I recently finished reading Robert Mayhew’s latest book: Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood. (It won’t be his latest book for long, since the much-anticipated anthology he edited, Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, will be available on June 28th, according to Amazon. Mayhew seems to write and edit books faster than I can read them!)
As the title suggests, the book is an examination of Ayn Rand’s testimony on the movie Song of Russia before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. (As such, it is a work of history rather than philosophy, although it does contain philosophic analysis of the issues at hand.)
Part I offers three chapters of helpful background information on the movie. Perhaps most importantly, Mayhew offers a detailed synopsis of Song of Russia. (According to a footnote, the movie is occasionally shown on TCM. I’ve set the TiVo to record it automatically if it shows up, as I’m very curious to see it now! I’ve also set it to record Mission to Moscow, which is apparently even worse communist propaganda.) In addition to the synopsis, Mayhew includes a chapter on the making of the movie with particular attention to the involved communists and the changes made in production and a chapter on its reception in the press and elsewhere. (I was particularly surprised to learn of the nature and extent of the meddling in the production of movies by FDR’s administration.)
In Part II, Mayhew turns to Ayn Rand’s testimony before the HUAC. He begins with a chapter on her life up through the testimony, particularly focusing on her childhood in Russia, her work in Hollywood, and the publication of We the Living. He examines Ayn Rand’s general view of the HUAC hearings, including a detailed and interesting discussion of the supposed moral crime of “naming names.” In the next two chapters, Mayhew examines the accuracy of Ayn Rand’s testimony about the utterly false picture of life in Soviet Russia in Song of Russia, as well as her rejection of the supposed need to lie about the true condition of our Russian ally during World War II. The final chapter considers the absurd responses of various leftists to Ayn Rand’s testimony.
As I’ve come to expect from Robert Mayhew’s work, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia was a careful and thorough examination of the topic at hand. I particularly appreciated the clarity of Mayhew’s writing, in both the structure and the prose. The analyses were methodical, but never dragged on in dullness. (In fact, I ever remarked on a number of powerful points of rhetoric to Paul as I was reading.) Although more can always be said about side topics in any writing, I finished the book with a good grasp of the core issues. (Although all that praise is well-deserved, but I’d better stop before I embarrass myself by gushing like a schoolgirl!)
As you might have guessed already, I highly recommend Ayn Rand and Song of Russia, particularly to those with an interest Ayn Rand’s HUAC testimony or the communist influence in Hollywood.