Ayn Rand's 1967 Appearance on 'The Tonight Show' With Johnny Carson

The controversial author sketched her philosophy and expressed her vehement opposition to the Vietnam War.



Introducing the clip above, David Boaz writes, "In the 1960s Ayn Rand was becoming a major cultural presence. She drew overflow crowds at colleges from Yale to Wisconsin to Lewis and Clark. She wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times. She was interviewed by Alvin Toffler in Playboy. She accepted an offer to place her papers in the Library of Congress. And in 1967 her celebrity was officially recognized by an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

He kept her on for the whole show, bumping the unlucky guest who'd been scheduled to follow her. Several things struck me about the interview. Today's television viewer is accustomed to seeing thought leaders interviewed by Jon Stewart, who injects a fair amount of levity into the conversation. But Carson plays it straight, and assiduously refrains from injecting his own viewpoint. His intention, even when playing devil's advocate, is to elicit her views as best as he can. And he acknowledges at the outset that television as a medium is actually unsuited to that task.

I was also struck by Rand's vehement opposition to the Vietnam War, which I'd forgotten about, perhaps because the Ayn Rand Institute is so consistently bellicose and interventionist in its foreign-policy advocacy.

It's almost impossible to imagine Jay Leno or Jimmy Kimmel playing host to a public intellectual as removed from the mainstream as the atheistic, anti-draft, virtue-of-selfishness Rand was in 1967. Carson invited her back twice.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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