Off-Broadway's current stage adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel Anthem brought back memories of unexpected responses to a recent excerpt of Memories of An Independent Woman; An Unconventional Life Well Lived in which I detailed a personal experience titled "Ayn Rand Has a Sense of Humor." As Director of Broadcast Promotion for Playboy Magazine from 1963-69, I was responsible for placing well known personalities featured in Playboy Interviews on radio and TV talk shows. Ayn Rand was interviewed in the March 1964 issue and I had the privilege of spending the better part of that month publicizing her.
On one particular afternoon I had arranged for her to be interviewed by Barry Farber on WOR Radio in New York City. She was to meet me at the Times Square studio at 5 pm. The one thing I could count on was that Ms. Rand was never late. Until this particular afternoon. She was stuck in a titanic traffic jam and since those days were pre-cell phone there was no way she could let me know. It was left to me to appear on the show as her substitute. Let me just say that I was philosophically opposed to most everything Ms. Rand stood for. "I live in a world of grays, of faults and indecisions," I started out, "a world where doubts and imperfections co-exist with kindness, empathy and generosity of spirit. Compromise does not have to be a nasty word, much as Ms. Rand wishes otherwise. Civilization depends on people caring for one another." With every word, the hole I was digging myself deepened. This she did not know until she heard the interview on her car radio. When we finally spoke later in the evening her only comment was that I had a very good radio voice. Nothing else. My inner voice warned me that the best/worst was yet to come.
A few nights later we had dinner at the Playboy Club for which I also did publicity and that, to my initial surprise, Ms. Rand found most interesting. For the first time she asked about the work I did, how the Bunnies were hired, trained, treated by management, etc. By the time I finished I jokingly said she could now take over my job. Who could have planned that at that very moment I was told that a group of Italian journalists were in the lobby asking for information about the Club. "That will be fine," said Ayn (by this time she insisted I call her by her first name), rising from the table to head me off. "Good evening, gentlemen" she greeted them, edging me aside. "My name is Tania Grossinger and I'm on the public relations staff. Welcome to the Playboy Club. I'd love to give you a tour. Did you know, incidentally, that in order to keep their job, each of the Bunnies has to sleep with the boss?" She then went on to describe Hugh Hefner as a sexual pervert and misstated everything I had told her earlier. I stood there like an idiot. "And you should see the parties that go on upstairs after the Club closes. If you're not busy later, perhaps..." By that time she had only to look at my face to know she had punished me enough and started to laugh. "I'm sorry to disappoint you lovely gentlemen but as I hope you have figured out by now, I don't really do not do public relations for the Playboy Club and I'm not Tania Grossinger." She invited them to join us for a drink where she explained that I had recently caused her some chagrin and their arrival provided her the perfect opportunity to surprise me as I had surprised her. At least I can say I had the last word. Would the journalists like to know who their "guide" really was? "Don't you dare," she said. I dared. So the writers left with an unexpected bonus. In addition to interviews with two Playboy Bunnies they also had one with the famous Ayn Rand. Alas, to their dismay, no invites to the 'party' upstairs!
How many readers would associate Ayn Rand with a sense of humor? Knowing the somewhat harsh persona she projected, would anyone even believe my story? That was the challenge I faced when I had to decide whether or not to include the above anecdote in Memoir of an Independent Woman; An Unconventional Life Well Lived. I couldn't imagine anyone would be upset with what I wrote, certainly not in context of everything else I wrote in the Playboy section where I shared a personal side of Ayn Rand that few had been fortunate enough to see. I was wrong. I received multiple emails from acolytes who said they knew Ayn Rand would never have set foot in a Playboy Club therefore nothing else I said about her could be true. I was accused of demeaning the seriousness of everything she stood for. One person even suggested I was lucky he couldn't get his hands on me.
What did I learn from this? I learned that something as innocuous as a person having a sense of humor is going to offend someone, that devotees often have trouble looking past first impressions and, what I've known all along, one can't please everybody all of the time. The response to that particular section also reminded me that its good to periodically stir readers' juices.
Ayn Rand for sure would have chuckled!