10000 Tampa Avenue
July 19, 1946
Mr. Alan Collins
Curtis Brown, Ltd.
347 Madison Avenue
New York 17, New York
Thank you for your letter of July 15th. It was such a pleasure to read an intelligent literary opinion from a literary agent. This is not a dirty crack, but merely a confession of what my experience along these lines has been. Just as Archie Ogden cured me of contempt for all editors, I think you will redeem the profession of agents in my eyes.
I agree with your first criticism of IDEAL, but not with the second. It is true that after about the second scene of Act I, the audience will know what the pattern of the play is to be; but I don’t think that this is necessarily a weakness. Up to that point, I expect to hold the audience through their wonder about what is to happen. After that point, I expect their interest to be held by the question of how it is to happen. Once they get wise to the idea of the play, they will then be interested in how the idea is worked out, and there will still be, to hold them, the question as to how the hell all this is going to come out.
As in everything I write, I have here two different levels of potential interest: the intelligent audience will be interested in watching the development of the philosophical theme; the less intelligent audience will be interested in the mere “stunt value” of the play, because it is a stunt.
Now, as to your second criticism, that the “characters aren’t people at all, any more than they were in THE FOUNTAINHEAD—they are symbols,” I am surprised at you. The characters are people, as they certainly were in THE FOUNTAINHEAD—unless I am very much mistaken on what you mean by “people”. My characters are never symbols; they are merely men in sharper focus than the audience can see with unaided sight. What gives them the appearance of symbolism is not their characterization, but the circumstances through which they move and which bring out their wider significance, so that they become not merely specific men, but also representatives of all men of that kind. For instance, George S. Perkins in IDEAL is a
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concrete characterization, and you would have taken him as such in any conventional story. It is the circumstances in which I place him that make him not merely George S. Perkins, but also a representative of all stuffy “family” men. The symbolism in my characters is something added to the characterization, not substituted for it.
So I am not worried about the reaction of the audience to my “symbolic” characters, any more than I was when publishers told me that the characters in THE FOUNTAINHEAD were not people. That is an old one to me. My characters never will be people in the usual sense of the word. That would bore me to death.
Of course, IDEAL is strictly an experimental play. I have no way of being sure that a play of this kind will be a hit, but a Broadway producer once told me that the greatest amount of money on Broadway is lost on “sure-fire” plays that follow a tried pattern. So I’ll take a chance on this play, just as I took one on NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH, which was also an experiment, though of a lower order. Everything I write will always be an experiment. I’m no good at following precedent.
Here’s hoping that this particular experiment will prove successful for both of us.
I am enclosing a printed letter which Bobbs-Merrill had me write for the purpose of answering my fan mail and the questions they get about me. Take a look at what I say about my literary method.