To Marjorie Hiss, a longtime friend [Letter 382]

Item Reference Code: 140_H3x_004_001

Date(s) of creation

March 5, 1949


Marjorie Hiss


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March 5, 1949

Dear Marjorie:

I don’t have to tell you how much I sympathize with you. I am appalled by Philip’s behavior, but I fully believe him capable of doing the things you write. With the kind of ideas he held, it was unavoidable that he would become worse and worse with the years.

I know how badly you feel now. I wish I could be with you and talk to you, because I think I could help you to overcome some of it. There are so many things I’d like to say that it’s impossible to do it in a letter. I’d like to convince you that you must not torture yourself by regretting the past. You must not feel that you have wasted your life, because that is never true. Every person develops and learns as he grows, so it is foolish to reproach yourself for not having had eighteen years ago the knowledge which you have now. You have done the best you could, according to your judgment of that time. You have given Philip every possible chance. You had no way of knowing in advance that Philip would never change. No man’s character is set for life. Philip could have changed if he had cared to change his ideas. Since he didn’t, you must not let him ruin the rest of your life through regrets over the past.

It is never too late to start on a new road, and it is certainly not too late for you. If there’s one thing I have learned by personal experience and by observing the people around me, it’s that a person’s life actually starts from about 35 on; I mean, the best and the most active part of one’s life. Up to that time one merely learns and accumulates experience. I wish I could beat out of your head the idea that a woman is interesting, attractive and happy only in the bobby-soxer’s age. It is one of those vicious bromides that people believe only because everybody repeats it without any reason. I think it’s a remnant of savagery, as so many popular ideas are, and it comes from the times when women were married off at the age of 12 and were old at the age of 30.

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It is not true, as you say, that you have no experience or ability to earn a living. You’ve always had the ability, and experience is something one acquires. You cannot expect to start at the top in any profession, but if you want to learn it, with your ability it should not take you long, and you will find that the years behind you are not wasted. I have always thought that you should have a career, not just for financial security, but because you are too active a person to be happy without it. I think you should choose a career now, regardless of whether you get a proper financial settlement from Philip or not, and it is most certainly not too late. We have talked about this before, and I don’t know whether you are in a mood to discuss it right now—but if you want me to, I’ll be glad to try and discuss it in letters.

Now to a practical question of the moment: You say that Philip is paying you nothing at present. Do you need money until the question is settled? If you do, I will be happy to return a favor which I have never forgotten. Not happy that you are in trouble, but happy that I would have a chance to repay you. I will always think that I can never quite repay the two friends who stood by me in my worst time—you and Albert.

You ask what I think about hiring a ghost writer to write a book for you. I would advise you against it most emphatically. I don’t know of any novel that was ever written successfully by a ghost writer. A novel is not a matter of writing down real events as they happened, no matter how exciting they were in real life. It takes something else entirely. A writer capable of doing it would not be a ghost writer. The only successful ghost writing jobs are nonfiction books such as biographies of celebrities. Ghost written fiction seldom finds publication, or is published by some obscure house and gets nowhere. Besides, ghost writers charge quite a considerable amount for their services in advance, much more than their work will ever bring in print.

I didn’t write you about myself, because I didn’t know what had happened to you and was worried. I’ve had a very exciting year. THE FOUNTAINHEAD was finally made into a picture this past summer. I wrote the script, and the miracle of it was that my script was shot verbatim, word for word as I wrote it, without any changes. I had no legal way to compel the studio to do it, so you know how unusual this was for Hollywood. We had a preview of the picture a couple of months ago, and according to the Warner Brothers’ executives, it was the most sensational preview they had ever attended. The picture went over so

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well that the studio made no changes in it at all. I am more than delighted with the picture. It has come out better than I hoped. Gary Cooper plays Roark and is excellent. I don’t know yet when the picture will be released, but it will probably be some time in the late fall or early winter.

I am now working on my new novel, which I have had to interrupt for the picture. The novel is a long, complicated job, and I won’t have it finished for about a year. I intend to come to New York for the opening of THE FOUNTAINHEAD or when I finish the novel, whichever is sooner.

Frank is farming and is very happy at it, except that we had the terrible frost and snow storms which you have probably read about. Fortunately, it didn’t cause much damage on our place.

Is there any chance of your coming to California at all? Perhaps you could do it while waiting for the settlement of the suit. If it’s at all possible, I wish you would come, particularly if you are very unhappy and lonely in the East.

With love from both of us,