Sunday, October 12, 2008

Powel Crosley, Jr. and Ayn Rand

(Click to view paperback and hardcover editions.)

What? Powel Crosley, Jr. and Ayn Rand?

Right: An unliklier pair to appear in a header there never was. Powel Crosley was a staunch Republican and anti-union, which would have put him in line with Ayn Rand's philosophies. But Powel probably loathed the woman and most of her philosophies because he often ignored facts. And I think his misogony would have put him at a point where he loathed her for being a woman who not only had such philosophies, but expressed them in a popular novel. All of which makes it funny that Crosley is caricatured in Rand's The Fountainhead. I may be wrong, though.

I didn’t notice this the caricature I first read the book, over 30 years ago. But a recent re-reading finds Powel Crosley, Jr. thinly disguised as newspaper baron Gail Wynand. Wynand is an aviation enthusiast who spends a ton of money on the latest and best private aircraft. It is used to set a transcontinental speed record (as was Crosley's Vega), after which Wynand gives it to “… an enchanting aviatrix of twenty-four.” Shades of Ruth Nichols! Wynand's physical description matches that of Crosley, as well.

Rand also lampoons the controlled crash-landing Nichols made in a Pennsylvania field when she tried to set a Cincinnati-to-New York record. In the Wynand version, it is presented as an orchestrated publicity stunt, designed to draw the press--who were waiting there even as the aircraft approached from the west. (Crosley is also echoed in the radio and refrigerator manufacturer who is diversified beyond logic.)

Of course, the Wynand character is a composite of several people, with some original twists. (However, it's not quite the same as the portrayl of William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane.) For the writer, The Fountainhead serves as a good model for incorporating contemporary figures into a work of fiction without using their names.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks


K. said...

Not sure I understand that first paragraph. Though an Objectivist, Rand definitely leaned Republican (conservative spending, less government interference, and against the despised liberal Democrats), and hated unions. She loved strong, independent businessmen and women. What are the 'other things' that would have upset Crosley? It sounds to me that Crosley might have agreed with her more than you think.

Michael A. Banks said...

Thaks for the reply, K. Crosley was certainly a captialist and some of his actions fit in with Ayn Rand's thinking. If faced with Rand's philosophies, it would have been a matter of picking and choosing for him. But on reflection he does agree with her more than I thought.

He was definitely about rational self-interest. And I shall have to edit the anti-union statement; what I really want to say is that he was anti-worker in the sense that he treated workers with the kind of contempt that regards them as tools to be manipulated. The same goes for white-collar workers, engineers and salesmen and managers. Low pay, no recognition of value created ... exploitive.

Crosley was able to ignore facts when he felt like it because of the fortune he commanded and the people he controlled. The largest, most blatant example was in the form of the Crosley auto. His brother (more rational) told him exactly what was wrong with the idea and what would happen, in terms of cold, hard facts. That didn't fit Powel's worldview, and for once he couldn't for it to, and the auto line failed--for the reasons Lewis said.

Powel Crosley took more of an executioner/victim or master/slave approach than that of a trader (to borrow from the 1962 newspaper report at He saw government as a force to be used, used to manipulate events in his favor. (That turned on him when competiting radio station owners were able to put Democrat lawmakers to work against him in 1939.)

From family reports not in the book, Powel made his own realities. If someone did not fit his worldview, he manipulated them into it, or excluded them. And he sacrificed others to himself.

And then there was his misogyny, which I don't believe would have fit into Rand's personal worldview.

Michael A. Banks said...

Then, too, a certain contempt for the developmental direction of the book, material excised therefrom, and information not included in the book at times overwhelm my thinking about Crosley.

K. said...

Well, that certainly helps in explaining the rationale for Crosley vs. Rand opinion in the original post. Thanks for clarifying. Sure would have been an interesting encounter between the two!

Michael A. Banks said...

I haven't found evidence of a meeting between Rand and Crosley. He seems to have been pals with or met everyone else ... Ringling, Sister Aimee McPherson (who endorsed the Shelvador!), Julius Fleischmann, Clyde Cessna, &ect.

(I really ought to work on these posts when I'm not feeling resentful.)