Letter 042

To Marcella Bannett Rabwin

Mrs. Rabwin (then Marcella Bannett) was a neighbor of Ayn Rand’s at an apartment building across the street from RKO, where they both worked in 1929–32. Rabwin was instrumental in two of Ayn Rand’s works: the story “Red Pawn,” which, Rabwin relates elsewhere, she persuaded an agent friend of hers to sell, enabling Ayn Rand to quit her wardrobe job at RKO and write full-time; and The Fountainhead, whose theme and the character of second-hander Peter Keating were inspired by a comment Rabwin made about wanting a car only if others didn’t have one. Rabwin was executive assistant to David O. Selznick and relates her career in Yes, Mr. Selznick: Recollections of Hollywood’s Golden Era (Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 1999). The following two letters were published only in the 2017–18 issue of The Objective Standard.

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February 12, 1937

Dear Marcella,

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your “review” of my book. I appreciate deeply not only your kind opinion of it, but also the fact that you let me know about it. I am very, very happy to know that you liked it so much, and your letter gives me a great encouragement for the future.

I must only reprimand you for saying that your opinion at this late stage can’t have any “importance for me.” You know that I have valued your opinion very highly always. Besides, I have not forgotten that you have, in a way, “discovered” me, in helping me to sell my first story “Red Pawn.” I will always be grateful to you for that, and if you like my work, it makes me very happy to think that I have justified your interest in me at the very beginning of my “career” when I had never sold a single story.

If you like the background of “We the Living,” you must realize why I hate Soviet Russia and why I have always been rather violent on that subject. You can see what I have lived through. Of course, the story and plot of the book are purely fictional. (It is not my autobiography, as some reviewers thought.) But the background and living conditions are all true, as I have seen them. In fact, when people ask me whether things in Russia are really as bad as I described them, I always say, no, they are not as bad, they’re much worse. I did have to tone down on the background—to make the book readable at all.

No, you didn’t “injure my first born” when you compared the book to “January 16th.” I know there can be no comparison between them. Personally, I think “January 16th” is a piece of trash, particularly after Al Woods got through with it. I never thought much of the play when compared to the book. I really did work on the book, to the best of my ability. The play—I wrote in two months. It made money—that’s all I can say for it. And I hope it will be forgotten. It’s not the kind of writing I want to be known by.

As to your questions: do I ever think of you? Of course, I do. I heard from Mrs. Eppes [Rabwin’s mother] a few weeks ago and I wrote to her shortly before I received your letter. I miss you a great deal and I am getting to be very homesick for Hollywood. But as to when I’ll be able to come back—I don’t know at all. There is too much business holding me here. I have recently finished the dramatization of “We the Living” for a producer who read the book and wants to do it on the stage. It will be done on Broadway early in the fall, so I have to stay here until then. Also, I’ve gone slightly crazy and entered the producing field myself. I’ve taken an option on a play [“Comes the Revolution”] by an unknown young author [Walter Abbott], and I’m going to produce it, if I can get the proper backing. I have never had any desire to be a producer, but this play is a work of genius and I think I’ve discovered a great writer. I’d like to help him, and if all goes well, I’ll have his play on Broadway by September.

There are many other things that have held me tied to New York. “We the Living” just came out in England, got very good reviews. I wanted to go there for its appearance, but all the theatrical business is here. Between times, I’m working slowly on a new novel. No, not about Russia. There will be no single Russian or Communist in it. Strictly about America and New York. I feel very enthusiastic about this new undertaking, but it will be a long and difficult one. Next fall, I do hope to be able to come back and get a Hollywood job. I love New York, but it’s never-wrecking [sic].

Frank has been working in summer theaters here. Incidentally, he played “Guts” Regan in “January 16th” in summer stock, did it very well. I’m keeping him for a part in my new play on Broadway. We thought we could make it this season, but it is too late now.

As to my family, I am trying to arrange for them to come here, but it is a long, difficult process, there are many formalities to go through in order to get a passport. Now it is my turn to ask questions. Do you plan to go away permanently to South America? You mention it in passing in your letter. And have you given up the studios for good? If you have, I think the studios lost a grand executive, but I am happy for you if you can get a rest, which you always needed, and I’m glad to know that you’re happy in your marriage. If you come to New York in June, I certainly hope that you’ll have time to call on me. I would like so much to see you again. Frank joins me in our best wishes to you and your husband.

Once more, many, many thanks to you—

Affectionately,