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To Tell The Story Right

Perhaps it had been by being members of the Alliance for Preservation of American Ideals or perhaps it was after Barbara Stanwyck read “The Fountainhead” and was enlightened by Ayn Rand’s words. Nevertheless, both women were concerned about only one thing: to tell the story right. One of them lost; the other saw it through to the end.

After Barbara Stanwyck read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” she took it to Warner Bros., passionately persisting it be made into a film with her as the female lead, Dominique Francon. Warner Bros bought the rights. Mervyn LeRoy was hired to direct, Humphrey Bogart was cast as the story’s male lead, Howard Roark, and Barbara Stanwyck was to play Dominique. Only upon securing a contract entitling her rights as sole screenwriter and with sole editing rights did Ayn Rand agree to write the script. Then America became involved in World War II, and movie studios delayed many films; “The Fountainhead” included. When the war ended and filming of “The Fountainhead” was to begin, two of its artists involved, actor Bogart and director LeRoy left, and they were replaced by actor Gary Cooper and director King Vidor. With these key changes, Vidor told Stanwyck she was being replaced because he said she wasn’t “sexy enough” for the part of Dominique Francon. He chose 22-year-old Patricia Neal to play opposite the 42 year-old Cooper. Stanwyck, who had brought this property to Warner Bros. initially and planned on playing the part of Dominique, was outraged and, thus, terminated her contract with Warner Bros.

Ayn Rand’s battle had just begun. Her 746-page screenplay was trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, rewritten in accordance with The Production Code Administration. Scenes such as one that included a “one-night stand” between Roark and Dominique of which the Administration disapproved evolved into a “rape” sequence, which conveniently fades out before the “rape” takes place. Proving to be the most difficult fight for Rand’s artistic rights came near the end of production when director King Vidor wanted to shorten a lengthy speech given by character Roark because he felt it was difficult to understand. Cooper as well had stated that he did not fully understand the text as a whole. When Rand found out Vidor planned to edit the speech, she was furious and vowed to disassociate herself from the film. At this stage of filming, Warner and Vidor had no choice but to comply. The infamous speech remained intact and is still on record as one of the longest speeches in film history. Unfortunately, no amount of coaching by Rand seemed to help Cooper fully comprehend that speech. Even though the onscreen delivery is adequate, Cooper himself has commented, “Boy, did I louse that one up.” The difficulties Rand encountered during making of this film to retain artistic integrity of the work prompted Rand to never accept a project with Warner Bros again.

For me, Patricia Neal’s portrayal of Dominiqe is strong and powerful. Still I cannot help wondering how the atmosphere of the film may have been very different with the feistiness of a Barbara Stanwyck performance. And as a student of Ayn Rand, I am thankful that Rand was fervently committed to telling the story right.

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