In 1936 Ayn Rand was no fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programs. So it may come as a surprise to fans of Rand that the libertarian icon took money from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project. Like a lot of money.
Rand’s courtroom drama “Night of January 16th” closed in New York in April of 1936 after a seven month run. She then sold performance rights to the WPA, ensuring she’d get $10 per show — bringing in “a small fortune” for her throughout the late 1930s. The play was staged in theaters big and small around the entire country.
The gimmicky production centers around a courtroom trial that was not unlike a theatrical Choose Your Own Adventure. Twelve men were selected each night from the audience to play the roles of jurors. These men were sometimes even paid for their troubles as if it were a real jury. They were free to decide on the case like it was an actual trial and the end of the play changed from night to night. Rand wrote different endings depending on the possible decisions of the jury.
The lone Rand biography that seems to mention the fact that she profited so nicely at the hands of the government is the book Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller. The book notes that Rand was getting paid handsomely for her play, earning royalties of anywhere between $200 and $1,200 a week. To put that in perspective, the average American was earning about $1,500 a year. Damn moochers.
Images: Ayn Rand in 1962 via AP; Newspaper advertisement from the April 17, 1937 Gazette and Daily in York, Pennsylvania