This is the story I'm writing for my memoir class. I'm having fun with this after all.
I am embarrassed to confess the influence Ayn Rand has had
on my life, so I haven’t told this story often. I prefer to think it was all
because of Gary Cooper as Howard Roark.
Saturday afternoon was always movie time. There were five
theaters in walking distance, but we usually went to the Terminal, a Balaban
& Katz 1920’s picture palace, named after the elevated train terminus just
down the block. It was the best theater with almost first run features. That
day we were seeing The Fountainhead,
taken from Ayn Rand’s book of the same name, about an individualistic Frank
Lloyd Wright type architect who refuses to compromise his work or his ideals,
regardless of the money involved.
Sitting in the dark, totally enchanted by awesome Gary
Cooper and beautiful Patricia Neal, my unhappy, depressed 15 year old self, certain high school was a terrible compromise, totally bought into the idea
of taking action to be true to herself. By the time the movie finished I was so
excited and so convinced I had found a solution to my misery I couldn’t sit
through the second feature. I did not want to think about anything else as I
waited for my friends in the lobby.
Wanting desperately to be an artist, maybe even an
architect, the movie affected me deeply. I was convinced my life until then had
been a terrible compromise; I had to change things. I thought about all my
alternatives and realized there was only one that was acceptable: I could go on
to college after one more year of high school.
My friend Eva, whom I met in classes at the Art Institute,
went to U high, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago. From her I
learned U High was only two years and then students could go on to college at the university. Also, the university would accept students from any high school
after two years. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Chancellor of the university,
believed students didn’t learn anything in the last two years of high school. I felt I was a living
embodiment of his belief.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. First, I had to
convince my parents, who thought I was too young to go to college. Then, of
course I had to be accepted at the university. My high school teachers and
principal hated the university; I had trouble getting recommendations; Hutchins
arrows had hit their mark. Adding another layer of angst, Hutchins went before
one of the communist witch-hunting committees and defended his faculty,
assuring the committee that being a communist would not be grounds for the dismissal
of his professors. It was a very difficult year, but I prevailed. Three months
after my sixteenth birthday I went to college. I learned how to read critically and how to think. I did not become a communist. I met my husband there, our
daughter met her husband there and now both of my grandchildren are going
there. You can see that Ayn Rand and Gary Cooper certainly influenced my life.