Transcription note: Although the carbon did not always transfer onto the copy, as at the bottom of pages two and three of this letter, the typewriter keys did leave indentations in the paper which are not visible in the scanned images. Those indentations were used to determine the words that seem to be missing in those places. Brackets indicate the most likely word where the indentations were not fully legible.
July 19, 1944
I owe you an apology for my long silence—and such a long account of events that I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened to me here, but I’ll have to skip all the details now, and start with the most important and urgent. The letterhead will explain part of what happened. I have finished the script of “The Fountainhead” at Warners (with great success, as I’ll tell you later—and with the whole story kept intact, theme, message, Roark’s speech and all. It will go into production this fall.) and I have signed a five year contract with Hal Wallis. The best part of the contract is that I’ll work for pictures only six months out of each year and will have six months for my own writing and my next books. So, I hasten to say, I haven’t sold myself to Hollywood. That kind of a contract was hard to get—picture people don’t like it, but I got it. It was that—or I would have gone back to New York. I wouldn’t take a full time contract and I won’t give up books for anything. Hal Wallis was a big producer at Warners and has just left them to start his own independent company. He will release pictures through Paramount, but he will make them independently, with his own separate staff. I’m the first writer he has signed. The second one is, incidentally, Lillian Hellman, of all people. Nice contrast, isn’t it? Well, anyway, Wallis is the big man of Hollywood right now and this is the most important new company and the talk of the town, etc.
But all this is only by way of explanation and build-up for what follows. I told you I would try to get you into the movies and here it is. Hal Wallis needs a good story editor—and I’ve sold you to him. That is, if you’re still available, willing and interested. I don’t even know where you are and what you are doing. But I suspect that if you’re still with the Council of Books in Wartime, you may be open to temptation and lured away from them. Here is the exact situation: Wallis has hired a story editor, but sort of on approval—and, confidentially, I don’t think that the man is very good. I told Wallis about you—and Wallis was most impressed and said he would like to have you in addition to his present editor. So he asked me to write to you at once, find out whether you are available—and if you are, Wallis will be in New York at the end of this month and he would like to see you then, and discuss it with you.
There’s your Hollywood break, darling. Now do you want it? I hope you do.
A story editor’s job here is this: he has to cover the field of everything written, like a bloodhound; he has to find stories that would make good movies, and be able to tell which future novels and plays have the possibilities of big hits; he has to hire writers to do the screenplays—he has to negotiate contracts and the buying of stories. The final say on all these activities is up to the producer (Wallis, in this case), but the story editor is the one who has to find the stories and the people for Wallis to buy or hire. The most essential part of the job, of course, is that they need a man who knows good stories and good writing. The shortage of material here is dreadful. You wouldn’t believe what trash they consider, for lack of anything better. Wallis needs stories desperately right now—and he needs a man whom he could trust to cover the field, so that he wouldn’t have to read everything himself, but could rely on his story editor to discover good and unusual things for him. Well, you discovered “The Fountainhead”, didn’t you? In other words, the man they need must have story sense and literary judgment, above all—and in all the world I don’t know anyone better qualified than you for this kind of a job.
I don’t know what they pay story editors, but by the general rate of salaries here, it is much, much more than they pay in publishing houses. I don’t know how you feel about working for the movies and whether it would interest you—but I thought this: If you have found the kind of publishing house you wanted, then it probably wouldn’t be wise to give it up for Hollywood, because I do believe that you are to be the big man of book publishing, the breath of fresh air, the godsend to all writers and the new day of book publications. If you are advancing toward a house of your own—then I don’t want to be the one to side-track you and I don’t think you should be side-tracked. But if the situation is still the same as when I left New York, that is, if there is no clear way towards a publishing house of your own until after the war and if you haven’t found a firm that could be a proper stepping-stone towards that goal—if you are still wasting your superlative talent on committees, councils and glorified press-agentry for very inglorious stuff—then why not try Hollywood, at least for the duration? You could make much more money and you might find it exciting and interesting. Of course, everything in Hollywood is uncertain, and everybody’s future is uncertain, even that of the biggest names and stars. I wouldn’t advise you or anyone to plan on a Hollywood career as a life future. Some people have lasted here for years and years. Others didn’t—and there are no rules, chances or probabilities to go by. It certainly is not a matter of ability, it is not entirely a matter of luck—it is just something that one can’t figure out at all. The only way to look at it is like one looks at horse racing: the financial stakes are tremendous and it is worth taking the chance if one looks upon it strictly as a chance that can fail at any moment. If you are free to take the gamble, it’s certainly worth taking. If it would mean losing valuable contacts, the reputation you have built up in the publishing business or a position that can lead you to what you want—then you shouldn’t take the chance, even if the immediate financial advantage is great. You can judge this better than I can. If your immediate job in New York is
important—don’t leave it. But if you can risk a year or two out here, to see how you like it, at least until the war is over and we do have publishing again, as it should be—then take this, because it could mean something very big. There is a terrible shortage of good editors here. And there are many vacancies, in other studios.
Well, I’ve tried to tell you the objective side of it as much as I know. The personal side—do I have to tell you how selfishly happy I would be to have you here—and as editor in the same company with me? Personally, I don’t like California—but for a family, it is really the ideal place. I think Betty would love it—and it would be wonderful for little Dominique and Archie Jr. As an added attraction: we have just bought a house—actually an estate, 13½ acres, in the country, twenty miles from Hollywood—and it is so lovely here that even I am relenting towards California. It’s a big house—ultra modern—by Richard Neutra—and we have a huge garden, an orchard with every possible kind of fruit tree, our own chickens and everything. (No swimming pool yet, but a tennis court of our own.) Well, you could live with us until you get used to Hollywood and decide where you want to live (or for the duration, as far as I’m concerned). Housing conditions are unbelievably dreadful here, the place is overcrowded, no houses or apartments available at all, but now you wouldn’t have to worry about that. Your children would really love this house—and as for the sunshine and the air and the fruit, it is really like an advertisement of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. It’s unbelievably wonderful just now. I’m not quite used to it myself. If you do come here, this is just an added bribe.
I think you would like Hal Wallis. So far, I’ve found it grand to work for him. I say “so far”, because one must always add this in Hollywood. He is intelligent, outspoken, direct, very energetic and ambitious, extremely competent—and he wants to make better movies, serious ones, not arty phonies, but really good stories well done. But you can judge for yourself when you speak to him. Will you write to me at once and tell me whether you’re interested and where Wallis can reach you when he comes to New York? I must be able to tell him before he leaves—and that will be in about a week. So write me air-mail, as quickly as you can. My address is:
10,000 Tampa Avenue
(Yes, the street number is just plain ten-thousand.) That’s my new home—our own—I’m now really a capitalist and a property owner. Archie, darling, who made this possible for me? I [won’t] forget that, I think of it more and more violently every day with every new thing that happens to me—and I’m not religious but I say: God bless you.
Well, I haven’t much time to tell you all the news [from] us—this was to be a rush note, and it’s late and I haven’t had any sleep last night, nor will have tonight—early [illegible] conference tomorrow. So I’ll just give you a brief synopsis.
Everything went wonderfully with “The Fountainhead” at Warners. My producer, Henry Blanke, held out to the end as he had started that is, with complete enthusiasm and understanding of the story and no intention of changing it, ruining it or vulgarizing it. I wrote the whole script—and he made no changes whatever, except minor technical ones, which were very valuable—but no story changes at all. It is still possible that the studio heads might interfere when we go into actual production and might start ruining things—one must always expect it in Hollywood until the moment the picture is released—but so far it does not seem probable, and as things stand now my script will go into production as I wrote it. It is the complete story of “The Fountainhead”, as it is in the book, only, of course, much shorter. I couldn’t put everything in—I had to take only the essence and the highlights. All the minor characters had to be dropped, even Katie. I had to skip Dominique’s marriage to Keating—she only marries Wynand. The characters, in order of importance, stand like this: Roark, Dominique, Wynand, Toohey. Keating is a somewhat minor part, entering the story only when Roark’s story needs him. We start actually at the end of part one—on the scene when Roark, already a struggling architect, refuses his last chance at a commission and goes to work in the quarry. From then on, it’s just like the book, condensed. Well, I didn’t mean to give you all the details, but I couldn’t help telling you about our story. I won’t repeat the compliments I got on the script—but it was really wonderful. Blanke was crazy about it. No cast or director will be chosen until this fall—the actual shooting probably to start the first of the year. The cast is a big problem—and Blanke doesn’t want to rush on it, we must have the right people. No Roark in view at all—there just aren’t any men to play him, so that will be the toughest problem. But I must tell you that we are trying to get Frank Lloyd Wright to do the buildings. I met him when he was here, I gave him a copy of the book—and, Archie, here is another miracle of my life, perhaps the one that makes me happiest: Wright was enthusiastic about the book! Remember what I told you about my previous encounter with him? Well, the book won him over. I had a beautiful letter from him about it—next time I’ll send you a copy of it. Of all the compliments to the book, this is the one I wanted most and expected least.
I finished at Warners—and started working for Hal Wallis, without a pause in between. That is, I had two weeks off—during which time I had to buy a house, because it is impossible to live in apartments here, and also I had to invest the money from the movie sale into something, and do it quickly, because money is dropping in value every day. So you can imagine that I almost went crazy with all this. I was so exhausted that I went to a doctor and had a check-up—but he found I was all right. I am now writing the adaptation of a novel which Wallis bought—it’s to be his first picture, and I’m rushing like mad. This will give you some idea why I haven’t written to you—haven’t had a moment for rational thought or for composing a letter to make sense. I’m not sure this one does. Will you forgive me and answer me?
With all our love, from both of us—to the four of you, and with all my gratitude, always,
On August 8, Ogden replied: “I really cannot leave here at this time. I’m not only under a certain moral obligation to see this thing through; I really want to . . . . So don’t feel sorry for me, and above all, don’t think I’m ungrateful for your kindly efforts on my behalf. Possibly my small reluctance to going to Hollywood, if the chance really came, would be the fear of failing you—or failing to live up to your buildup.”