Colin Clive was a stage and film actor, perhaps best known for the role of Dr. Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film. The new novelette to which AR referred was “Ideal,” which was published in its initial, theatrical script form in The Early Ayn Rand and first produced on the stage in 1989 in Hollywood. This letter to Clive was undated but written just after AR had seen him on stage in Journey’s End, by R. C. Sherriff.
Dear Mr. Clive,
I do not know whether you read “fan” mail, but I hope you will read this, and I hope—more anxiously—that it will interest you, though I am not at all sure of that. There have been times—not many—when I wanted to express my admiration for some achievement of rare beauty, but I have never done it, because I did not believe that the one who achieved it would care or understand. And I am not certain of that now, but I am making the attempt just the same, my first one.
I want to thank you for a little bit of real beauty which you have given me, a little spark of something which does not exist in the world of today. I am not speaking of your great acting nor of the great part which you brought to life so expertly. Others have done great acting before, and there have been many great parts written. I am speaking of something which, probably, was very far from the mind of the author when he wrote “Journey’s End,” and from your own when you acted it. Perhaps
that which I saw in you exists only in my own mind and no one else would see it, or care to see. I am speaking of your great achievement in bringing to life a completely heroic human being.
The word heroic does not quite express what I mean. You see, I am an atheist and I have only one religion: the sublime in human nature. There is nothing to approach the sanctity of the highest type of man possible and there is nothing that gives me the same reverent feeling, the feeling when one’s spirit wants to kneel, bare-headed. Do not call it hero-worship, because it is more than that. It is a kind of strange and improbable white-heat where admiration becomes religion, and religion becomes philosophy, and philosophy—the whole of one’s life.
I realize how silly words like these may sound today. Who cares about heroes any more and who wants to care? In an age that glorifies the average, the commonplace, the good, stale “human” values, that raises to the height of supreme virtue the complete lack of it, that refuses to allow anything above the smug, sure, comfortable herd, that places the life of that heard above all things, who can still understand the thrill of seeing a man such as you were on the stage? It is not your acting that did
it, nor the lines you spoke, nor even the character you played, because the character was far from the type of which I am speaking. It was something in you, in the whole of the man you were, something not intended by the play at all, that gave me, for a few hours, a spark of what man could be, but isn’t. I do not say that you were that man. I say only that you let me see a first spark of him, and that is an achievement for which one has to be grateful.
This is what I wanted to say to you, when I met you a few days ago, but I could not say it to you in person. That is why I am writing this. Perhaps it will only make you smile. But if your work means more to you than just a way of making your living, then, perhaps, you will want to hear that among the hundreds who watch you every night, there was one to whom your work meant more than just spending an evening in the theater.
(In case you do not remember—as, of course, you don’t—this is the Russian writer who Mr. E. E. Clive introduced to you a few nights ago. The “Vodka” may remind you.)
Clive responded on October 23, 1934, that AR’s letter meant a great deal to him and that he would always keep it. He told her that he’d toasted her play Woman on Trial (later retitled Night of January 16th) with vodka that night.