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Facets of Ayn Rand (Part 2)

“What was Ayn Rand like as a person?” Two of her dearest friends answer with their memories.

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In 2001, the Ayn Rand Institute Press published Facets of Ayn Rand: Memoirs by Mary Ann Sures and Charles Sures, based on forty-eight hours of interviews conducted by oral historian Scott McConnell from September 1998 to January 1999. Twenty years later, these entertaining and informative personal reminiscences still merit careful study and reflection. New Ideal is proud to present the entire book online in eight installments.

Start with Part 1 here


WORKING FOR AYN RAND

ARI: Mary Ann, you were one of Ayn Rand’s typists of Atlas Shrugged. Let’s talk about that experience. How did it come about?

MARY ANN: In the fall of 1956, Ayn was nearing the end of the writing, and needed a typist and proofreader. I had just finished a teaching assignment at NYU and was looking for employment that would leave me some free time to do graduate work. By that time, she knew me well enough to know that she could trust me not to divulge the content of the novel to anyone.

ARI: How long did the job last? And what did you do?

MARY ANN: It lasted until the spring of 1957, when she turned the completed manuscript in to Random House. In the beginning, it wasn’t full‐time work. Some days there wasn’t much to type, but as the weeks progressed, the workload increased. On some days, I was there from morning to evening.

When I started, the work consisted of typing and proofreading the newly written pages of the novel. That was a memorable experience. I had the pleasure, and the privilege, of reading the last part of the novel in her handwriting  —  hot off the press, so to speak.

In the fall of 1956, she was writing the closing chapters of Part 3. She was also editing the entire novel from page one, all of which had been typed by previous secretaries. I retyped the extensively edited pages that were difficult to read. On the pages that had very little editing, I made the changes in pencil on the carbon copies. In the beginning, we always discussed which pages needed retyping, and which pages could get by with pencil changes. After a while, she left it up to me. She wanted to present a manuscript that could be read easily. One of the sections she especially wanted to submit in clean pages was Galt’s speech. I did considerable retyping of it.

ARI: Let’s talk about those months.

MARY ANN: Having had Ayn Rand as a mentor and friend for twenty‐eight years was itself a matchless experience. But that period, the fall of ’56 and spring of ’57, has a unique place in my thoughts and memories, because it was during this period that I really got to know Ayn and Frank, and they got to know me, on a personal basis. We developed a closer relationship. Until then, I had seen them mainly in the company of others, or if I was alone with her, the discussion was usually about an aspect of philosophy. Now, I was alone with them almost on a daily basis, and the context was different. There were just the four of us in the apartment  —  Ayn, Frank, Frisco the cat, and me.

ARI: Frisco the cat?

MARY ANN: Oh, yes. He was a member of the O’Connor household  —   he was a much loved, beautiful animal. And he played his part in the finishing of Atlas Shrugged, as you will see.

ARI: Where were they living at the time?

MARY ANN: In the fall of 1956, Ayn and Frank lived at 36 East 36th Street, Apt. 5‐A. Across the street from the apartment house was the splendid Morgan Library. Around the corner was B. Altman, a department store which has since closed; Frank enjoyed shopping there. Across from B. Altman was a hamburger shop, Tailor Made, from which the O’Connors ordered.

ARI: Could you describe their apartment?

MARY ANN: Their apartment was a one bedroom with den; it was not very spacious. You entered into a short hallway which opened into a larger entrance foyer. A black‐lacquered dining room table was kept in the foyer, pushed up against a mirrored wall. I worked at the dining room table. Beyond the foyer was the living room, long and rectangular, with windows at one end. To the left of the foyer, there was a short hallway leading to the bathroom, linen closet, and the kitchen. Around the corner, there was another short hallway leading to her study and to their bedroom.

It was very compact. The foyer, where I worked, was very close to her study  —  not more than ten or twelve steps. She kept the door to her study open, and, when necessary, we could talk back and forth.

ARI: She didn’t close the door for privacy?

MARY ANN: Only when she had a personal phone call. Otherwise, it was always open.

ARI: What was her study like?

MARY ANN: It was very small, and very simple. Actually, it was quite bare. There was only one window, and her desk was placed right in front of it. She didn’t have an inspiring view, just windows of an apartment house across the way. To the left of her desk, along an adjoining wall, there were book shelves. On one of the bottom shelves, she kept the typed manuscript of Atlas Shrugged in boxes that had contained typewriter paper. The handwritten pages she was working on were kept in manila folders on the desk; she did her writing on a blue‐green blotter. Opposite the desk were filing cabinets, on which there was a telephone and a pencil sharpener.

ARI: No decoration, no personal touches in the room?

MARY ANN: Two personal touches. On the wall to the right of the desk, there were three photographs of Frank which were publicity stills from the Hollywood days, taken when he was a young man. He was strikingly handsome. Hanging next to these photographs was a print of an industrial site. So she had Frank and modern industry nearby, both what she would call “top values.” And, the desk was a gift from Frank; he had had it made for her. So that’s a personal touch, too.

The floor was parquet, not carpeted. She sat in a straight‐backed, wooden chair that had a thin cushion covered in blue‐green material. When she got up, she scraped the chair against the wooden floor, and I could easily hear it. The floor in the hallway was tiled, and I could hear her brisk footsteps. And Frank’s, too, which were longer and more leisurely. And she could hear my typing  —  which didn’t seem to disturb her.

ARI: Let’s talk about a typical workday. How did it start?

MARY ANN: Starting time was 9:00 a.m., unless we had agreed to a different schedule. Frank usually answered the door. He always told me what Ayn was doing  —  “Ayn is at her desk,” or “Ayn is having coffee in the bedroom,” or, very seldom, “Ayn is still sleeping.” If Ayn was not working yet, he would tell me to help myself to the freshly made coffee, and join them in the bedroom for a morning visit.

ARI: What did you talk about?

MARY ANN: Movies or television shows we had seen, or current events, sometimes art. They were not lengthy discussions.

One morning, early on, I rang the doorbell and I heard her quick steps approaching the door, and then her deep voice: “Hallo?” she said. “It’s Mary Ann,” I answered. Then she opened the door a crack and asked me to excuse her because she wasn’t dressed. That’s how I learned that Ayn Rand often worked in a nightgown. The one she wore was made of a soft material, like brushed jersey. It was pale aqua, and it fell to the floor in long, regular folds, like a Greek column. The sleeves were long and full, and the neckline was a wide V decorated with rhinestones. It was quite glamorous. She had slippers in aqua leather, to match. She once jokingly assured me that she had other nightgowns, but this one was her favorite, and it was warm and heavy enough to wear without a robe.

When she was dressed, which was most of the time, she usually wore a navy wool skirt and a simple, short‐sleeved silk blouse  —  in navy or dark green. And her favorite pair of high‐heeled red leather sandals.

The first time I saw her in the nightgown, she explained why she wasn’t dressed: if, when she woke up, she felt refreshed and eager to start writing, she didn’t want to lose the momentum. So, she would quickly splash water on her face, brush her teeth, run a comb through her hair, get a cup of coffee, and get right to work.

ARI: What was she like when she was writing?

MARY ANN: She was very disciplined. She seldom left her desk. If she had a problem with the writing  —  if she had what she called the “squirms”  —  she solved the problem at her desk; she didn’t get up and pace around the apartment, or wait for inspiration, or turn on the radio or television. She wasn’t writing every minute. Once I heard a flapping sound coming from the study  —  she was playing solitaire. She might read the newspaper. At times, I entered the study to find her sitting with her elbows on the desk and resting her chin on her hands, looking out the window, smoking, thinking.

One morning when I arrived, she was still in bed. I started my work, and soon I heard her call out: “Oh, Frank. I’m falling asleep. Oh no, I can’t!” A few minutes later I heard her slippers slapping on the tiles. She washed her face, took a cup of coffee, and went to work. Later that morning, she explained that she had been up very late the night before, and had had little sleep. She had a deadline to meet with Random House, and she was determined to meet it  —  exhausted or not.

ARI: Did she ever play music while she worked?

MARY ANN: Only once, in my experience. When she was writing the last chapter of the novel. One afternoon she put a record on the stereo, which was in the living room, and asked me to replay it when it stopped. It was the last movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

ARI: Do you know what scene or dialogue she was writing then?

MARY ANN: No, I don’t, and I was curious, too. But I didn’t think it was my business to ask. And, had I asked, she would have answered  —  or explained why the question was too personal.

ARI: This brings me to the question: what kind of a boss was Ayn Rand?

MARY ANN: She was, in a word, a lovely boss, very easy to work for. She never issued terse orders, or showed impatience, or stood over my shoulder. She was not your stereotypical temperamental genius. There was a graciousness in her manner  —  there was always “please” and “thank you” when she had a request. But she wasn’t chatty; there was seldom any small talk before I started to work, if she was already at her desk. We agreed on the day’s work and I got right to it.

This raises what I call the spiritual atmosphere of the house‐ hold. In a few words, it was sheer, unadulterated, never‐ending good will  —  an atmosphere created by both Ayn and Frank. Here were two unpretentious and considerate people. In that home, there were no meta‐messages or hidden agendas or speaking between the lines  —  there was always complete candor. And no tension hanging in the air. It was, truly, a benevolent universe.

When there wasn’t a full day’s work for me, she apologized. I didn’t mind; I used to float to work, eager to get there. Once, I told her that I liked coming over because it was a sane and friendly place, and she said, “Oh?” in her characteristic way, and nodded and said, “Well, yes it is, you’re right.” And she added that I was free to come over and bring work of my own on days when I wasn’t scheduled to work for her.

ARI: And did you?

MARY ANN: Only a few times, because I thought it was an intrusion. But, she was sincere about it; they treated me like one of the family. I should have taken her at her word, because she meant everything she said.

She was a woman without moods. Or, if she were in a mood, she knew it. She would say so and offer a reason.

ARI: Such as?

MARY ANN: If her work had been interrupted for some reason  —  like attending to some business matters or going to the dentist. That always got her down, and she knew it.

In the morning when I entered the study to get my work, I tapped lightly on the open door so I wouldn’t startle her. There were only a few times when she didn’t acknowledge me with a smile and a hello.

She was patient. It took me a while to get used to her handwriting. So, in the beginning, on the days I typed up the newly written pages, I read them over first. And if I had any questions, she wanted me to interrupt her. I tried to keep interruptions to a minimum. In all the months I worked for her, she only got angry with me once.

ARI: About what?

MARY ANN: She didn’t like typewritten pages with just a few lines. She thought they interrupted the flow of the story for the reader at Random House. Short pages resulted from deletions or additions to the typed manuscript, and were often unavoidable. However, when we were nearing the end of the editing and retyping, one of her changes resulted in adding some lines to the manuscript; I ended up with a page that had only three or four lines. To make it a complete page would have required retyping all the pages up to the end of that section, and there just wasn’t time. Well, when she saw it she got angry. She reminded me, in very stern tones, of our agreement to avoid short pages. She explained again her reasons for not wanting to trouble the reader. I thought her point was valid. But, I have to add here that I wasn’t feeling very sympathetic toward that reader, who had the pleasure of reading the novel in large sections, in one sitting  —  while I had had to wait for Saturday nights to read single chapters and then spend the week wondering what was going to happen next! So, when she finished, I just said, “Ayn, it’s Atlas Shrugged we’re talking about.” She just looked at me, and her expression changed; she said, simply, “You’re right.” I think we were both a little on edge, working against a deadline.

ARI: What were the working conditions, physically?

MARY ANN: I worked on an old manual typewriter, with a cotton ribbon that wound around spools, and the ribbon and the keys stuck occasionally. I heard once that she had brought a typewriter with her from Soviet Russia. I don’t know if this was that typewriter, but it could have been. It was like an old tank, and just as noisy! I typed an original and several carbon copies, and I made corrections with a typewriter eraser. This was long before the days of word processing!

In the beginning, I was quite slow and didn’t think I was earning my day’s wages, so I suggested that she pay me by the page. It would have been to her financial advantage, but she insisted on paying me by the hour at the going rate. She said she knew I would pick up speed after I got used to the typewriter. And she insisted that I keep records of minutes, and if I stayed ten minutes over an hour, she insisted on paying me for a quarter of an hour.

She didn’t expect me to do personal errands for her. I did shop at a nearby stationer’s for typing supplies, and that was part of the job. The one time I volunteered to do a personal errand, there was a long discussion.

ARI: What was that?

MARY ANN: A few times a week, in the early afternoon, she would interrupt her work to call in the grocery order. The O’Connors bought their groceries from Verde’s, a small, specialty grocer on Third Avenue, near 36th Street, which was a few blocks from their apartment. She had to get the order in by a certain time so that it could be delivered late in the afternoon. One day, she missed the deadline. Verde’s delivery boy was gone for the day, and Frank wasn’t home, so I volunteered to pick up the groceries.

ARI: What happened?

MARY ANN: First, she said it was out of the question, that she couldn’t ask me to do that, that doing personal errands was not part of my job, and so on. She referred to types she had known in Holly‐ wood and of which she disapproved  —  executives who always expected personal favors and errands. And I explained that the situation was an exception, that it was necessary, and that I didn’t mind the walk. I don’t remember the entire exchange, but I managed to convince her. But she insisted on paying me for the time and having me stay for dinner. She definitely didn’t exploit her employee. I was always treated with respect; she always held my context. They both did.

ARI: Were there any house rules?

MARY ANN: I remember three. First, to make sure that all cigarettes, once smoked, were put out in the ashtrays, especially in the ashtray on her desk. She was very strict about that. I often saw her carefully stubbing out a cigarette in the desk ashtray. If she thought there might be something still burning, she carried the ashtray into the kitchen. Another rule was the way I destroyed manuscript pages of Atlas.

ARI: Are you saying that you actually destroyed pages of that novel?

MARY ANN: Yes. If a typewritten page had extensive editing and had to be retyped, the original page was destroyed. Her rule was that the page would first be torn into small pieces, and then the pieces mixed up and thrown down the incinerator in the hallway. She showed me how she wanted it done. She never, ever, discarded anything she had written without tearing it up completely  —  she didn’t take whole pages, squash them up, and throw them as a ball into the wastebasket.

ARI: What about handwritten pages? Don’t tell me you destroyed any of those?

MARY ANN: Oh, yes. If her changes on a handwritten page were so extensive that the page was difficult to read, she rewrote that page and gave me the original page to destroy. To tear up and incinerate.

ARI: How could you bring yourself to destroy them?

MARY ANN: Because that’s what she wanted. She didn’t want those pages lying around. They weren’t of any use to her. She wasn’t like some artists who save every scrap of paper they touch. She was concerned with the finished product, not with the process.

ARI: But this is an historic document we are talking about! Didn’t you want to keep the pages as souvenirs? How many of those pages were there?

MARY ANN: I don’t remember the exact number, but there were not a great many. It never occurred to me to ask for them. I think that would have been the height of presumption. And, had I asked, I think she would have been annoyed and refused. And rightly so. The one time I attempted to save a souvenir, she intervened.

ARI: What was that?

MARY ANN: Ayn paid me by check, and one day when I was depositing a few checks from her, the bank clerk recognized Ayn’s name and asked me how I could bear to give them up. The clerk, I learned, was a fan. So, I decided to save a check; it was a small amount, under $10.00. A few weeks later, Ayn learned that it had not been deposited and asked me if I were saving it for a souvenir. It was clear by her manner that she did not like the idea.

ARI: What did she say?

MARY ANN: As usual, she had reasons for her reaction. One was that if I didn’t cash the check, then I was not being paid for my work. And that amounted to altruism. And second, it was a nuisance to her to have checks outstanding in the account.

ARI: You said there were three house rules.

MARY ANN: The third one was never to open a window, even if Frisco was not in the room. They were concerned that he might jump out. This was a strict rule, and not just for Frisco. Later, there were other cats in the household, and the same rule applied.

ARI: Let’s talk about Frisco.

MARY ANN: Frisco was a pampered, beautiful cat. Frank brushed him regularly and always spoke gently to him. Often when Ayn was reclining on the couch, Frisco would stretch out on her chest, put his paws up to her neck, and purr. She loved that.

In the morning, if Frank was still sleeping and Frisco was up and ready for breakfast, he would jump on the bed and stroke Frank’s cheek to awaken him. Ayn loved to watch that, too. Frisco was allowed to use the couch to sharpen his claws; they didn’t mind that the furniture had ragged ends!

ARI: You said he was involved with Atlas Shrugged.

MARY ANN: Frisco really demanded attention, and when he didn’t get it, he would do impish things. For example, occasionally I would hear Ayn from the study saying, “Oh, no, Frisco,” and then she would call for Frank or me. I’d go into the study to find Frisco on her desk, stretched out across the manuscript pages she was working on. I would pick him up and carry him out to the living room floor. Then, he would jump up to my table and stretch across the typewriter carriage! Then, I would say, “Oh, no, Frisco!” Apparently, he was known for this, because once Ayn called out, “Oh, is Frisco on your typewriter?” And when I said, “Yes,” she said, “Oh, you’re really being accepted now. You are one of the family.” One day, I was carrying a cup of hot coffee out of the kitchen and didn’t bend down to pet him when he brushed against my leg. So, he nipped my ankle and she heard me say, “Ouch, Frisco.” And she said, “Oh, did Frisco bite you?” And when I answered, “Yes,” she said, “That’s real love. Now Frisco really accepts you.” I should add that he never drew blood, he didn’t even tear a stocking, and she knew from experience that his nips were on the gentle side.

Frisco returned their affection. Occasionally, when they were away overnight, they asked me to sleep over to keep Frisco company. The elevator door was down the hall, but you could hear it open and close. Every time that elevator door opened, Frisco would jump up and walk over to the apartment door and sit and wait. I tried to comfort him with petting and soft talk, but he wasn’t interested in me. He was waiting for the sound of the key in the lock.

Once Ayn was in pain with a terrible toothache and a swollen jaw. She was standing by my typewriter, holding her cheek, and Frisco jumped up to the table, then to the top of the chair and tried to reach up to her cheek with his paw. She was very moved by that.

They were a threesome. When guests were leaving, Ayn and Frank always stood at their open door until the guests entered the elevator, and the elevator door closed. And Frisco always came and sat in front of them or beside them, to see you off.

ARI: Earlier, you mentioned having dinner with the O’Connors. Didn’t they dine out?

MARY ANN: During that period, when she was completing Atlas, dinner was almost always at home. Sometimes she cooked it, sometimes Frank did. Being invited to dinner was the exception, not the rule. But as the work progressed, I sometimes stayed into the evening to finish up, and I was asked to stay for dinner. Especially when there was a casserole already made. Frank nicknamed it the “Atlas Shrugged casserole.” I don’t think we ever told her about that. It was a recipe they discovered on a Mueller’s macaroni box. It was delicious, quick, and easy. Frank and I prepared it a few times  —  macaroni, onions, hamburger, and cheese. And one casserole was dinner for three nights!

They ate simply. They did something interesting with canned peas  —   they were served at room temperature, mixed with mayonnaise. Once in a while, we had hamburgers from Tailor Made. She would consult Frank and me, make up the order, call it in, and then Frank and I would walk over to pick it up.

ARI: Didn’t you think it a bit odd  —  for the author of Atlas Shrugged to be calling in grocery orders and hamburger orders?

MARY ANN: At first, yes, I did think so. But she never behaved as if she were the great genius who was above doing mundane things. She was the brilliant philosopher and writer. But if groceries and hamburgers had to be ordered, then she did that, too. She looked upon getting dinner ready as, primarily, the wife’s responsibility.

ARI: Where did you eat, on the dining table that was your desk?

MARY ANN: No. Never there, because of the typewriter and supplies on it. Frank and I set up TV tables in the living room, and we ate there. If there was something interesting on TV, we watched it; otherwise, it was just friendly chat. A relaxed atmosphere.

ARI: Do you have any amusing stories centering around dining in the O’Connor household?

MARY ANN: Here’s one. Early one evening, she was still working in the study. Frank and I were next door in the kitchen doing the lunch dishes and trying not to make much noise.

ARI: So as not to disturb her?

MARY ANN: That was part of it. There was something else involved. Frank explained to me that Ayn was always worried about germs. That concern started in Soviet Russia, where disease and epidemics had been constant threats. As a result, when she did the dishes, she rinsed them many times in scalding water, and insisted that Frank do the same. So, that evening, Frank said, “Let’s finish these before Ayn comes in. Otherwise, we’ll be here all night!” He was exaggerating, of course. But we were like two conspirators, laughing quietly about our rushing with the washing and drying. And we were discussing Leslie Howard movies we liked. Neither of us could think of “pimpernel”  —  as in Scarlet Pimpernel. There was a loaf of pumpernickel bread sitting on the counter, and Frank said, “I know. The Scarlet Pumpernickel.” We both thought that was hilarious, and laughed out loud; and I said, “Shh, your wife is next door writing a book which is going to save the world. We had better be quiet.” And Frank laughed, and said, “Well, the world will just have to wait a little while longer.” And we thought that was even funnier, and broke up. And then we heard her chair scraping back on the floor. Frank said, “We’re in for it now!” Followed by more muffled laughter. She walked into the kitchen, smiling, looking quizzical. “What are you two laughing at?” When we told her, she laughed, too. We apologized for disturbing her, but she said she was finished for the day. It was a cheerful moment. Then we had the casserole dinner.

ARI: What about lunch?

MARY ANN: She often took her lunch into the study and had it at her desk. It was a light lunch  —  sometimes just pumpernickel bread and some cheese. There’s an interesting luncheon story, too.

One day, she was in the kitchen getting lunch, and I was at my typing table. She called to me, asking if I could come in and help her. I didn’t know what I could do to help the author of Atlas Shrugged, but I was pleased by the request. I went in and saw that she was holding a hot dog, and she asked me if I thought it was edible. When I asked why, she said that it had been in the refrigerator for a while and it was shriveled. So I examined it; it was wrinkled but I pointed out that the color was good and it didn’t have a bad odor. So, I told her that if it were immersed in boiling water, it would plump up. I asked her if she wanted me to do it, and she said, “Oh, no. You have work to do.” That amused me, because my work consisted of typing up her brilliant thoughts while she was going to cook a hot dog!

Some minutes later, she came out of the kitchen, holding up a plump hot dog speared by a fork. “You were right,” she said, and thanked me for the suggestion. I said something to the effect of “from each according to his ability.” Her immediate response was, “Check your premises!”

In the discussion that followed, I learned that the premise I had to check was my assumption that because I wasn’t writing the equivalent of Atlas Shrugged, nothing I had to say or do was of value to her. She pointed out, on that very example, that I knew something she didn’t, and that I had made her lunch possible.

ARI: Did she say “check your premises” very often?

MARY ANN: Yes, and not just to me. But, I must say, whenever she did say it to me, it was music to my ears! Because I knew that I would not get out of the house without a discussion about which premises to check, or without making arrangements to discuss the issue later or the next day. That’s the way she was. Always ready to analyze and explain, to help you clarify and sharpen your thoughts, your mental processes.

ARI: You once spoke of something you called “the glorious lunch break.”

MARY ANN: This refers to a discussion we had that had the greatest effect on my life. One day, I was depressed because an acquaintance had criticized me for taking pleasure in cleaning a copper‐bottomed frying pan. I enjoyed cleaning it and then seeing it shine on the wall, hanging on a peg board. It was the only piece of decoration in my kitchen. I was bothered by the criticism that I was finding enjoyment in something so nonintellectual. So, I told Ayn that I was troubled by something and asked her if we could have a discussion about it. She suggested that we do it during lunch.

I told her about the incident, and she nodded in understanding. When I finished, she said, “Oh, check your premises.” I told her I didn’t know what premises to check. So, she led me to understand the issue by questioning me about my response to the copper pot. She pointed out that it was significant that I didn’t clean it and then put it away, that I hung it up so I could look at it and enjoy its beauty. That, she said, was a rational value, and I shouldn’t apologize for it. In that discussion, she explored my attitude to housework in general and learned that I didn’t mind doing it, and then she led me to understand that I enjoyed the result  —  a polished and shined appearance to a room  —  and why that was a value I shouldn’t apologize for. She added that I didn’t expect others to accomplish that for me, which was a virtue. Then she said, “Do you know what we are doing?” I didn’t know what she was getting at, and I said, “We are analyzing this situation.” She said, “What we are doing, Mary Ann, we are taking ideas seriously. You are applying philosophy to your life. This is what philosophy is for.” She explained the necessity of identifying your values and knowing why they are values, why you shouldn’t give up a value because someone questions it, even if you can’t fully explain why it is important to you. She pointed out that there was much more she could say on the subject, that she had only touched on ethics and a little bit of esthetics, but that the issue for me to understand was the importance of holding on to values. To this day, I seldom mop a floor or polish a mirror without thinking of that afternoon with Ayn Rand and of how much that discussion about values has meant to me.

ARI: What did Frank O’Connor do on these days, when she was writing?

MARY ANN: He was pursuing his interest in art. He had an easel set up in the bedroom, and he worked there. Sometimes he was out doing errands or floral arrangements. They divided up the house chores. She ordered the groceries and looked after getting their dinner. He paid the bills, did banking, and took care of dry cleaning and getting the laundry done. I learned about this arrangement when there was a bit of a domestic crisis in the household one day.

ARI: What happened?

MARY ANN: One afternoon, the doorman buzzed. I answered and he told me that there was an agent from the utilities company who had come to turn off the electricity because the bill had not been paid. Frank wasn’t home. I went to the study and told Ayn. She said, “What on earth?” and told me to have the man come up. She met him in the living room, and I went back to my typewriter. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but it was very short, and she went to the study to write a check.

After the man left, she sat down on the couch. She was exasperated. She said things like “How can I write anything, if this is going on? Frank didn’t pay the bills. This is his responsibility. What is he thinking of?” She announced, “Frank is going to turn this place into a garret of starving artists without heat or electricity!” All the while, I was trying to keep a straight face, but I smiled a bit. And she said, “You’re on Frank’s side!” I tried to defend him, saying that I was sure it wasn’t deliberate, that he was distracted by his interest in art, that it was understandable.

ARI: What did she say to that?

MARY ANN: She told me, in firm tones, that he had ignored three delinquent notices! I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Then she went back to her desk. Later in the afternoon, Frank came home. I was ready for fireworks.

ARI: What happened?

MARY ANN: As soon as he came in, she joined him in the bedroom. I didn’t hear the conversation, but when they came out I heard the tail end. She was calling him “darling” and “cubbyhole,” and reminding him of the importance of paying bills on time.

ARI: What did Mr. O’Connor say?

MARY ANN: To me he said, “Well, I hear you had some excitement here this afternoon.” And he added, “Glad I missed it.” He was amused by the incident. We all went back to work, and that was that.

Continue to Part 3

Copyright © 2001 Mary Ann Sures; Introduction copyright © 2001 Leonard Peikoff; all rights reserved.

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Mary Ann Sures

Mary Ann Sures (nee Rukavina) (1928-2020) was an art historian, with a BA in history from Wayne State University and an MA in art history from Hunter College. She taught art history at New York University (Washington Square College) and at Hunter College. She also lectured on the application of Objectivist esthetics to the visual arts. Her friendship with Ayn Rand and Frank O'Connor began in 1954. The Sures were married in 1965.

Charles Sures

Charles Sures (1922-2000) practiced law for forty-four years prior to his retirement in 1992. He received LLB and LLM degrees from George Washington University. During World War II, he served in the South Pacific as a landing craft officer in the Navy [Lt. (j.g.)]. He was a pianist, stamp collector, and aerobatic pilot.

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