The characters in Miss Rand's novels are her own original creations. Miss Rand explicitly stated that Roark was not based on Frank Lloyd Wright. From a letter to a fan [Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 468]:
"[The fan asked:] 'Aren't some of the character traits and ideals of Howard Roark taken from Frank Lloyd Wright's life?' No. There is no similarity between Roark and Mr. Wright as far as personal life, character and basic philosophy are concerned. The only parallel which may be drawn between them is purely architectural—that is, in regard to their stand on modern architecture."
The above text appears as a FAQ on the website maintained by the Ayn Rand Institute, also known as the Center for the Advancement of Objectivism. It would seem to refute totally the premise of Donald Leslie’s Johnson’s fascinating book, which establishes a relationship between these two feisty characters by witness report and through their separate writings. In fact it could be speculated that Rand’s creation of Howard Roark was based on something resembling a schoolgirl crush on the ruggedly individualistic Wright, who for the most part shrank away from the association. She wrote him not once but several times (including cables) all but begging for his approval of her work, and sent him the first three chapters of the book in progress. According to Johnson, “she said that Wright was the one man on this earth she ‘must’ talk to.”
It’s chicken versus egg. Did Wright inspire the book, or did Roark come first and take on the cloak of Wright-ness as a natural consequence of who he was and what he had, fictionally, to do? Later Rand, who was developing her personal ethos as The Fountainhead gained fame, preferred to deny that she had based Roark on Wright lest people think “she had not created the ideal personification of a new philosophy.” Rand tended, as did Wright, to reinvent herself as her craft evolved.
Facts, as someone once said, are stubborn things. Frank Lloyd Wright, at the time of the creation of The Fountainhead (Rand wrote both the book and the screenplay) was a successful, outspoken pioneering modern architect admired by the public and cognoscenti alike. He was no wall-flower and was strongly opinionated, not to say domineering. Rand was a rather successful writer. Both were convinced of the correctness of their views, some of which were shared. Rand, a Russian émigré, was deeply pro-American and virulently anti-Communist. Wright was deeply pacifistic and mildly anti-Soviet, especially as he observed that Communism destroyed culture. Johnson describes him as “politically left of center, with a hatred of war.”
The FBI and specifically the witch-hunters of HUAC went after Wright primarily because he was a non-conformist, and “his prose could dissemble,” making him an easy target for attack. Both Wright and Rand agreed that if democracy worked, HUAC would be unnecessary, and Wright went so far as to call McCarthy a “political pervert.”
In the end, the movie version of Rand’s didactic novel was generally panned as rigid, absurd, even tasteless (particularly the crypto-rape scene typical of Rand’s depiction of the relationship between men and women), and proved an embarrassment to those who appeared in it. Wright made a bid to design the sets, at Rand’s urging, that was so high it was considered risible. He never participated in the project. Rand thought the film “very good.” It is still a cult favorite among Rand’s fans.
Rand’s books are translated into almost as many languages as the Bible, and each succeeding generation has a love affair with her work, generally cooling as it becomes obvious that the books, while proposing ideas new to the young, are turgid and their characters wooden. Wright’s work, viewed even at a remove of several decades, still charms -- innovative, rich with metaphor and provocative of a radical way to live through a dynamic perception of space.
The Fountainheads needed to be written. It casts a strong light on this historical period, the atmosphere of McCarthy’s grip on the Hollywood psyche, and the strange connection between two major players. The basic premises still admit to further debate by those with a stake in the subject, but Johnson has done extensive research, the bulk of which appears inarguable.