Many great creators have a partner to their genius -- whether muse, mentor, or moral support. For novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda; for composer Gustav Mahler, it was his wife Alma. For Ayn Rand, that person was her husband, Frank O'Connor.Many people close to their inner circle have made observations about their relationship — always loving, and sometimes difficult.
Frank’s main claim to fame was being married to Ayn Rand -- a philosopher and novelist of towering talent. There are nine Frank O’Connor’s of enough public note to merit their own Wikipedia page, for what that’s worth. Our Frank O’Connor is not one of them.
But while he does not show up as noteworthy to the masses, he was of utmost importance to Ayn Rand, one of the most influential intellectual forces in history. Indeed, when asked in an interview what she considered her proudest achievement, Rand answered: "Marrying Frank O'Connor.”
So on this anniversary of his death -- November 9, 1979 -- let us look at a few facets of the man behind the philosophical legend.
1. EARLY ON — Frank O'Connor was born Charles Frances O'Connor in Lorain, Ohio on Sept. 22, 1897. He was eight years Rand's senior. The couple met in 1926 in Hollywood while both were working on the 1927 film, "The King of Kings," directed by Cecil B. deMille. O'Connor had a small part in the film as an actor. Rand was working as an extra.
In one of the most deeply humanizing anecdotes of her life, Rand was said to have tripped O'Connor to get his attention. "I took one look at him and, you know, Frank is the physical type of all my heroes. I instantly fell in love,” she recounts.
O’Connor had an enduring appeal, say those who knew him. Even in his 70s, he was incredibly handsome, elegant, almost European although he came from a small steel mill town in Ohio. Galt came from Ohio. That was an homage to Frank.
Ayn and Frank were married in 1929 by a judge in Los Angeles. Frank died in 1979 and Rand in 1982. They are buried together in a cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
2. HIS DEVOTION — O'Connor gave up his acting ambitions to support Rand's work. He worked, for a time, on a farm in Tarzana, California, where they both lived, to support them while she wrote and began to gain notice as a philosopher of great renown. O'Connor was said to have enjoyed the change of pace in his life. Noted author and professor Mimi Gladstein in an interview: "From all accounts, Frank O'Connor was content in this setting, growing flowers, raising peacocks, and developing the land. Rand, who did not drive, preferred urban living." Rand praised O'Connor's devotion to seeing her succeed: "Frank believed in me. He saw who I was and what I would become when no one else did, when we were both young and struggling and had nothing. We have the same sense of life."
3. A PAINTER — O'Connor and Rand moved to New York and he began a career as a talented and rising painter. He was a member from 1955 to 1966 of the Art Students League of New York, according to his obituary in the New York Times. Some of his paintings were featured as covers for Rand's books.
4. CREATIVE MUSE — Rand credited O'Connor with being deeply influential in her career. "Every hero was modeled after him,” Rand said of her husband, with whom she was married for 50 years. “I sometimes took an entire monologue from him and slipped it into my book. When I couldn't think of a title for one of my novels [Atlas Shrugged], he did. He told the whole story in two words." Noted Atlas's Kelley of his impact: "He had something very important to Ayn, despite being very much her opposite in certain ways — as an artist and not an intellectual."
"Frank was the fuel,” Rand wrote in the preface of a 25th anniversary edition of The Fountainhead. “He gave me, in the hours of my own days, the reality of that sense of life which created The Fountainhead -- and he helped me to maintain it over a long span of years when there was nothing around us but a gray desert of people and events that evoked nothing but contempt and revulsion. The essence of the bond between us is the fact that neither of us has ever wanted or been tempted to settle for anything less than the world presented in The Fountainhead. We never will.”
5. Ayn’s Grief — Steve Mariotti, founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and grandson of Lowell Mason, one of Rand’s advisors and friends, spent time with Rand in the final months of her life, and was struck by her profound grief over Frank’s passing.
"No one knows how sad I am. And this pain from Frank is killing me," he recounts her saying. "She told me with a breaking voice what he was wearing on his tall frame. She had kidded him about his baggy pants and he had laughed at her accent. They both liked the poem “IF,” and she recited it to him from memory. For her, it was love at first sight.
Frank, too, loved a Kipling poem, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted.” In homage to Frank’s artistic spirit, David Kelley was asked to read the poem at his funeral:
When Earth's last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
'Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew....
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!
Jennifer Anju Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society.