principles of civilization.… It was a beacon of modernist, enlightened values.”
Rand did see Israel as a bastion of civilization in the region, but her individualist philosophy of honoring only commitments one chooses – unlike family or religion, which one is born into – makes her contribution to Israel notable, says professor Burns in a telephone interview. “Her donation raises some interesting questions about whether her religion was more important to her than she was willing to publicly admit.”
#1 Kitten fluff
That's the pet name Rand’s husband, artist Charles Francis O’Connor, affixed to her. Married for 50 years, Rand met Mr. O’Connor on the movie set of "King of Kings" in 1926 and allegedly tripped him in order to get his attention. The couple had a somewhat tumultuous marriage with accounts of alcoholism and adultery.
“But he was the only person she could show her softer side to,” Burns says. “The name Kitten Fluff was a little tongue in cheek because she was so strong and powerful. But, she was a very emotional and passionate person and really cared what people thought of her.... She was human, after all.”