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J. Neil Schulman: "I Met Ayn Rand"

GARY YORK: Did you meet Ayn Rand personally? Did you like her?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I met her. I worshipped her. I didn't much like her.
In August, 1973, after I'd interviewed Heinlein for the New York Daily News, George Nobbe, the Sunday editor who'd commissioned my Heinlein interview, asked me who I wanted to interview next. I chose Rand, and proceeded to get in touch with her through her office. She had been burned by the press so often that she was hesitant to do a newspaper interview, but made an exception because at the time -- hard as it sounds to believe -- Ayn Rand was doing television commercials advertising the Daily News!  She did, however, want total approval of the final printed interview, and demanded letters of agreement signed both by my editor and myself. We agreed, although my editor was astonished; he'd never been asked for such a thing for what he saw as a friendly puff piece written by a fan.
Rand telephoned me and asked to speak to me before she would invite me over to interview her in person. She asked me, "Are you a libertarian?"
I said, "Yes, Miss Rand."
She said, "Out of courtesy to the Daily News I will not hang up. You will please explain yourself."
Which I proceeded to do. "I agree with your metaphysics, your epistemology, your ethics, and your theory of esthetics," I said. "I just think your philosophical opposition to any compulsion more logically leads to private enterprise taking over all government functions, rather than to limited constitutional government."
"In this system with no government courts," Rand asked me, "what will be the final arbiter when men have disputes?"
I quoted John Galt's speech:  "Reality will be the final arbiter."
"Don't utter bromides!" Ayn Rand said to me contemptuously.
We spoke on the phone for another four hours. Rand initially would not agree to let me interview her, but by the end I brought her around.
She interviewed me during that phone call as much as I interviewed her.
She told me that she watched Star Trek and Spock was her favorite character. 
I told her that my favorite classical composer was Brahms, which apparently did not bother her the way answering "Beethoven" would have.
She asked me who else I had interviewed and I told her that it was Heinlein. She was familiar with him and thought well of him.
I asked her if she objected to Atlas Shrugged being called science-fiction, and she said she had no problem with that.
She criticized the nascent Libertarian Party for "using my ideas without giving me credit for them" and I told her that although I was not a member of the Libertarian Party, I needed to point out to her that the first platform of the Libertarian Party explicitly, by name, credited her philosophy as its foundation. "I did not know that," Rand said curtly. A few months later I saw her interviewed on television where, once again, she criticized the Libertarian Party for using her ideas without proper credit.
By the end of that conversation, she was ready to make an appointment to let me do the newspaper interview with her, but imposed an impossible condition on me. She would not agree to allow me to tape record the interview, as I had tape-recorded my interview with Heinlein. "But I'm not fast enough to take accurate notes and listen to your answers at the same time," I said. "You already have final approval of the text of the interview and I don't want to be in a position where I might misremember something you said and misquote you. Why do you object to my tape recording?" 
"I don't want you to give the tape to Murray Rothbard," she said.
"I have no intention of giving Murray Rothbard a copy of the tape," I said. "This interview would belong to the New York Daily News." She would not change her mind. "Okay," I said, "how about if you have someone from your office record it and provide me with a verbatim transcript?" Once again she refused. "Then why would the Daily News even need me to interview you?" I asked, "Since you have final approval of the text, and without my having some objective record of our conversation, in essence you'd be writing the interview, yourself. I can't work under those conditions."
So we ended our conversation there amicably and she said, "I wish you good premises."
About seven or eight years later I managed to get my hands on Rand's home phone number, and called her. She remembered me and we chatted in a more or less friendly way, since I was now a published novelist, myself. I asked her if I might send her my novel for her to read. "I read an interview with you recently," I told her, "in which you said you had a hard time finding any new novels you could enjoy reading. Since we share the same esthetics, I thought you might like mine."
"Oh, you poor boy!" she said. "I meant I wished I could read something new by Agatha Christie."
I got mad. "I'm better than Christie," I said.


Apparently my arrogance wasn’t enough to impress her.
Maybe a year later I phoned her again. I don't know what set her off, but this phone call didn't last long. It ended with her telling me, "I despise all libertarians." Then after a pause, "Including you."
Those are the last words I ever heard from Ayn Rand.
Well. Those are the last words I heard from Ayn Rand while she was alive on earth. I've since run into Ayn Rand on the other side, in one of my dream-state crossings to the afterlife. She was a whole lot friendlier.
By the way. None of these conversations were tape recorded so I've reconstructed the conversations from memory. The quotes are therefore not word for word.

Back to Gary York's interview with J. Neil Schulman






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