To Gerald Loeb [Letter 139]

Item Reference Code: 143_LO2_002_001

Date(s) of creation

August 5, 1944


Gerald Loeb


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10000 Tampa Avenue
Chatsworth, California

August 5, 1944

Dear Mr. Loeb:

Look at this letterhead and at my own new address above—and it will tell you the whole story of what has happened to me in the last few months and why I haven’t written to you sooner. To put it briefly: 1) I have finished the script of “The Fountainhead” at Warners, 2) I have signed a five year contract with Hal Wallis, 3) I have bought a house, or rather an estate in the country here, 13 ½ acres of unbelievable luxury and a very modern house, by Richard Neutra. When you add that I had to start on the new job practically without a vacation, am half way through my new script, had to move, had to decide on the house and close the deal, had to have my furniture shipped from New York—can you imagine what I had to go through and will you forgive my silence? I don’t know myself how I ever got through with all of it.

I will tell you more about my personal adventures later in this letter, and let the above serve as an apology while I start answering all the many very interesting points in your letters. Three, this time, and thank you a lot.  Your letters are always so interesting that I cannot drop just a short note in reply. To start with the last one, which I have just received—your problem of how to meet a worthwhile woman is a problem that I have faced all my life, though not in the same terms. I was fortunate enough to meet Frank early in life, so my quest was not of a romantic nature, but all my life I have been troubled by the fact that most people I met bored me to death and I wondered where and how one can meet interesting people. I knew such people existed, I didn’t believe that all of humanity was like the dreadful, wishy-washy, meaningless specimens I saw around me—but I seemed to have terrible luck in meeting the kind I could have liked. I am enough like Roark to be able to exist quite happily in solitude, and I had Frank, which is the greatest mercy God has ever granted me (and I feel that without being religious), but I do like people—when they are really human beings—I love to meet interesting minds and exchange ideas and feel an interested affection, not contempt, for those around me. So, you see, in a way, it was the same problem as yours—though I wanted only to find friends, and you seek more than that. The practical steps, however, would be the same, the question—how to go about meeting the right people and where

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to go. I think I have found the answer—so maybe it will be of help to you.

First of all, let me say most emphatically that money or social position have nothing to do with it. I have always had a very mixed circle of acquaintances, some extremely wealthy, some of the poorest kind of struggling young intellectuals and non-intellectuals—and I find that, as far as human quality goes, money and social status make no difference whatever. Don’t let yourself fall for that awful nonsense of Karl Marx about economics determining human nature. They don’t. Neither in general historical events—nor in specific human instances. Economic position affects only the form, the surface details of a person—his clothes, his grammar, his manners. NOT his essence as a human being. And what you and I are interested in is the essence, not the surface polish. I have found that the rich, as a rule, are more boring than the poor, only because they have a standardized line of patter and behavior which makes them awfully dull. The poor, at first glance, may seem more colorful. But when you get to know either of them better, you see that there is no essential difference. There is the same emptiness, pettiness, malice and general slothfulness of the spirit. The fact that a man earns his money by physical labor does not make him a superior human being. That is as silly a fallacy as the opposite one—that a man is superior because he does no labor, but sits on his rear on inherited money. Both facts are beside the point. The idea that working women are more “real” or interesting than society women is, I think, plain nonsense. I know them both. The majority of the working women will be like the girl in your story “He and She.” They work badly, grudgingly, sloppily, only because they have to. They are preoccupied with the same nonsense as the society women, only they have less time for it. That is why I disagree most emphatically with Frank Lloyd Wright when he says “Look in the tea rooms for the real women of America.” Ayn Rand says: Bosh! The only difference between the women in the tea rooms and the women in the Waldorf Astoria is the price list on the menus.

But the truth of the matter is that one finds worthwhile men and women among people who work. Follow me here very carefully, forgetting the cheap generalities which all our modern minds have been stuffed with. I do not mean LABOR. I do not mean people who have to earn their living. I do not mean proletarians. I do not mean tea rooms. I mean what you and I understand by the term of “competent people.” People who love to work, who are good at it, serious about it and concerned primarily with it. Bright, creative, productive, ambitious people. People who get money for their work, but who do not work primarily for the money—whether it’s a weekly pay-envelope or a thousand dollar bonus. People who are ambitious—not to climb socially, not to get wealth and titles—but ambitious to do more and more work of a better and better kind. It’s among such people that you’ll find the woman you want, if I have understood you correctly.

Of course, such people are very rare. But they do exist. Now, how does one find them? There may be one or two in any

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business, any profession, but the wading through the other kind of people would be too long and the chances too small. So the only short cut I have found is to go to places where people go because they are attracted by the specific purpose of the place. For instance: I have met a greater number of interesting men and women, within a few months, than I did in my whole life, during the Wilkie campaign of 1940, when I worked as a volunteer in the National Headquarters of the Wilkie Clubs. Don’t misunderstand me, God knows I am not endorsing Wilkie now, and I don’t mean that those people are to be found in politics. As a matter of fact, that is the last profession in which they would be found. But what I mean is that the Wilkie Clubs, at the time, were a rallying point for people who wanted to serve a certain principle. Those people came there for one purpose only—to work for a cause they believed. And among the great numbers of hanger-ons, phonies, ward-heelers and fat club-women, there was a surprising number of wonderful men and women, people of intelligence, integrity, character. They came—to work.

The same would apply to any place or organization that has a legitimate purpose; it would attract the same kind of people. Not all of them, of course. There will always be a preponderance of the usual and dumb, as there is everywhere. But the chances of meeting interesting people would be far greater than at parties, purely social gatherings, resort hotels or tea rooms. In practical terms, I would suggest this: select a place whose purpose attracts and interests you—then go there regularly; if the place is legitimate, it will attract other people like yourself, the people you want to meet. For instance: a literary club—or a literary college course (though most of those are phony, one would have to be careful)—it would have, among hopeless aspirants, some men and women sincerely interested in the subject and working hard at it. An architectural club—though here there wouldn’t be many women. A volunteer political organization is always good—though I don’t know what’s become of them now. It would be hard to choose the specific place. But in a general way, that is the advice I’d give you: look for places where sincere people are working hard—and go there. Choose by the nature of the work. Going incognito into a convention of ditch-diggers would do you as little good as going to the swankiest Wall Street party.

Incidentally, people are always at a disadvantage at a party. You may have met some very interesting women at parties—and never known it, because it is the custom not to raise any serious subject socially, but to be trite, trivial and so-called gay. Many nice women would struggle like hell to put on a silly, over-painted front, even though they hate it, and would talk hopeless drivel only because it’s socially expected of them. But if you meet people at work, the nature of the work will make them talk seriously and you will have a better insight into their real characters.

Now in regard to the brief story you outline about a man and woman meeting on the train, and you ask: True or False? I’d say False. In every way. It could happen, but it’s a deadly thing to count on—if I understood the point correctly. It is

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wrong to wait for the woman to do the chasing—though many men do that, and many let themselves be dragged into marriage even though they didn’t really want it. A great many men take their love life passively—the way one conventionally supposes women do—they take what comes along and make the best they can. That’s wrong for both sexes. I would say—find what you want and go after it openly, whether you’re a man or a woman. A little less openly if you’re a woman. But go after it. Don’t wait for the other party to make the overtures.

Now to go back to your letter No. 2. I did suspect that the outline of your novel was taken from your own life—but I wasn’t sure of it, I never take for granted that a fiction idea is copied from life. Since this is your own case, I can well understand how unhappy it makes you at present—but I venture to say that you will grow out of it and find a greater happiness than most people do, because the experience itself is unusual and violent in its nature. It would make you more violently unhappy than the average—and the rewards will be more violently happy. Because you will be able to choose what you want with a clear mind—and avoid the youthful tragedies of other men. But you must remember this at all time, and not succumb too easily, out of sheer loneliness, in the same way that a young man succumbs. Let your mature mind control you more than ever. I believe that our mind controls everything—yes, even our sex emotions. Perhaps the sex emotions more than anything else. Although that’s the opposite of what most people believe. Everything we do and are proceeds from our mind. Our mind can be made to control everything. The trouble is only that most of us don’t want our minds to control us—because it is not an easy job. So they drift and let chance and other people and their own subconscious decide for them. I believe firmly that everything in a man’s life is subject to his mind’s control—and that his greatest tragedies come from the fact that he willfully suspends that control. Forget every bromide on the subject which your friends have probably told you. Keep your mind in control. You are unusually fortunate in facing your odd problem at a time when your mind is mature. It is hard to bear, I know, but it is fortunate. The only danger is to succumb to some such fallacy as that “the heart is more important than the brain.” (By “heart” they actually mean here a less polite anatomical organ.) NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE BRAIN. NOTHING. And no man can find any lasting happiness, any kind of satisfactory existence in any part of his life—professional, mental, emotional, sexual—not in any part, unless the primary choice and decision and action proceeded from and with the consent of his brain.

You asked, how many years I give an adolescent to grow out of his troublesome period. I would say—three to five years. But don’t judge from that what I would say about your case—I wouldn’t venture to make a guess—the comparison is not warranted, you can’t go by that, your case is unique. I would say only: you will outgrow it the quicker the more coldly and dispassionately you think about it—and the less sway you give to your emotions—that is, emotions of any kind: whether anxiety or eagerness or fear or loneliness. You cannot help feeling all that—but make yourself merely feel it, not act upon it. Act upon the decision of your brain.

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You ask: “Is not a man’s thinking conditioned by his life?”. My answer is: NO!!! (I’m sorry I had no bigger caps to use on this machine, or I would have used them.) This is THE crucial fallacy of our century, and one deliberately fostered to destroy all thinking, fostered, incidentally, by the Marxists. I could write volumes on this point (and intend to some day), but right now I would like only to point out briefly that the whole statement shows a complete destruction of the mere conception of what constitutes thinking. A simple example will do: a man who is happy and living in luxury in a penthouse will think that two and two make four; the same man, miserable, starving and homeless, is not going to think that two and two make six. If he does, he is not thinking at all. You might only say that adversity will make it harder for him to think correctly—but even that is not true, certainly not of an intelligent man. The rational process is as cold and exact as mathematics. It has nothing to do with a man’s emotional life, his background, experience or conditioning. He will think in a slum or in a palace, if he can think at all. If he can’t, nothing will make him, luxury or no luxury, conditioning or no conditioning. Thinking has nothing to do with emotions. That most people let their emotions interfere in their rational processes is true. But what does that mean? That means only that they cannot think properly. That does not mean that thinking is emotional. You say: “Any story I might write would reflect my observations of life.” True. But your observations, if they are at all rational, will not be “conditioned” by your life. Only the material of your observations will be conditioned, if you want to call it that. That is, you may choose to write about Wall Street, because the circumstances of your life led you to work in Wall Street and you know that background. But the background is not important. What you think of it is. And what you think of Wall Street is not conditioned by Wall Street, but by the nature of your own mind. Had you been, let’s say, a lawyer, you might decide to write a novel about law. But what you would think of it would be, in essence, what you would think of Wall Street—that is, it would show the same mental quality, the same ability to draw correct conclusions from given facts, the same ability to understand the given material and illuminate it with a view of your own. THAT is thinking. That which you bring to your material—that which comes from you. Not the material. Another man from Wall Street, writing a novel about it, would not write the same novel you would. Men shape their material—physically and intellectually. Not the material—the men. Man builds a house out of stone—the house doesn’t shape itself and then invite the man to live in it. Man writes a novel about Wall Street—Wall Street does not dictate a novel to him. No, there is no Economic Determinism. And may the Marxists be thrice damned!

Now, once more on our pet subject—commercial writing. You ask me what is the difference between ads aimed at “classes and masses”—and stories written in the same way. In the first place, the difference in the purposes of the two things. An ad is aimed “primarily” at people—its purpose is to make people do something, buy something. So it has to consider the nature of the people to whom it is addressed. A story is not written to

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accomplish any purpose beyond itself. (Not even a propaganda story—and I’m the chief living writer of propaganda fiction, I think—at least I think I’m the only one who knows how to do it properly—and I still say that: the propaganda is not the purpose of the story.) A STORY IS AN END IN ITSELF. It is not written to teach, sell, explain or destroy anything. It is not written even to entertain. It is written as a man is born—an organic whole, dictated only by its own laws and its own necessity—an end in itself, not a means to an end. Therefore, a story cannot be concerned with its future readers. That is a different consideration entirely. A story must be written for itself, for its own sake. I mean, of course, a good story. God knows, any amount of tripe is written the other way—with an eye on the readers. And it does sell, but it remains—tripe. Now, it is true that there are different classes of readers, just as there are different classes for any commodity. Some like caviar and others like limburger cheese. The point, however, is that a man cannot choose what class he wants to write for. Strangely enough, he can choose in another profession—he can decide whether he wants to cater to the mass trade or the class trade, whether he wants to sell diamonds or paste jewelry. But in writing—he can’t. He has to write on his own level. If he is one of the masses himself, if his mind functions that way and he really likes Cinderella heroines with cruel mothers-in-law, he will write about it and he will be successful. If he is above the masses, mentally, he can never write down successfully. WHATEVER HIS MIND, he must write honestly. There are no successful prostitutes in literature. Those who claim they are—are lying. They have that kind of minds, they’re not prostituting anything.

You ask, would I write the same story for Harper’s as for Click? I would never set out to write a story for Harper’s or for Click or for anything. You don’t write stories that way. I would write a storyand then I would decide whether it fits Harper’s or Click and submit it accordingly. And if I find that it fits no magazine at all, I will keep it in my desk. But I will write it just the same. What you refer to there, is an agent’s job. An agent’s job comes after the writer’s, not before. First you write, then you decide where to submit it. Never, never, never vice versa.

Now this leads us to the question of propaganda stories and to a point on which you are most terribly wrong about “The Fountainhead.” You say about it: “The sex is the ginger ale that gets the castor oil of individualism and architecture across.” It is nothing of the kind. It is as much and as important a part of the story as the individualism and the architecture. And it is in the story because the story required it—not because it would make readers swallow the other passages. Do you realize that sex, as such, cannot sell a story any more than architecture can? As witness—the tons and tons of sexy novels that fail, and particularly Broadway shows, full of nothing but sex, that close after one performance. NOTHING SELLS A STORY BUT THE STORY. A story sense is the one and only and first and foremost and paramount requisite of any good writer. Everything else—style, description, characterization, propaganda—is secondary. Important, but secondary.

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It’s like building a house. You must have doors and windows and trimmings. But if your foundation and your steel skeleton do not stand—nothing will stand. And when you lay a foundation, you are concerned only with what that foundation requires. Nothing else. You know the kind of house you want—you plan your foundation and skeleton accordingly. Now, a story is a sequence of events, around a central line, with a definite beginning and end, concerning definite people. Your central line determines your events and your characters. Now take “The Fountainhead” as an example. In the briefest statement, it is the story of a man of integrity. Everything pertaining to the integrity of that man, in every aspect, had to be included. And it had to be shown—not in abstract discourses, (that would be the method of non-fiction)—but in concrete events. Therefore, there had to be a romance—and the events of that romance had to present the man’s strength, ruthlessness, directness and honesty. That’s how it’s done—not by thinking that a stenographer reading the book would like to imagine herself as Dominique. You might ask, what’s the difference, if it’s only in the writer’s mind? A tremendous difference. If I thought of what the stenographer would like—I would never devise a romance that had power and conviction. When I think of the requirements of my theme and story, I arrive at a romance that has strength and conviction. And because it has conviction, the stenographers like it. BUT YOU CANNOT REVERSE THAT PROCESS.

But more than that. I did not write “The Fountainhead” to sell individualism or architecture. It is a dreadful fallacy to think that fiction can be written to sell anything. If that were my purpose, I would have written a non-fiction treatise on individualism, and another one on architecture. It is true that fiction is a much more powerful weapon to sell ideas than nonfiction. But why? Precisely because it is not a sales weapon. It tells a story—the story has the reality of life—and so abstract ideas acquire reality. Abstract ideas are a part of real life—and so we can grasp them better, more closely, when we meet them in the living background of fiction. But abstract ideas are proper in fiction only when they are subordinated to the story. Not when the story is artificially devised to expound some thesis. That is why propaganda writers fail. That is why propaganda stories are always so false and dull. That is why I am the only writer of ideas in fiction that I know of at the present time. I mean, the only one who does it properly—and gets away with it. Forgive me for this little boast—I think I’ve earned it. I cannot help thinking that just before “The Fountainhead” came out, there were two long, big novels published on themes selling Communism. They both got glowing, raving reviews. They both had a tremendous publicity campaign—and a nation-wide organized enthusiastic support of a beautifully trained pink click that controls our press and has succeeded in putting over many pieces of Red junk in the non-fiction field. And they both flopped miserably. No amount of pushing could sell them to the public—and what expert pushing! And this, when our whole intellectual atmosphere is collectivistic and right in line with what those authors were preaching. Well, “The Fountainhead” came out—with as vicious a campaign of opposition against it as any book ever had. You may not know the details—take my word for it. “The Fountainhead” came out against every odd possible. Well—look at it. Ask some book-

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seller. It is the only novel of an intellectual character that has been a best-seller for many, many years. The only novel with an abstract or “propaganda” idea in the serious sense. So I think I know how to sell ideas in fiction.

You may ask, why do I write “propaganda” stories if I say that the propaganda is not my purpose. Because I want to write stories that are real—and “propaganda” is the whole meaning of life and reality. That is, ideas are the meaning of life, the only things that make a human life, as distinguished from an animal one. I believe that man determines his own life, that he sets his own purpose—and that his ideas give it meaning. Consequently, if I want to write of men, I want to write of the meaning of their lives—the field of ideas. Just as a man’s life is never purposeless (if he is a true man, not a conditioned beast), so a story about men must never be purposeless. That is why I have abstract themes in my stories. Do I want to sell individualism to people? Why, certainly. And if “The Fountainhead” sells it to them—fine. But that is only a secondary consideration, a side-issue, “pure gravey” as my Ellsworth Toohey said. I’m glad if people can grasp the idea of my story. I’m glad if they like the sex. I’m glad if they buy the book at all. But none of this has anything to do with my book. All of this is a personal indulgence which I can permit myself after the book is written and published. I can then permit myself to enjoy all those secondary things, if they happen. I cannot think of them when I write the book. Do you know something else? I cannot even think of them when I re-read the book now. I cannot read it and say to myself: “Isn’t it wonderful that this was successful?” I can’t. Not while I’m reading it. What there is between an author and his book is more personal—and well, yes, sacred—than the privacy of a romance between a man and a woman. Nobody else can enter. No readers, publishers, critics or box-offices. I don’t know how I can impress this upon you any stronger.

When you are ready to write your novel, I would like to discuss this with you concretely—and show you just how to go about integrating ideas into a story. It’s a long, difficult process and cannot be explained in a letter. I would like to do it in person—when you really want to do it. But don’t take “The Fountainhead” as an example of propaganda fiction. It is an example and it does show the correct way—but you won’t be able to apply it if you misinterpret the way it was written. Just remember only that NOTHING in “The Fountainhead” was put in for the sake of an audience. EVERYTHING was put in because the story, the subject, required it.

You are very right, and here’s where I agree with you, that when people speak about “The Fountainhead” they don’t really tell you about the book, they tell only about their own capacity. I have always known that—but I’m glad you said it for me, it would sound conceited coming from me. Though actually it isn’t. The same applies to any good book. You cannot judge a book by people’s reaction to it. But you can judge the people.

It is true also that any good book may be read from many angles and the readers will get out of it only as much as they’re

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able to get. BUT the author cannot deliberately plan a book with some “high” angles and some “low” angles, to please all tastes. Again, that is not the way it’s done. You must never use in your own mind such expressions as “coat it with the sugar of popularity,” (in regard to a serious theme.) You don’t “coat” anything in a good story, and most certainly not with “Sugar.”

Re General Motors and the millions they spend on tests of public opinion—well, I know nothing whatever about the details of running an automobile business, but I will venture to say that these millions are wasted, purely and entirely, that General Motors would do better without any such tests and that the whole idea of making the tests is the product of some college punks who have got to do something to earn a salary they don’t deserve. Now correct me if I’m wrong on that.

I think this answers everything.

Now about myself. I have finished the script of “The Fountainhead” at Warners with great success. Henry Blanke, my producer, was extremely pleased and most enthusiastic about it. It will be produced as I wrote it—unless somebody from the front office interferes, which is always possible, but does not seem likely as things look now. No cast or director chosen as yet—this will start in the fall, when Blanke finishes his present pictures. The actual shooting will probably be in early 1945. Mr. Blanke and I wanted very much to have Frank Lloyd Wright do the buildings—and I wrote to Mr. Wright and send him the script. He did admit that the script had not betrayed the ideas of the book—but he said that he could not undertake the job of designing the building for the picture. I am terribly sorry about it—nobody could do those buildings as he could.

I have signed a contract with Hal Wallis, who, as you probably know, was a big producer at Warners, but just left to start his own independent company. He discovered me at Warners—and I am the first writer he signed. It has been wonderful, working with him—he is very intelligent, has good taste—and above all, he is competent. This seems to be our private word—yours and mine. So you know the quality I mean—and Wallis has it to an amazing degree. The contract I signed is the kind I wanted—I will work for pictures only six months out of the year, and six months for my own writing. Warners wanted me on a long term, full time contract—and I wouldn’t do that for any amount of money. I won’t give up novel writing. This kind of part time contract is very hard to get here—studios don’t like it as a rule—but I got it. And I reserved the right to go back to Warners—when “The Fountainhead” goes into production, just for that one picture. At present, I am already hard at work on an adaptation of a novel called “Love Letters”, which will be Mr. Wallis’ first picture. The novel is not too good—so don’t read it—but it has a good idea and I will have to make a good story out of it.

Right at the moment, my boss, Mr. Wallis, is your closest neighbor—he’s in New York, in the Waldorf Tower. He will be there only this coming week. I would like very much for you to meet him. He’s our kind of man. I mentioned you to him—and

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he has heard a great deal about you, he spoke of you in very flattering terms. So, if it’s convenient for you, would you telephone him and meet him? I’d like you to get a first hand account of my activities in Hollywood—and take a look at the man who owns me for the next five years. (Or half of the next five years.) I think you will like him—and I would like to hear your impressions.

I won’t go into too many details about my new house—that in itself would take a volume of descriptions. It is a wonderful house. Not as good as a Frank Lloyd Wright one—but there are none of Wright’s here that would have suited our purpose, the one we found was too old and needed too many repairs. This one is all steel, glass and concrete—with a big garden, orchard and field of alfalfa. I never thought I’d become a farmer—but that is what Frank wanted—and I find I love living in the country. It is so much more peaceful and free—and I write better. We have a tennis court, two moats (that is, big lily ponds), the master bathroom is solidly lined with mirrors—it is fantastic and very beautiful. The feeling of being a capitalist and a land-owner is grand. But then, I defended capitlism when I didn’t have enough to pay my rent. This place is twenty miles from Hollywood—but Mr. Wallis allows me to work at home, so I don’t have to go to the studio every day. When you write to me (and I hope soon) will you write to this new address: 10000 Tampa Avenue, Chatsworth, California.

I do hope you will come to Hollywood before 1945. I’d love to see you again—and, incidentally, to show you this house. Whether you decide to take a trip incognito or not, I wish you’d take it if you have the time. No, I don’t think the incognito idea is too odd. I don’t believe it will help you to achieve your purpose, but if the idea amuses you—why not? It might be interesting. I do agree with Wright on—“do what you want to do.” So I hope I’ll see you here before next summer.

Last of all, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for telling me that you saw “The Fountainhead” on a table in Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. I can’t tell you how much that sentence meant to me. More, I think, than any other thing I heard about the book from anyone. I suppose you will understand why. If my literary discussions have been of help to you, will you do me a big favor in return? When you have the time, will you write to me everything that Wright said to you about “The Fountainhead” and about me. Everything that you can remember. You see, I don’t care so much about readers—but about this one reader I do. And not only as a reader. I’d like to know what he thought of me in person—if he thought at all.[*] You know what I think of him.

I notice one more question in your long letter—a question in the nature of a compliment. You ask where I get my general knowledge—whether it’s instinct, ability, reading or experience? No. Do you know the answer? Honesty. The fact that I look at everything through my own eyes—like Roark.

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Well, this is another one of my long letters—I suppose you’re resigned to them now. But I won’t make it any longer—even though it’s a new page. Now I hope you’ll answer me in detail, too, and soon.

With best regards from both of us,



*Loeb responded that, on grounds of confidentiality, he would not repeat Wright’s comments about AR.