Ayn Rand Biography

At a Glance

Ayn Rand’s tenacity can be admired by just about everyone, whether they love her or hate her. At the young age of nine, Rand made up her mind to be a fiction writer, and she proceeded to do just that, becoming in the process both a philosopher and a pop culture icon. Born in Russia, she witnessed the Kerensky and Bolshevik Revolutions before her family moved to Crimea to escape harm. In college, Rand discovered Western films and began studying screenwriting. In 1926, she moved to Hollywood, began working at various film jobs, and soon sold her first screenplay. Rand’s first commercial success, however, came with the novel The Fountainhead in 1935 and was followed by Atlas Shrugged, part literary endeavor and part philosophical treatise, in 1957.

Facts and Trivia

  • Legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille gave Rand her first job as an extra and then a script reader on his movie King of Kings. It was only her second day in Hollywood.
  • The Fountainhead was rejected by twelve publishers before finally being picked up in 1935. It has since sold over six million copies—about 100,000 a year.
  • Rand met her husband, Frank O’Connor, on her second week in Hollywood. They were married for fifty years, right up until his death.
  • Rand’s major philosophy in life was objectivism, which she described as “a philosophy for living on earth” but critics call an extreme, hyper-selfish form of individualism. She spent the latter part of her life and career writing about and lecturing on objectivism.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, her last work of fiction, Rand uses the cigarette as a symbol of human intellect—glowing, burning, bright. A smoker throughout her life, she would eventually lose a lung to cancer before she died in 1982.
  • Rand refused to spay or neuter her cats because “unlike humans, cats cannot choose to go against nature or mold it to their wishes.” The stench in her apartment was awful.
  • According to the book Letters of Ayn Rand, Ayn should rhyme with "line" when pronounced correctly.


(Survey of World Philosophers)
0111207240-Rand.jpg Ayn Rand (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Rand first achieved success as a writer of fiction with strong political and ethical content. She later expanded on the ethical and political theme of Objectivism, along with her idea that self-interest is morally good and altruism is corrupting to the human spirit and ultimately self-defeating.

Early Life

Ayn Rand, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905, as Alisa (Alice) Rosenbaum, was raised in a middle-class family. She showed an early love of storytelling and decided at the age of nine to become a writer. In school, she showed academic promise, particularly in mathematics. The Revolution of 1917 devastated her family because of the social upheavals brought by the revolution and fighting, and because her father’s pharmacy was confiscated by the Soviets. The family moved to the Crimea to regroup financially and to escape the harshness of life that the revolution had brought to St. Petersburg. The family later returned to Petrograd (the new name given to St. Petersburg by the Soviets), where Rosenbaum was to attend university.

At the University of Petrograd, Rosenbaum concentrated her studies on history, with secondary focuses on philosophy and literature. She was repelled by the dominance of communist ideas and strong-arm tactics, which had the effect of suppressing free inquiry and discussion. As a youth, she objected to the communists’ political program; as an adult, she would become more fully aware of the destructive effects that the revolution had had on Russian society.

Having studied American history and politics at the university, and having long been an admirer of Western plays, music, and films, she came to value American individualism, its vigor, and its optimism, seeing it as the opposite of Russian collectivism, decay, and gloom. Believing that she would not be free under the Soviet system to write the kinds of books she wanted to write, she resolved to leave Russia and go to the United States.

Rosenbaum graduated from the University of Petrograd in 1924. She then enrolled at the State Institute for Cinema Arts to study screenwriting. In 1925, she finally received permission from the Soviet authorities to leave the country to visit relatives in the United States. Officially, her visit was to be brief; however, she had decided not to return to the Soviet Union.

After several stops in Western European cities, Rosenbaum arrived in New York City in February, 1926. She adopted the name Ayn Rand. From New York, she traveled to Chicago, Illinois, where she spent the next six months living with relatives, learning English, and developing ideas for stories and screenplays. She had decided to become a screenwriter, and, having received an extension to her visa, she left for Hollywood, California.

On Rand’s second day in Hollywood, an event occurred that was worthy of her dramatic fiction and had several major effects on her future. She was spotted by Cecil B. deMille, one of Hollywood’s leading directors, while she was standing at the gate of his studio. She had recognized him as he was passing by in his car, and he had noticed her staring at him. He stopped to ask why she was staring, and Rand explained that she had recently arrived from Russia, that she had long been passionate about Hollywood films, and that she dreamed of being a screenwriter. DeMille was then working on The King of Kings (1961); he gave her a ride to the set and signed her on as an extra. During her second week at deMille’s studio, Rand met Frank O’Connor, a young actor also working as an extra. Rand and O’Connor were married in 1929, and they remained married for fifty years, until his death in 1979.

Rand also worked for deMille as a reader of scripts, struggling financially while working on her own writing. She held a variety of nonwriting jobs until, in 1932, she was able to sell her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Studios. In 1934, her first stage play, Night of January 16th, was produced in Hollywood under the title Woman on Trial; it later appeared on Broadway.

Life’s Work

Rand’s life was often as colorful as those of the heroes in her best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Rand first made her name as a novelist, publishing We the Living in 1936, The Fountainhead in 1943, and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged in 1957. These philosophical novels embodied themes she would then develop in nonfiction form in a series of essays and books written in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Rand worked for years on her first significant novel, We the Living, and finished it in 1933. Various publishers rejected it over the course of several years, until in 1936 it was published by Macmillan in the United States and Cassell in England. Rand described We the Living as the most autobiographical of her novels, its theme being the brutality of life under communist rule in Russia. We the Living did not receive a positive reaction from American reviewers and intellectuals. It was published in the 1930’s, sometimes called the “Red Decade,” during which American intellectuals were often pro-Communist and respectful and admiring of the Soviet experiment.

Rand’s next major project was The Fountainhead, on which she had begun to work in 1935. Whereas the theme of We the Living was political, the theme of The Fountainhead was ethical, focusing on individualist themes of independence and integrity. The novel’s hero, architect Howard Roark, is...

(The entire section is 2317 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Rand is an American phenomenon. Her few literary works have endured and remained influential. These works, despite their flaws, have much to say about individualism, the role of government in personal and economic life, and artistic independence. Rand takes her place among those American writers who “march to a different drummer.”

Ayn Rand Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ayn Rand was born Alisa (Alice) Zinovievna Rosenbaum, the eldest of three children, into a Russian Jewish middle-class family in czarist Russia. When her father’s pharmacy was nationalized following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Rand, who had been writing stories since she was nine, found a calling: She turned against collectivism, and she elevated individualism—personal, economic, political, and moral—into a philosophy that eventually attracted a large, occasionally distinguished, following. Early in her career she declared herself to be an atheist.

At the University of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Rand studied philosophy, English, and history, graduating with highest honors in history in 1924. By then the works of French writers Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand, and of Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, had inspired her passion for the heroic and the ideal. Fyodor Dostoevski and Friedrich Nietzsche also left their mark.

Unhappy because the Soviet system was not moving in the direction of her republican ideals and because she had a dead-end job, Rand accepted an invitation from relatives and went to Chicago in 1926. It was while in the United States that she restyled herself Ayn Rand, and within a few months moved to Hollywood, California.

Working as a film extra, a file clerk, and a waiter and doing other odd jobs from 1926 to 1934, Rand perfected her language skills and became a screenwriter at various motion-picture...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Rand advocated an ethics of rational self-interest. The hero of her best-selling Atlas Shrugged states, “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” The moral purpose of anyone’s life is his or her own happiness; he or she exists to serve no other individual or group. The moral standard by which one guides one’s actions is set by the objective requirements of human life. Thus, Rand rejected two common theses in ethical theory: that selfless sacrifice is moral and that acting in one’s self-interest means doing whatever one feels like. She rejected as “moral cannibalism” any form of...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Ayn Rand was graduated from the University of Leningrad in 1924 but, unable to adjust to Communism, emigrated to the United States in 1926, becoming a naturalized citizen. She became an outspoken opponent of all forms of collectivism, touted capitalism, and believed in the victory of individualism over all forms of totalitarian government. Her philosophy is outlined in The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964). A screenwriter in Hollywood until 1949, Rand became a best-selling novelist with The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).


Baker, James T. Ayn Rand. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alisa (Alice) Rosenbaum was born into a middle-class Russian Jewish family. When her father’s pharmacy was nationalized following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Alisa, who had been writing stories since she was nine, acquired a subject: She turned against collectivism and elevated individualism—personal, moral, economic, political—into a philosophy which eventually attracted a large, occasionally distinguished, following.{$S[A]Rosenbaum, Alisa;Rand, Ayn}

Alisa accepted an invitation from relatives in Chicago and came to the United States in early 1926. She had graduated from the University of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) with a major in history, but her interests already encompassed several other...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Novels for Students)

Ayn Rand, a.k.a. Alice Rosenbaum, was born on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her family was relatively wealthy; Rand's father...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum, the child of Zinovy and Anna Rosenbaum, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905. From an early age Rand decided to become a writer. Her early influences included adventure fiction and American movies. The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused her father, a successful chemist, to lose much of his wealth. Communism’s intellectual constraints gave Rand a loathing of Communism and all related doctrines. Nevertheless, Rand completed her schooling in Russia, majoring in history at the University of Petrograd, and then took courses at the State Institute of Cinematic Arts. Her knowledge of history and her background in the cinema would serve her well as a writer.

Rand eventually left...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Ayn Rand Biography

(Novels for Students)
Ayn Rand Published by Gale Cengage

Ayn Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905 to Fronz (a chemist) and Anna. Alisa taught herself to read...

(The entire section is 448 words.)