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One night, not long after I arrived in New York, David Houston did something that changed my life forever. He took me to a lecture in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue.
It was part of a 20-lecture series called "Basic Principles of Objectivism," a philosophy of reason, individuality, freedom and achievement developed by Ayn Rand, atheist author of ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD. David said I would find the lecture fascinating, but I had no idea what he was talking about.
I had taken Philosophy at UT, and found it a bewildering mish-mash of abstract theories that proved reality is beyond our comprehension, certainty is impossible, and "proof" is a matter of opinion.
I grew up attending Sunday School, and later Church at the First Methodist. In those days a bunch of us formed an MYF theatre troupe, creating original musical comedy material, and performing at public events. I was more involved in the theatrics than in the sermons. I believed in God (whatever that was) because I liked thinking someone had answers to the big questions. I held what I would call "conventional religious beliefs."
The lecture David took me to was about God, and in two hours, Nathaniel Branden (speaking with eloquence, clarity, infallible logic and a twinkle of humor) destroyed the concept of God, and discredited faith and mysticism so thoroughly, that it was empowering -- as truth in accord with reality always is.
That night I bought a paperback of ATLAS SHRUGGED, and for the next three months, on the subway going to and from work each day, I read more than a thousand pages of philosophical ideas, dramatized in an epic mystery / adventure that answers the question, "Who is John Galt?"
At the same time, I was attending weekly lectures. The more I learned, the more I read, and the more I read, the more I learned. I found answers to profound questions that six years of college had left me asking. I began a process of cleaning house, mentally and emotionally, planting my feet more solidly in the real world.
I became friends with Allan and Joan Blumenthal, members of Ayn Rand's "inner circle" -- humorously called "The Collective" because Objectivism provides such a strong, logical case for the opposite of Collectivism, the unregulated freedom of Laissez Fare Capitalism. I went to "Collective" parties. I met later-Fed-Chairman Alan Greenspan, who taught me "Economics in a Free Society" (twice -- economics is not my strength). I met Frank O'Connor and his wife Ayn Rand.
I was in way over my head and loving every minute. But at the same time -- I was hiding an unacceptable love affair with a tall blond model named Gordon. We lived happily together for several years, but our relationship was known only to Joan and Allan. She was an artist and a brilliant teacher. Allan is a classical pianist and Psychotherapist -- and that man is a Doctor!
Allan and Joan were like parents to Gordon and me. They enlightened us, the encouraged us, and they loved us. Years later, Gordon developed schizophrenia and took his own life, in his 20s. I'm still close to the Blumenthals.
I started doing design work for Nathaniel Branden Institute once they built a lecture hall and offices in the Empire State Building. I became friends with Barbara and Nathaniel Branden, who ran NBI.
For years I hosted weekend Movie Nights at my West 72nd apartment. I dropped a false ceiling in the main room, with a rectangular opening that looked up into a "night sky of twinkling stars." I called it "Theatre of the Stars."
I had a silver-surface CinemaScope screen with motorized velvet curtains and lights on dimmers. I usually began my screenings with a brief lecture of interesting facts about the picture, then a musical overture. Every Friday and Saturday night I was host and projectionist.
NBI decided to start a movie series, "The Romantic Screen," and they asked me to be in charge of projection and presentation. Well DUH, sure! I sold them on the idea of beginning each weekly movie with an animated fanfare, like a studio logo. I created art and shot a 16mm clip that I spliced onto the head of the movie each week. I made B&W, color, and CinemaScope versions to match the movie.
(click for) The Romantic Screen
Ayn Rand's influence was spreading. The NBI lectures were distributed on open-reel magnetic tapes to Objectivism study groups in cities across the country and around the world – even to Sailors in submarines. Her books were selling, and her ideas were changing lives. She was interviewed in PLAYBOY, on TV with Phil Donahue, Mike Wallace, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Carson was more captivated by Ayn Rand than he expected. Admitting right up front that his late night talk show was not her usual intellectual forum, the discussion became so engaging that he cancelled the other guests that night, and gave the whole hour to Ayn Rand -- who was at her charming best, that deep Russian accent adding delightful spice to this unusual show.
Here is an excerpt from the only video I know of, recorded on VHS by John Waldrop in 1967. The quality is not great, but the show is historic.
AYN RAND ON JOHNNY CARSON
AYN RAND ON JOHNNY CARSON Part 2
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