To Isabel Paterson [Letter 147]

Item Reference Code: 145_PA4_007_001

Date(s) of creation

July 26, 1945


Isabel Paterson


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10,000 Tampa Avenue
Chatsworth, Calif.

July 26, 1945

Dear Pat:

Thank you!

I have been afraid to write to you—but this time I want so much to thank you that I’m writing. I have received the two best-seller lists you sent me, and now I’ve received the third one. It means to much to me that I don’t know what to say about it. It has knocked me out of equilibrium and made me slightly dizzy, for many reasons: not only the sale of the book itself, but the fact that you’re watching it and that you wanted to send the lists to me. Of course I have been thinking all this time that you predicted the sale of the book and that “Isabel Paterson is always right.” I wanted to gloat over it with you. I’m doing the gloating here in your honor anyway—but I wanted to tell you about it, so I’m writing.

I’m not sure that you won’t give me hell for saying that I was afraid to write to you—and that you’ll be offended by it. I can only say that of all the things I can do in relation to you, the one I don’t want to do, above all else, is to offend you or to hurt you in any way whatever. I was at fault originally, that time when I didn’t write to you for over a month. But when I tried to write and explain it, I made it worse. When I received your last letter, I wrote you six pages—and didn’t send them. I thought anything I say will make it worse, again. Because, you see, I never thought that I wrote letters as a “favor” for a friend. I always thought that I wrote primarily for my own sake, because I wanted to talk to a friend and wanted to hear from the friend. Assuming at the same time, of course, that the friend did want to hear from me. But I never thought of it as being a matter of an “ungenerous heart” on my part. So that if I suffer writing letters, I am a martyr for my own sake—not anyone else’s, nor am I doing it only because the friend will get mad if I don’t, nor am I saying I am tired as a reproach, that is, to show in effect: look, how much I am sacrificing for you. This is what you read into my last letter. It is not what I intended. So that gave me another good complex about letter writing—sheer terror of the mere attempt.

I know the reason why letters are so hard for me to write—and I will tell it to you, not as alibi-ing, but

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because it is a fact. Don’t say in answer: “My good woman, if it’s terror to you, you don’t have to write to me.” The point is that I do want to write to you—but that I cannot do it easily, lightly or casually. I must try to learn to do it better and easier than I do—but there is a valid reason for my complex. It’s this: the first letters I ever wrote regularly were to my family in Russia, when I came here—and every letter was censored, so I had to be extremely careful of what I said, in order not to embarrass them. I always rewrote page after page, before I could mail a letter to them. I had to doubt and scrutinize every sentence for any possible misinterpretation. I have not been able to write any kind of letter spontaneously ever since.

I am very consciously aware of the fact that words on paper can be taken in very many different ways. So I am always trying to write letters as if I were walking on thin ice—so that what I say would be taken the way I said it. And, above all, it is letters to friends that I compose the most carefully—because that is when I want to be understood, and the things I write about are important. You said: “I assume that one speaks to a friend or writes a letter, spontaneously.” I speak to a friend spontaneously—yes. But it is precisely to a friend that I am afraid of writing spontaneously. In conversation, a misunderstanding can be sensed and corrected at once. On paper—it’s done. I had always gone over all my long letters to you, and edited them very carefully, and rewrote them. The sad part of it all is that my last letter to you was the first one I sent unedited and uncopied. And it was the one that did offend you. I am not saying this as a reproach to you. I can see your point and why you could take it as you did. It only made me realize more concretely my limitations as a letter-writer.

All I can say now is that I want to try and write to you. BECAUSE I WANT TO WRITE TO YOU. I hope you will also want to hear. But the effort is made for my sake, not as a bribe to you. I had hoped to be in New York much sooner and speak to you in person, rather than try to say anything on paper. But I undertook to do an extra screenplay for Hal Wallis, because he bought a book I wanted to adapt and bought it specially for my sake. This held me up longer than I thought it would take. I am free now—for six months, but I didn’t want to go to New York in July. I am planning to come to New York in September, for at least a month.

I assume you’re not completely off me—so I’ll tell you briefly what I’m doing. I am getting along with the studios very well—almost too well. That is, they like my work—and I don’t like it. I don’t like the fact that

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what actually reaches the screen is just a distorted mess of what I had intended. Not so much because they re-write it—no, it’s more stupid than that. They okay a script as I did it—then the actors and director on the set adlib it out of all sense; then the producer cuts it in the cutting room in such a way that what is left doesn’t make the sense intended. However, I expected all that, so I’m not whining—like the writers you referred to when you once said that you would feel no sympathy for anyone who suffers at the rate of $500 per week. I set myself two purposes when I signed the screen contract: a minimum and a maximum. The minimum would be just the money, the security and the freedom of all worry about financial returns in regard to my serious writing, my books. The maximum would be to gain a position in the studios when my pictures would be done my way. This last is not impossible. So far, at the end of my first year with Wallis, I have acquired a prestige with studio people which I didn’t expect. It looks as if the people involved are beginning to think that when I say something I know what I’m talking about. I already have a position that none of the other writers here have—that is, more freedom about my scripts and more say about the results than is considered normal for a writer. So I might come to reach my maximum purpose. I met Frederick Lonsdale, the English playwrite, here.[*] He admires “The Fountainhead” very much. He felt that I’m wasting my talent somewhat by working for the screen. I asked him: “Are you afraid that I’ll go Hollywood?” He said: “Good God, no. If you stay here, it’s Hollywood that will have to go you.” I think he’s right. At least that’s what I’m working for. If I find it impossible, I’ll finish the contract and quit the movies.

But for the present, I’m delighted to be out of the studios and on my own free time. I was unbelievably tired and beginning to be quite bored. I like screen work, but not too much of it. Now—I’m writing my non-fiction book “The Moral Basis of Individualism.” Pat darling, I suppose you know what a difficult job it is! Much harder than I thought when I started it in New York. I re-read what I had done then, and I was glad I had stopped. I knew then I wasn’t ready for it—and I wasn’t. The ideas were all right—but not the form and presentation. It has to be much, much more than merely a restatement of my theme in “The Fountainhead.” It has to start further back—with the first axioms of existence. It has to say everything I said in the novel—but it was so much easier for me to say it in fiction form, because I am primarily a fiction writer. That’s my one real love in life. I have to re-train myself to a non-fiction view-point and tone, and do it on the hardest kind of theme I could have picked. But I’m doing it.

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I am reading a long, detailed history of philosophy,[**] I’m reading Aristotle in person and a lot of other things. At times it makes my hair stand on end—to read the sort of thing those “sages of the ages” perpetrated. And I think of you all the time—of what you used to say about them. It’s actually painful for me to read Plato, for instance. But I must do it. I don’t care what the damn fools said—I want to know what made them say it. There is a frightening kind of rationality about the reasons for the mistakes they made, the purposes they wanted to achieve and the practical results that followed in history. When I’m in New York, I would like to talk to you about philosophers and help you to curse them.

Now, as to my personal life, I haven’t much of it. Haven’t the time nor the energy. I love living in the country, and I get furiously nervous every time I have to go out and meet somebody. I am becoming more anti-social than I was—and the reason is the same as yours, so I think you’ll understand very well: I can’t stand the sort of things people talk about. I’ve stopped reading the newspapers, beyond a general glance at the news. I can’t stand the columnists and editorials: what they’re doing in the world now is beyond any polite discussion and beyond the possibility of a legitimate disagreement between decent people. It’s so monstrous that to read some fool discussing seriously something like the San Francisco conference is worse than a waste of time: it’s like listening to a raving maniac, and a vicious one.[***]

My happiest thoughts are, of course, about “The Fountainhead.” You know how I’d feel about the sale. It’s gone much beyond what I expected. You remember I set myself 100,000 copies as the goal at which I’d be satisfied. It has sold 150,000 or more by now. I like to think that it might be a sign that there are many more people sick of collectivism than I suspected. I know there can be many explanations for that sale, but this factor is terribly important, if true. I haven’t formed any set opinion of my own to explain the success of the book. I have just decided to wait and see and collect the evidence. For the present, I’m just terribly happy—and think only that there is a wider field for what I have to say than I thought I had.

I had started this as a short note to you—but there’s so much that I’d like to talk to you about. I still don’t know whether you want me to write in detail, and I feel a little presumptuous doing this. I just want to say one more thing: if you wonder how I feel about you, look at what I wrote in your copy of “The Fountainhead.” I meant it. I still do. I always will.

Love from both of us—Frank wants his included specifically,


*Lonsdale (1881–1954) was a highly successful British playwright and librettist. The March 3, 1945, “Behind the Makeup” entertainment column in the Los Angeles Times featured columnist Harry Crocker’s report of the “small dinner” he gave in honor of Ruth Alexander. Among the guests were AR and Lonsdale.
**Likely B.A.G. Fuller’s
A History of Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt, 1945).
***Probable reference to the conference which established the United Nations, held in San Francisco from April 25-June 26, 1945. This reference suggests that AR understood this early what that organization would bring about in practice. In 1964, AR wrote, “The U.N. has delivered a larger part of the globe’s surface and population into the power of Soviet Russia than Russia could ever hope to conquer by armed force.” (“The Anatomy of Compromise”)