Re: The Fountainhead - was Frank Lloyd Wright the model for the Gary Cooper character?

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Tuesday, January 06, 1998 3:57 PM

The question of whether Ayn Rand based her character of architect Howard Roark (the Gary Cooper role in the movie) on real-life architect Frank Lloyd Wright, has been hashed out by several members of this newsgroup. An answer of sorts from the novel's author can be gleened from an article she wrote, "The Goal of My Writing." (It is reprinted in an anthology of her non-fiction entitled "The Romantic Manifesto." The "Romantic" in this title refers to the Romantic school of literature, not to the Romanticism school or philosophy nor to romance.)

She begins, "The motive and purpose of my writing is _the_ _projection_ _of_ _an_ _ideal_ _man_." The other details, for her, stem from this.

What this would mean for "The Fountainhead" is that she began with the moral code by which she wanted a character to live, then decided what challenges he would have, what occupation would best suit those attributes, then what plot would arise given the characters and conflicts. This interpretation is supported by another statement in the anthology: "There is no rule about which of these three elements [theme, plot, characterization] should come first to a writer's mind and initiate the process of constructing a novel. A writer may begin by choosing a theme, then translate it into the appropriate plot and the kind of characters needed to enact it. Or he may begin by thinking of a plot, that is, a plot-theme, then determine the characters he needs and define an abstract meaning his story will necessarily imply. Or he may begin by projecting certain characters, then determine what their motives will lead to, what events will result, and what will be the story's ultimate meaning." (pg. 93-94 of the paperback edition, that seems to have remained in print for a few decades)

With this in mind, look at the similarities and differences between Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright with an eye to what is superficial and what is substantive.

That Roark and Wright are both innovative, unconventional architects who succeed in their profession after a slow start, may be substantive when compared with the entirely superficial details cited by Michael Gebert (
>Incidentally, Wright was flattered as hell by The
>Fountainhead, and what working architect wouldn't be by a
>portrait of his real-life, short, occasionally-forced-to-
>compromise self as tall, handsome and utterly

The real Frank Lloyd Wright ran his architectural firm like a medieval village, with himself as the lord and his apprentices as serfs. This is unlike the independent Roark, who respected genuine talent too much to work it that way or to accept the less competent.

However, the professional tribulations and triumphs cease to seem decisive when you look at the central focus of the novel and screenplay: Roark's code of morality.

There should be no denying that Rand wanted to delineate Roark's beliefs; they're spelled out in dialogue (e.g., "A man who works for another man without payment is a slave. I don't think that slavery is noble no matter who makes the claim."). From this beginning, it's easy to see that Roark would face personal and professional obstacles, so the story would have to enable these.

Why would Roark be in architecture?, you might ask. Architecture is unlike other professions in that it combines art and science. Were Roark an artist of another sort (canvas painter, illustrator, author, etc.), any study he did of materials and any knowledge he had of cutting expenses without compromising durability, would be inconsequential to the price customers pay for the artist's product. However, shelter being vital to human survival and comfort, and it being the most expensive financial outlay for the majority of people, Roark's ingenuity has repercussions for all of society. Roark's need to feel aesthetic satisfaction toward his work synthesizes his art with his knowledge of science, and with it, unifies art and science as such in the book, and so too merges Roark's character with the two key aspects of his profession.

Michael Gebert ( wrote earlier:
>I might ask why Ayn Rand couldn't have written a serious
>book about Frank Lloyd Wright instead of a sentimentalized
>depiction of a highly-sexed demigod heroically building
>enormous erections, but that's for another thread.

For the reasons given by me above this comment, the comment itself is misdirected. Her purpose was not a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright; her purpose was nonetheless serious. (Just because I refute that she didn't set out to write "a serious book about Frank Lloyd Wright" doesn't mean that she didn't set out to write "a serious book," period.)

I believe, however, that the differences between these comments and those by me given above, bring up a core issue of how people process the impressions they form while watching films: are they taking what they see as: a) a "mimeograph" of life (merely shortened, composited and mildly modified to less then number of scenes and characters); or b) a projection of human capacities, potentialities and eventualities, deliberately distilled to omit personality quirks and thus to illuminate human lives "as they might be and ought to be" (as Aristotle put it).

-- David Hayes


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