Bill Cole worked as a reader for Paramount Pictures in New York under Frances Kane (later married to Henry Hazlitt) and Richard Mealand (who was instrumental in getting Rand’s manuscript of The Fountainhead to Bobbs-Merrill). Rand likely met Cole at Paramount, where she and Cole worked under the same people just before her move back to Hollywood. Cole was also a friend of Rand’s brother-in-law Nick Carter and shared Carter’s sense of humor, writing to Rand that he (Cole) was out of favor at Paramount for demanding a “slight increase of $10,000 per synopsis, a 10-minute working day and a closed shop—closed to everyone but me.”
This letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
February 20, 1944
Please forgive me for my delay in answering you. You have no idea how terrible I am on the letter situation—because I come home from the studio utterly exhausted and fall asleep and can do nothing else. I only have weekends to answer mail—and I gave you a priority over letters I owe for several months. I hope this is not too late and that you will excuse me.
First of all—on the question you asked me about employment conditions here. I don’t know very much about the studios yet, except in the writing department, but as far as I can gather, the situation is this: the studios need help desperately only in the technical departments, such as cameramen, sound men, etc. If you know that angle and have had some such technical experience, you would probably have no trouble in getting a job. But in other, non-technical departments, they seem to be about normal and there are no unusual openings, as far as I have been able to learn. You write you’d be interested “in anything else even remotely connected with writing or editorial work.” There are only the two departments in such line—reading and writing. You don’t want the first, I understand they pay even worse than in New York. As to the second—it still seems to be the rule that studios do not like to give a writing break to an employee of their own from another department. I have heard stories of readers who had to leave their own studios and make a big success as writers on another lot. So I don’t think that getting a studio job in another line would get you closer to their scenario department. Except that nothing one can say about Hollywood is ever an iron-clad rule. There are always exceptions. Anything is possible here. It is very possible that you could come here, get some other job and have it lead you to writing. It could work that way. I can only say that, as a general rule, it doesn’t seem to. But it’s up to you—if you want to take the chance. Only it looks like a long chance.
From everything I hear here and from the record of every writer whom I asked how he got into screen writing—the shortest way seems to be outside the studios. That is, most of them came after establishing some sort of reputation in another line—playwrights, novelists and radio writers. They got in in one of two ways: either they had a reputation in some particular specialty, such as sports stories and the studio needed a sports story and hired this particular writer; or they sold something they had written and the studio got them with the property. If you want to try directly for the screen, my advice would be to write originals. They do buy originals
from outside authors, not necessarily just from their own staff, and if they like an original enough, they will also hire the author to work on it for them. They don’t do it very often, but it does happen and there are writers who broke in that way. If you try it that way, I can tell you that what they look for in originals is the idea. It must have some new, startling idea in plot or theme—I don’t mean that it must be profoundly original in a literary sense, but new and different within the usual terms of screen stories. As, for instance, Norman Krasna here made a big hit with an original called “Princess O’Rourke.” (He was, of course, an established writer before that—but I am quoting it only as an example of what they go for in originals.) It was the story of a refugee princess marrying an American pilot. Nothing very new—but a good old trite situation given a modern angle they hadn’t used before. I don’t know whether you can write to order, that is, trying to aim at what seems to be wanted. I know I can’t. But if you can, this is the general line that seems to work here. Or—write an original in any way that seems good to you, whether it’s the Hollywood way or not, and submit it. That’s what I would do. There is always the chance that it would hit the right person in the right way. And one chance is all you need. But to break in just as a junior writer, without selling them something, seems to be the most difficult of all attempts. It does happen—but it’s the longest shot. I’m afraid they’ll go on promising you a break and postponing it. I know a brilliant young writer here who has been in that position for over a year.
Your plan to go to Oregon and work on a farm seems almost too heroic. If you’re sure that you can stand the work physically and that you’ll have a lot of time for writing, it might be a good idea. If you do have a serious work you want to do—it’s an excellent idea. I wouldn’t be stopped by the mere fact of it being a dull existence—so much the better, you’ll write more. But I wonder about your doing farm work. That might be so hard physically, since you’re not used to it, that you won’t be able to write. I wonder why you picked out a farm. As far as getting a job, any kind, just to make a living and be free to write—there are a lot of openings here in Hollywood. Not in the studios, but every other place seems to be advertising “help wanted.” If you don’t care what work you do, you could probably find something better than farm work here. And then devote most of your time to writing. That is the best plan, I think. If you come here, I’d like to see you. Looks like I’m stuck here for a while—and I do miss the people I knew in New York.
Since this is such a long business letter, I won’t add much about myself, except to say that everything is going very well for
me here. I am writing my own screen play—and the studio is very pleased with it so far. I have just signed a contract to stay here longer—until I finish the script. I am about half-way through it now. I love the work—and I do love Warner Brothers, since they’re so nice to me—but I hate Southern California. It is dull and flat, the climate and the very atmosphere—I don’t know about the people, haven’t had time to be very sociable. I hate the place for the very reasons most people like it—the sunshine, the palm trees, the going around in slacks, and all that. I love New York, always did and always will. However, if one doesn’t stay here permanently, it’s not too bad a place. I don’t mind it for a while. I’d hate to stay here forever.
Write and let me know if all this advice is of any use. And, of course, come and see me if you do descend upon California. I will be offended if you don’t. Incidentally, never mind your friends in Philadelphia, have you read my book? I think by now you should. However, I’m glad your friends liked it—give them my thanks.
Best regards and good luck to you from both of us,