Saturday, December 4, 2010

Libertarians IV Atlas Shrugged (Part Ai) 93

There is more about Atlas Shrugged that was done well. Again, much of that parallels the screenplay Love Letters.

In the screenplay, Roger Morland is played by Robert Sully. He is a cad that admits he “never had any standards, manners or taste,” who manipulates his girlfriend by florid love letters which he didn't actually write himself. Those letters are written by Alan Quinton, an army friend played by Joseph Cotton. Quinton writes these letters as a jeu d'esprit because he knows how to write and is bemused by the request.

Morland survives the war, goes home, marries the girl, Victoria, whom he abuses as a drunken husband. Alan Quinton eventually drops by for a visit to discover that Morland is dead, morte. Then the adventure and romance really begin.

This is important because there is nearly an exact parallel in Atlas Shrugged. Jim Taggart, heir to the transcontinental railroad and Dagny's older brother, also lacks standards, manners and taste. He has a nihilistic society girlfriend, Betty Pope, sleeps with a scheming, married siren, Lillian Reardon, and dazzles an innocent girl, Cherryl Brooks, into marrying him. Here is a summary of Cherryl Brook's persona from Wikipedia:

  • Cherryl Brooks is a dime store shopgirl who marries James Taggart after a chance encounter in her store the night the John Galt Line was falsely deemed his greatest success. She marries him thinking he is the heroic person behind Taggart Transcontinental. Cherryl is at first harsh towards Dagny, having mistakenly trusted Jim Taggart's descriptions of his sister, until she questions employees of the railroad. Upon learning that her scorn had been misdirected, Cherryl puts off apologizing to Dagny out of shame until the night before she commits suicide, when she confesses to Dagny that when she married Jim, she thought he had the heroic qualities that she had looked up to - she thought she was marrying someone like Dagny. Upon realizing the nature of the moral code surrounding her, the apparent lack of escape for herself and the heroes she worships, and her unnamed desire to remove support from the machinations she abhors, Cherryl throws herself from a bridge to her death after witnessing her husband James Taggart sleeping with Lillian Rearden and after being beaten for showing James his code of death.

This is a dagger wielded by Rand as a writer. She's on a mission. She wants to turn the kleig lights on abusive, sadistic cads like the many real-world Jim Taggarts. She must have seen such evil herself in the many years she spent in Hollywood from the mid-twenties to early 1950s.

There are many Hollywood stories that parallel Cherryl Brooks. A particularly close match is actress Gail Russell, who played Stella Meredith in the 1944 ghost story masterpiece, “The Uninvited,” for which Victor Young wrote the haunting “Stella by Starlight” as the theme for Stella's character. Gail Russell did not have a happy life in spite of her talent and exceptional physical beauty (see )

A contemporary young forties starlet was Norma Jean Baker. She was given the stage name Marilyn Monroe. She was even smarter and even prettier than Gail Russell. Long after Love Letters and years after Atlas Shrugged, Marilyn Monroe died. Completely consistent with the romanticism of Rand's screenplay and treatment of character Cherryl Brooks, Rand immediate wrote a famous eulogy for Monroe. I find this to be utterly the finest thing she ever wrote. It's still widely available, including on line:

This is a very fine piece of non-fiction analytic narration. If you think Rand is off-base or inaccurate here, consider getting the diaries of Marilyn Monroe, which have finally just been published.

At her best, Ayn Rand was tremendously talented at romantic writing, character development and plotting. I'm tempted to compare her to Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind. Frisco is a lot like Rhett Butler; Dominique Francon is a lot like Scarlett O'Hara. Rand could be eerie and otherworldly, like Shirley Jackson.

But Rand made a mistake. She over-reached. She set herself up as an expert in philosophy (which has peculiar word usage and intellectual protocols with a counter-intuitive jargon – something like public accounting!). And she used her talent as a writer to strike back at her college days.

We'll be getting to that.

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