An Encounter with Ayn Rand

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– From the 2012 Holiday Issue –

June Kurisu holds a signed photo of Ayn Rand given to her by the author. She worked as a secretary for the author as she wrote her novel “Atlas Shrugged.” (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

June Kurisu, who has written columns for The Rafu Shimpo, has her own unique place in literary history. As a young woman, she was hired to work as a secretary for author and philosopher Ayn Rand and worked with her from September 1947 to June 1949 as she was writing her novel “Atlas Shrugged.” Rand, born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 2, 1905, emigrated to the United States in 1925. Rand’s philosophy of  “Objectivism” continues to gain followers, most notably former Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan.

The Rafu spoke recently with Kurisu, who lives in Monterey Park. She was modest about her role in literary history. Kurisu was also featured in the book “100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand” by Scott McConnell.

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RAFU: How did you land the job as secretary to Ayn Rand? Did you have excellent secretarial skills?

JK: No, not at all. I had just graduated from L.A. High School. My parents were working for Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, on their ranch at 10000 Tampa Ave. in Chatsworth.  I hear that the property was razed to become a shopping center.

RAFU:  Did you live on the ranch?

JK:  I did for the summer while my parents and little brother were there. They left when  they found the property in Toluca Lake, where they built four stores. Then I went to live at Evergreen Hostel (later renamed Fellowship House) that Union Church of Los Angeles ran as temporary housing for families returning to Los Angeles from the various concentration camps. It was in Boyle Heights.  After the families moved on, single young men returning from World War II to go to school and young working women moved in.

I went to L.A. City College from there five days a week and went to the ranch on Saturdays and Sundays.

RAFU: How did you get to Chatsworth from East L.A.? That’s quite a distance.

JK: Yes, it was.  I had to get up early to catch the Brooklyn Avenue trolley to downtown.  Then I took the Asbury Transit bus to the San Fernando station, where Frank O’Connor came to pick me up.  I remember that we drove past Janet Gaynor and Adrian, the famous dress designer’s, house.  We also passed Clark Gable’s ranch.

RAFU: What did your work for Ayn Rand consist of?

JK: Mostly I typed the pages of  “Atlas Shrugged” that AR had hand-written during the week. I had to be so careful to be sure that my typing was perfectly accurate. Many times AR would change a paragraph or even just a few words, and I would have to retype the whole page.  In those days I typed on a Royal manual typewriter.  Nowadays a computer would be able to make all the changes. That would have been a great time saver, but lucky for me there was enough work to keep me busy for the weekend.

AR would dictate long letters to her philosophical friends that I would transcribe, then she would mail them.  Sometimes AR would dictate answers to fan letters. One was to a woman who wrote that she had named her newborn daughter “Ayn,” and AR was pleased and wrote a very complimentary answer that I’m sure is still in that mother’s keepsake box.

I answered the telephone when it rang on the weekends. I would hear a man’s voice saying, perhaps, “Miss Louella Parsons (the Hollywood columnist for The L.A. Examiner, I think) would like to speak with Miss Rand.” She also got calls from Hedda Hopper, the Hollywood columnist for The L.A. Times, and from Janet Gaynor and Adrian. When AR was going to have a party, she asked me if I wanted to come. She said that Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor would be coming; she knew that I admired them and they were married to each other at that time. Would I ever! But the party was on a school night and I had no transportation. Ginger Rogers and her mother, Lela Rogers, were great friends of AR and called often.

RAFU: Miss Rand wrote “The Fountainhead” also among other books and articles, didn’t she?

JK: Yes, she did. In fact, while I was working for her, the movie of  “The Fountainhead” was to premiere in Hollywood. AR got two tickets and Miwa Hamasaki and I took the red trolley to see it. Gary Cooper and Patricia O”Neal were the leading actors in it. Miwa and I were very impressed.

RAFU: Did anything else noteworthy happen when you were working for Miss Rand?

JK:  Ayn Rand was called to Washington, D.C., to testify at Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities (Committee)hearings for a few weeks. She didn’t offer to keep paying me, so I found a job as a waitress at Sugar Bowl restaurant on San Pedro Street in Little Tokyo.

I didn’t get fired from that job, but as soon as AR returned home, I high-tailed it back to her.

RAFU: When you graduated from L.A. City College, were you going to look for full-time work?

JK: Yes. AR asked if I wanted her to look for a job for me  at Paramount Studios or she said she would mentor me if I wanted to write. Those were generous offers, but I wanted to get a civil service job downtown. In those days, civil service wasn’t known to let employees go.

RAFU: How do you remember Ayn Rand?

JK: She was very kind to me, but I remember when she was upset with one of the housekeepers, she wasn’t at a loss for words. Her handwriting was very distinctive and took some getting used to reading. She spoke perfect English with a fairly heavy accent. She was curious about my young brother and my boyfriend.  She had neat, short hair, wore tailored shirts and dark-colored slacks. When she wore a dress and high-heeled shoes, you could see her great legs. Her shapely fingers almost always held a filtered cigarette. Sadly, she died of lung cancer in 1982.

I like to remember watching her from the upstairs balcony with her baton in hand while she mimicked conducting Shastakovich, whose LP record was playing on the hi-fi.

RAFU: Did you see Ayn Rand after you no longer worked for her?

JK: Yes, I was pleased and surprised when she and Frank O’Connor came to my wedding in June 1950.  They are in the front of the group standing on the porch of Magnolia House on the left-hand side of the photo. Looking back, without that job I wouldn’t have been able to attend L.A. City College to further my secretarial skills and learn a marketable profession.

I’ll always remember Ayn Rand with admiration and respect. No doubt some of her philosophy rubbed off on me, because when I turned 21, I registered as a Republican.

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5 Comments

  1. This is an interesting article. There is one correction. Ayn Rand testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding the communist propaganda film “Song of Russia.” Senator Joseph McCarthy, a member of the Senate, not the House, was not in charge of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In fact, it wasn’t until several years after Ayn Rand’s testimony before the HUAC that Senator McCarthy began his Senate anti-communist hearings.

  2. Harry Binswanger on

    A nice article. One other correction, after John Bales’, Ayn Rand died of congestive heart failure, not cancer. She was cancer-free (and had been for 6 years) when she died. I know this first-hand: I visited her almost daily in New York Hospital in the last month of her life after she had a “silent” heart attack. They did scans for cancer, and found none.

  3. Now a pic of Ayn Rand in Little Tokyo would be something I would want to see! Good article – nice to see something written about her that is not the usual hit- piece.

    Whether one agrees with some, none or all of Rand’s philosophy – she certainly produced works that changed the United States, and the world in profound and significant ways. I for one actually ended up in Little Tokyo, and with a career in the arts thanks in part to inspiration derived from Rand’s novel – The Fountainhead.

    In terms of Japanese culture – Howard Roark is quite close to a “Shokunin” (master artist/artisan), and his uncompromising spirit – particularly in the creative realm matches up well with so much of what I have seen in my favorite works from Japan. Let’s also not forget that Frank Lloyd Wright – one of Rand’s models for Roark, spent 6 years living in Japan – and the influence is felt throughout his later work – particularly “Falling Water”.

  4. It was a pleasure to read this article by June Kurisu illustrating the benevolent personality of Ayn Rand. She pioneered a new way of viewing the world, and for many of my generation, was the light at the end of the tunnel. More than a few people, with the advent of the Internet, strive to slander and distort the message of Ayn Rand, yet in the end, they all fail because what she was offering was the grandeur of life itself, and this is impossible to defeat.

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