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Revealed: Ayn Rand Worked on a Movie Script Glorifying the Atomic Bomb

In notes for an unfinished screenplay, the right-wing heroine called the nuclear bomb "an eloquent example of, argument for and tribute to free enterprise."

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

It may surprise many to learn that, like many famous novelists, Ayn Rand had a period when she “went Hollywood.” In 1943, Rand sold the rights for  The Fountainhead to Warner Bros., and wrote the screenplay. She was then hired by top producer Hall Wallis as a writer, idea generator and script doctor. Her screenplays included the Oscar-nominated  Love Letters and You Came Along. Right after the war she became involved in the anti-Communist movement in Hollywood and appeared as a friendly witness before Congress in testifying about the Red influence there.

At the same time, I’ve learned, she also had a kind of love affair—with the atomic bomb.

 I learned in my research at the Truman Library concerning an MGM movie titled  The Beginning or The End. As I wrote in a  recent article (and in my new book  Atomic Cover-Up, which covers the US  suppression of all film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), this was the first Hollywood epic about the Bomb. The idea for the film came from atomic scientists and the first scripts raised questions about the use of the new weapon against Japan and all uses of nuclear energy in the future. By the time the Pentagon and the White House got through with it, the movie took a 180-degree turn. President Truman even got the actor playing him in the movie fired.

But there’s also this fascinating sidebar: while the MGM film was being developed in late 1945 and early 1946, a second film was being developed by Hal Wallis—and Ayn Rand wrote the script.

The film was to be titled  Top Secret. At the Truman Library, I discovered a sixteen-page outline by Rand from January 19, 1946. We folllow the lead character, named John, during the rise of Hitler, early work on the physics of the Bomb abroad, his service in the Army and then his assignment—to guard J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called Father of the Bomb, at Los Alamos. Much like the key scene in  The Beginning or the End (which the White House rewrote), it shows Truman deciding to use the bomb against Japan as a last resort and strictly “to save American lives.”

Oppenheimer, after Hiroshima, tells John at Los Alamos that “the achievement was not an accident—only free men in voluntary co-operation could have done it—so long as they’re free, men do not have to fear those who preach slavery and violence.” It ends with a classic Randism, “Man can harness the universe—but nobody can harness man!” It does raise dark warnings about future threat, showing a clock ticking and the claim, “It’s later than you think!”

But a month later, a sixty-five-page section of a script (obviously sent to the White House for approval) has merged  The Beginning or the End and Top Secret and included some of Rand’s writings. MGM had made a deal with Wallis to make sure there was no rival project.

How did this all start? From Rand’s own papers and journals, we learn that when she accepted the assignment from Wallis she said she’d only do it if she could express her own political and philosophical views, which might clash with the studio’s. She then interviewed many of the leading figures in the Bomb’s development, including Oppenheimer. Many years later she revealed that the character Robert Stadler in  Atlas Shrugged was based on Oppenheimer. The papers also show that after MGM bought out Wallis, Rand was then free to work full-time on  Atlas Shrugged.

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