Evolution of advertising for Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead

by David Hayes

Biographies of Ayn Rand have reported several times that Miss Rand was troubled by the first ads placed by publisher Bobbs-Merrill for her soon-to-be classic 1943 novel, recognizing that the ads did not tell potential readers what The Fountainhead offered, and that she thereafter guided further publicity efforts so that these efforts would better promote the book.  This web page presents evidence of this transformation in marketing, letting visitors to this page see how ads changed from early 1943 to late 1943, then over the next several years.

In a letter by Ayn Rand to her editor dated May 6, 1943, she objected to the advertising copy already devised by the people typically employed by publishing firm for that purpose.  The novelist wrote the editor: “The horrible crap you read to me over the phone wouldn’t sell a book to a half-wit.  It is not intellectual appeal, it is not commercial appeal, it is not even good blurb-writing.  It is just simply dull and meaningless.  It says nothing.  It’s just wasted space, wasted words, wasted money.”  She went on to say: “… nothing in the whole goddamn mess gives any indication of the book’s theme, importance or seriousness.”  (This passage, like all passages from Miss Rand’s correspondence quoted on this web page, is copied from the book Letters of Ayn Rand, edited by Michael Berliner, first published 1995 by Dutton.  The current passage is on page 69.)

She may have been responding to the brief ad copy on a multi-title full-page ad placed by publisher Bobbs-Merrill in the trade magazine Publishers Weekly in its January 30, 1943, issue.  That page (the first of two side-by-side pages in the ad, each page of the same design, each listing multiple books) is reproduced here at right.

The small part of the ad devoted to The Fountainhead is reproduced here at a larger scale, below.

In the same May 6, 1943, letter from Ayn Rand to editor Archie Ogden quoted above, Miss Rand also remarks, “I don’t mind the fact that your advertising appropriation is limited.  But precisely when an appropriation is limited one must weigh the tone and nature and every word of an ad most carefully, to get the utmost good out of it.”  The brevity of the above ad copy is an example of low expenditure on advertising of this particular book, where every word should have been weighed for tone and nature.

In that May 6 letter, Rand applauded Ogden with this observation: “You did give me an excellent ad in the two trade sheets.  It was good because you and I rewrote it.  It was pretty awful originally.”  One of those trade sheets seems to have been Publishers Weekly, which in its March 6, 1943, issue carried a two-page ad for The Fountainhead, two months ahead of publication.  (This ad appears below.)

Regardless of who wrote or re-wrote this ad, it was apparently deemed good enough to serve as a starting point for later ads.  (An example of an ad that uses the same ad copy with minor changes appears further down this web page.)

The ad copy on the right side of the ad is difficult to read in the reproduction shown here, so the text is repeated here:

HOWARD ROARK was expelled from architectural school, yet became the greatest architect of his generation.  His sole aim in life was to build, and to build not in the tradition of the past, but only in the tradition of Howard Roark.  Perhaps that is why he was hated—because he needed no one, wanted no one.

ELLSWORTH TOOHEY was a columnist and a professional doer of good.  He wrote on art, literature, drama and architecture, and the public liked what he liked and hated what he told them to hate.  He understood Howard Roark and went to fantastic lengths to destroy him.  The author has here created a terrific figure of viciousness in a cloak of benign humanitarianism.

DOMINIQUE FRANCON was beautiful, with the kind of impenetrable beauty that frightened most men.  She gave herself to those she despised and fought bitterly against the one man she loved.  Completely amoral and above compassion she was the model for a great religious monument.  She loved Howard Roark and worked with Ellsworth Toohey to destroy him.
PETER KEATING became one of the most popular architects in New York.  He used everybody he knew to push himself to the top.  He depended on Roark but also feared him.  He sensed his own mediocrity without recognizing it, and he did not know why he wanted Roark to fail.

GAIL WYNAND owned twenty-two newspapers, a half-dozen magazines, and two newsreels.  He knew what the public wanted and gave it to them.  He sold his soul to gain power over men, but found that he had no power at the one time he needed it most.  He loved Roark, but was forced to betray him.

Though the ad announces “Coming April 15th” (bottom line of left-side page), the publication date would in fact be May 7.  The seventh day of May 1943 is the date that the publisher declared in its copyright paperwork to be the date of publication, and The New York Times of that date lists The Fountainhead among an even dozen books published that day (The New York Times, May 7, 1943, pg. 17).  The United States Copyright Office noted on the novel’s certificate of copyright registration that copies of the book necessary to fulfill copyright-registration requirements had been received by the Office on May 1 and that the affidavit itself was received May 10.  Thus, although the publisher may have wanted to alert bookstore owners (a primary readership base of Publishers Weekly) that the book would arrive for sale a month and nine days after the March 6 issue date of the magazine, the actual date for first sales was likely two months and one day after the date on the issue of Publishers Weekly containing the above ad.


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The above ad appeared in The New York Times of May 9, 1943, the first Sunday after publication.
The image at above right is an enlarged look at the section of the ad devoted to The Fountainhead.  It repeats two sentences from the March ad, but has more new content than content repeated from the what had appeared in the Publishers Weekly ad.

In the May 6 letter to Archie Ogden already quoted twice on this web page, Ayn Rand wrote, “Now we come to the beautiful ad I’m getting on Sunday.  I have told you, every indication has told you, advance reactions have told you and you have agreed that the book must be sold as an important, challenging, intellectual novel on a great modern issue—and not as a cheap story on architecture.  Until I annoyed you by tactlessly butting in into what you said was none of my business—you didn’t even take the trouble to read the first and only ad for the book you’re stacking your reputation on! When you read it, you saw that I was right to worry.”

The above ad is the ad discussed in that letter, for the above is the ad for the book in The New York Times of the Sunday following Miss Rand’s May 6 letter.  She was right to call it “beautiful.”

(The reference to Arrowsmith in the header “does for architects what Arrowsmith did for medicine” is to the Sinclair Lewis novel of that title.  Lewis was one of the top novelists at the time.  Coincidentally, Ayn Rand had named Lewis her favorite novelist in a questionnaire she completed for Macmillan at the time Macmillan published Rand’s first novel in 1936.  The relevant part of the questionnaire is reproduced in the book Ayn Rand (by Jeff Britting, from Overlook Duckworth, 2005), pg. 48.  Ayn Rand discussed Arrowsmith at length in her 1958 lecture course on writing fiction, available in edited transcribed form in The Art of Fiction (ed. Tore Boeckmann, from Plume, 2000), in chapters 7, 8 and 9.  Sinclair Lewis’s literary agent had also represented Ayn Rand when she began The Fountainhead, but had lost Rand as a client before The Fountainhead came to the attention of Bobbs-Merrill.)


The ad shown above appeared in The New York Times the Sunday after the ad shown immediately above it on this web page.  The date of this second ad was May 16, 1943.  As with the May 9 ad, the full ad as placed by Bobbs-Merrill appears at left, with the portion devoted to The Fountainhead reproduced at larger scale at right.  Although The Fountainhead was accorded an amount of space equal to that of each of the four other books advertised, and was prominently placed near the top, the reduced number of words (compared to the May 9 ad) resulted in wording of the type that worried Ayn Rand, wording that would cause readers most likely to be enthralled by the book to not recognize from the ad that the book would be ideal for them.

In the authorized biography of Ayn Rand published in 1962, based on biographical interviews with Ayn Rand, it was written about the period just after The Fountainhead was published: “The advertisements were, for the most part, vague, non-committal and meaningless.  There was no way for any reader of the advertisements to distinguish The Fountainhead from all the other allegedly ‘big’ and ‘challenging’ books offered to them daily by means of the same routine bromides.”  (Who is Ayn Rand?, pg. 205 in hardback edition., pg. 163-64 in paperback)  The above ad in its three sentences applies the word “big” four times and uses the word “challenging” as the first adjective about the book’s theme.
 

In her letter to Archibald Ogden of July 29, 1943, Ayn Rand wrote that “the proof of the new jacket you sent me has my approval, compliments and thanks.”  Although the differences between the old design of the book jacket and the design of the new one are not explicitly mentioned in the letter, Miss Rand immediately follows her comment of “approval, compliments and thanks” by saying, “I could have wished not to burden a clean book like ours with quotes from someone as dirty as Albert Guerard, but I suppose it doesn’t matter and I know you wanted three important rags to quote.”  (Letters of Ayn Rand, pg. 86)

The aforementioned Albert Guerard is quoted concerning The Fountainhead in the Bobbs-Merrill ad shown here.  Again, Bobbs-Merrill prepared and ran an ad featuring five of its books.  The full ad is at left, the portion for The Fountainhead is reproduced at larger scale at right.  This ad appeared in The New York Times of July 11, 1943.


The New York Times of July 18, 1943, carried another Bobbs-Merrill ad that has The Fountainhead among other books.  Reproduced here is only the portion about The Fountainhead.  The Guerard quote is supplemented by another.  The novel is said to be in its 2nd printing, two weeks and eleven days after the book’s official publication date.  (See the text accompanying the next illustration for additional context about numbers of printings.)

In the same July 29 letter by Ayn Rand to Archibald Ogden quoted above, she also wrote about “the ad in last Monday’s Times …  I think the ad was excellent, wording and all, even the nude statue.  (Third big printing, huh?  Well, it looked grand in print anyway.)” (Letters, pg. 86) The ad shown here appeared in The New York Times of July 26, 1943, which was the Monday prior to the date of Miss Rand’s letter.  (Although it could be argued that July 19 would be the Monday of the week prior to July 29 and thus would be the “last Monday” referred to in the letter, the July 19 edition of the Times does not contain a display ad for The Fountainhead.)

The header names the theme of the novel.  The despised Mr. Guerard is now quoted but not named.

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Ayn Rand’s contemptuous remark about the declaration “3rd Big Printing” (which appears bottom left in the ad) in her July 29, 1943, letter, suggests that no such repeat printing had occurred by then.  Though a declaration of “Third Large Printing” appears in the August 8, 1943, ad (shown below), readers of this web page should heed Miss Rand and be skeptical about its accuracy.

The ad shown at right appeared in The New York Times of August 8, 1943.  It is a resized, reformatted and abridged version of the July 26 ad.  Like the ad which pleased Miss Rand, this ad has the nude statue, and like the July 26 ad, is an improvement on earlier ones of the same number of words.  Compared to the July 26 ad, this ad shortens the second blurb and omits the third.  The first blurb was left as it was: a quotation from Lorine Pruette’s review in The New York Times Book Review, the second of two reviews of the novel to appear in The New York Times shortly after the novel was published, and by far the more favorable.

Ayn Rand appreciated Pruette’s review for stating the book’s theme when the four previous reviews to have been published had stated nothing of the kind.  Writing to thank Pruette, Ayn Rand told Pruette that “the beautiful things you said about me and the book … make me very happy.”  (Letters, pg. 74)

The comparison to The Magic Mountain (by Thomas Mann) was never one Ayn Rand would herself have made, and two decades later she wrote of that novel’s deficiency: “Its characters periodically interrupt the story to philosophize about life, after which the story—or lack of it—goes on.”  As such, it is “a bad novel,” because the characters’ “ideas do not affect their actions or the events of the story.”  (“Basic Principles Of Literature,” in The Objectivist, July 1968; reprinted in The Romantic Manifesto)


The New York Times of August 22, 1943, carried this Bobbs-Merrill ad with five titles, including The Fountainhead.  This time, Ayn Rand’s novel received less than an equal share of the ad space, and was shunted to a less-prominent position among the titles.  The portion about The Fountainhead is reproduced at larger scale at right.  A good blurb from the Guerard review (much of it repeated from earlier ads, but here without cuts and ellipses within the quoted passage) is used.

Moving on to the October 17, 1943, issue of The New York Times, Bobbs-Merrill has another multi-title ad, one that again moves The Fountainhead toward the bottom of the stack.  This time, the novel is said to be in it “Fourth Large Printing”—little more than five months after first appearing in stores.

The first two reviews quoted here did not appear in earlier ads known to the author of this web page.  Only the third review is known by me to have been excerpted before, and it is a better quotation that appears now.  In place of the comparison to The Magic Mountain there is Lorine Pruette’s observation that the novelist “has a subtle and ingenious mind and the capacity of writing brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly.”


Easily the best ad to appear in general-circulation newspapers thus far (to my knowledge), it surpasses even the second Publishers Weekly ad, on which it drew copy.  This ad appeared in The New York Times of October 31, 1943.  As an aid to the reader, I am providing here a side-by-side comparison of the earlier ad copy with its equivalent in this later ad:

March 6, 1943, Publishers Weekly ad October 31, 1943 New York Times ad
HOWARD ROARK was expelled from architectural school, yet became the greatest architect of his generation.  His sole aim in life was to build, and to build not in the tradition of the past, but only in the tradition of Howard Roark.  Perhaps that is why he was hated—because he needed no one, wanted no one. HOWARD ROARK is the greatest architect of his generation.  His sole aim in life is to build, not in the tradition of the past, but only in the tradition of Howard Roark.  He lives for himself.  He needs no one, depends on no one, wants no one.
ELLSWORTH TOOHEY was a columnist and a professional doer of good.  He wrote on art, literature, drama and architecture, and the public liked what he liked and hated what he told them to hate.  He understood Howard Roark and went to fantastic lengths to destroy him.  The author has here created a terrific figure of viciousness in a cloak of benign humanitarianism. ELLSWORTH TOOHEY is a columnist and a collectivist.  He understands Howard Roark and goes to fantastic lengths to destroy him.  The author has here created a terrific figure of evil.
DOMINIQUE FRANCON was beautiful, with the kind of impenetrable beauty that frightened most men.  She gave herself to those she despised and fought bitterly against the one man she loved.  Completely amoral and above compassion she was the model for a great religious monument.  She loved Howard Roark and worked with Ellsworth Toohey to destroy him. DOMINIQUE FRANCON is beautiful, with an impenetrable beauty that frightens most men.  She gives herself to those she despises and fights bitterly against the one man she loves.  She loves Howard Roark and works with Ellsworth Toohey to destroy him.
PETER KEATING became one of the most popular architects in New York.  He used everybody he knew to push himself to the top.  He depended on Roark but also feared him.  He sensed his own mediocrity without recognizing it, and he did not know why he wanted Roark to fail.
GAIL WYNAND owned twenty-two newspapers, a half-dozen magazines, and two newsreels.  He knew what the public wanted and gave it to them.  He sold his soul to gain power over men, but found that he had no power at the one time he needed it most.  He loved Roark, but was forced to betray him. GAIL WYNAND owns a newspaper empire.  He sells his soul to gain power over men, but finds that he has no power when he needs it most.  He loves Roark but is forced to betray him.

The ad copy was improved by changing the tense from past to present and by judicious small changes.  The fact of Roark’s expulsion was mere detail compared to Roark’s accomplishment, so the latter fact is made stronger by not making it share half the space in its sentence with the less-significant fact.  The description of Toohey is made better by describing his essence not as “viciousness” but as “evil,” by not using the soft term “doer of good” but the exact term “collectivist.”  Keating is omitted from the later ad; this may have not been so much an ideal decision but a choice forced by limitation of space.

A week after the large ad devoted to The Fountainhead, Bobbs-Merrill placed The Fountainhead in another multi-title ad (this time with six books total).  The Fountainhead received about one-tenth the total amount of space.  The new aspect of this ad is that it says the book is now in its 6th printing.  (A week earlier, the ad said “5th Large Printing,” and only two weeks prior to that, the Times ad had the novel in its fourth printing.)  (The ad shown at right is from The New York Times, November 7, 1943.)

These two ads, identical in format but different in quotations, appeared a week apart in November 1943.  The ad at left appeared in both the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune of November 14, 1943.  The ad at right appeared in the Chicago Tribune of November 21, 1943.

These ads fall back on the failing identified by Miss Rand as having been in the earliest ads which displeased her: adjectives of a superlative nature which tell potential readers nothing about the conflict or theme.

 

 
Like the two ads above, this ad from Bobbs-Merrill in The New York Times of November 14, 1943, has such superlatives as “challenging,” although this ad does improve on the other two by including ad copy (albeit in its small print) offering indications of the reasons why the book warrants its praise.

 

Each of the illustrations accompanying this paragraph is in the bottom portion of an ad which features six books.  In each case, four new books are at top, with the bottom having two older best-sellers, each accorded somewhat less space than each of the four new books.

The ad on the left appeared February 20, 1944, in The New York Times.  (The Fountainhead portion re-uses the nude statue from earlier ads.)

The ad on the right appeared February 27, 1944, also in The New York Times, and though it too re-uses an illustration from earlier ads, that illustration is the combination of T-square and skyscrapers.

 

The two illustrations here are sections from two ads which appeared in The New York Times in the late summer of 1944.  In each case the ad featured several Bobbs-Merrill books.  The ad at top is from the August 20 issue, the ad at bottom from the September 10 issue.  In the short time separating the two dates, the ads went from stating the novel to be in its 11th printing to being in its 12th printing.

The quotation from the Pittsburgh Press had been excerpted before, in the large ad of October 31, 1943.  The opinion that the book is “a novel which could conceivably change the life of anyone who read it” is one Ayn Rand had herself mentioned to editor Archie Ogden.  In her letter to Ogden of August 16, 1943, she advised him, “Take notice of the reviewers who said that The Fountainhead could ‘change the life of anyone who read it.’  I am now getting fan letters to that effect—readers speak of the difference The Fountainhead has made in their entire view of life.”  (Letters, pg. 89)


Large Bobbs-Merrill ads like this one appeared December 2, 1945.  The ad at above left is from the Chicago Daily Tribune; a similar ad appeared in The New York Times the same day.  One-sixth of the space was devoted to The Fountainhead.  That portion is shown in larger scale, immediately above center. In another multi-title ad from Bobbs-Merrill with a “good gifts” theme, The Fountainhead was again accorded space, but different ad copy from two weeks before.  (The New York Times, December 16, 1945)

At the time that this web page is being prepared, the President of the United States is Barack Obama, and news stories sometimes discuss the continuing influence (in different respects) of Saul Alinsky and Ayn Rand.  That makes the following section of a single 1946 newspaper page of renewed interest.

In today’s culture, there is a stark contrast between the ideology of Saul Alinsky—manifested in the group warfare and unscrupulous political moves orchestrated by the White House of President Obama—and Ayn Rand—whose philosophy of limited government and self-sufficiency has inspired and been embraced by the Tea Party (founded in its present incarnations in 2009).  Six decades ago, both Alinksy and Rand were emerging on the cultural landscape, and on at least one occasion a book by each was advertised side-by-side with the other.  The Alinsky ad was positioned to the left of Ayn Rand, and Ayn Rand was positioned to the right of Alinksy.  Considering the ideological connotations of the terms “left” and “right,” the ad placement here was appropriate.

These ads appeared in The Washington Post of January 27, 1946.  A near-identical version of the Fountainhead ad appeared in The New York Times of March 13, 1946, where the ad differed in that the sales figure of 260,000 in the earlier ad was revised upward to 290,000 a mere six weeks later.

Alinski’s book was published in Chicago—the same city from which Obama would launch his political career and to which Obama had relocated to become a community organizer, an occupation of unorthodox tactcs outlined by Alinksy.


Eight Bobbs-Merrill titles were briefly described in this ad which appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune of February 24, 1946. In a New York Times ad of March 13, 1946, Bobbs-Merrill advertised only three titles and devoted about 40% of the space to The Fountainhead (see center image).  The number of copies in print was now stated as 290,000.  (As before, the image at far right is an enlargement from the full multi-title ad.)

We come now to one of the best ads.

This ad of lengthy copy appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 14, 1946.  On that date, Ayn Rand was still a little more than four-and-a-half months from beginning to pen any actual manuscript (as against notes) of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.  It would be September 2, 1946, that she began manuscript for the novel, including its opening line, “‘Who is John Galt?’” Even so, this ad for The Fountainhead contains a header reading “WHO is Ayn Rand?” Beneath this heading “WHO is Ayn Rand?” are autobiographical quotations from Ayn Rand drawn from her pamphlet “To the Readers of The Fountainhead.”  (The text of this 1945 pamphlet is reprinted as the Appendix of Letters of Ayn Rand, pgs. 669-673.)

The portrait of Ayn Rand shown here was the standard one used to show Ayn Rand when a newspaper or magazine chose to print one during this time period.  The photography is credited to Talbot, according to the book Ayn Rand (Overlook Duckworth, 2005), by Jeff Britting, pgs. 66-67.  Author Britting drew information from the vast resources available to him in his work as head of the Ayn Rand Archives, housed at the Ayn Rand Institute.  (The portrait as shown in this ad has been “flipped” to its mirror image, so that Miss Rand’s hair is parted on the left where in fact it was parted on the right.)

A word on broken type in the above ad: The first instance of partly-illegible type in the above text appears in the first column and should be read as
“… but I find it extremely difficult to answer,
because the answer is contained in the ques-
tion. …”
The second occurrence of broken text appears further down the first column and should be read as
“… The play was The Night of Janu-
ary 16th
which ran on Broadway in the
season 1935-1936. …”
In the second column, the broken text should be read as
“… not even his hunger for Domi-
nique. Perhaps that is why he was hated—because
he needed no one, …”


Both the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post carried this big display ad on June 23, 1946.  Bobbs-Merrill stresses that The Fountainhead has been selling well for three years. above: from the Chicago Tribune of August 25, 1946. above: from The Washington Post of October 1, 1946.  All three ads here state that The Fountainhead is selling faster than ever before.

The Washington Post of December 4, 1946, carried this ad from Bobbs-Merrill with five titles, including The Fountainhead.

The New York Times of December 7, 1947, carried this Bobbs-Merrill ad spotlighting four new books, with less space allotted to three books under the header of “Perennial Best Sellers,” among them The Fountainhead.  (Image at right is an enlargement of the portion about The Fountainhead.)

A small ad in the Chicago Tribune of November 6, 1949.  Though small, the ad is limited to the one book.  The surrounding ads are from other advertisers. The New York Times and the Chicago Daily Tribune of December 4, 1949, carried a Bobbs-Merrill ad with ten titles, each receiving roughly equal space.  Shown here is the section on The Fountainhead.

Bobbs-Merrill (publisher of hardbound editions of The Fountainhead) and New American Library (publisher of the paperback counterpart) joined forces for an ad to protest The New York Times’s peculiar gut-response review of The Fountainhead which appeared on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the novel.  (Both publishers issued 25th Anniversary editions with a new introduction by Ayn Rand.)
The image at above center is a reduced image of the full ad, which includes (inside the box) a reprint of the Lorine Pruette review from The New York Times Book Review of 1943.  The ad acknowledges that the 1943 review remained under copyright by including a copyright notice under the review, specifying that the review is under copyright of The New York Times Co.  (For that reason, when the size of reproduction of the ad was decided for this web site, the size of the full ad was reduced such that the review within the ad is not reproduced here with enough resolution to enable it being read.)  Pruette’s review had been excerpted in several of the earlier Bobbs-Merrill ads shown above on this web page.

The image at above right is the new text prepared by The Bobbs-Merrill Company and New American Library to counter the negative review which appeared in the Times Book Review of May 5, 1968.  The text shown in the image at above right is an enlargement of what appears under the header “In the interest of justice,” visible at the top of the image shown above center.

This response ad appeared in The New York Times of August 11, 1968.

That the 1968 Times review by Nora Ephron seems as much an inner-psychology report of its author as a report on the contents of the novel, has not stopped that essay from being quoted and anthologized in the years since.


 

Ayn Rand died March 6, 1982.  Her passing occurred in the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday.  Obituaries appeared in major newspapers on March 7, a Sunday.  Monday the 8th would be the earliest that staff at Ayn Rand’s publishers would have been able to put into motion their plans to express to the world the loss that the culture experienced with the death of one of its great authors.  The above “In Memoriam” ad appeared in The New York Times of March 10, 1982.  (Advertising for that issue would not have been accepted past a specific time on March 9.)  Though the ad has few words, the reader who looks at the size of the type in the adjoining ads will recognize that Bobbs-Merrill bought a fair-sized ad.

Having an Ayn Rand classic in its catalogue was good for Bobbs-Merrill.  Never having another Ayn Rand novel to publish was bad for the company.  Bobbs-Merrill was dissolved in April 1985.
 

 

 

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