Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky on this day in 1937.
On October 24, 1957, shortly after his 20th birthday, and while serving in the Air Force, Hunter wrote a letter to his Louisville high school friend, Joe Bell, about Atlas Shrugged, the first edition of which had been released two weeks prior on October 10, 1957.
Below is Hunter's letter to Joe Bell, as published in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1), edited by Douglas Brinkley.
According to Brinkley, “Throughout his early twenties Thompson considered novelist Ayn Rand a kindred spirit. He often lent copies of her books to friends.”
Letter to Joe Bell [from HST] as printed in Proud Highway.
October 24, 1957
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Two reasons for writing this one, to let you know I’ve finished The Fountainhead, and two, to tell you that Ayn Rand’s new book is called Atlas Shrugged. I thought you might be interested.
To say what I thought of The Fountainhead would take me more pages that I like to think I’d stoop to boring someone with. I think it’s enough to say that it’s everything you said it was and more. Naturally, I intend to read Atlas Shrugged. If it’s half as good as Rand’s first effort, I won’t be disappointed.
You might also be interested to know, as I was, that she has never married. Maybe she has the courage of her convictions, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t know – and I doubt that it matters a great deal to her whether I care or not. [Ayn Rand actually was married at that time. Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor were married on April 15, 1929 and stayed married until O’Connor’s death in 1979. Rand died in 1982. ~ J.C.]
To discuss The Fountainhead would be useless – even more so with a person who understands it than with one who doesn’t. It is nothing more or less than a re-affirmation of a principle, a principle so vital, so absolutely timeless, and so completely personal, that to drag it down to the level of a conversation piece would serve no purpose but to cheapen it. I can understand your mis-directed enthusiasm to show it so someone like O’Dea [a Louisville dilettante], but I think you might just as well have tried mixing bourbon and Coca-Cola to make a mint julep. One and zero doesn’t make two.
Although I don’t feel that it’s at all necessary to tell you how I feel about the principle of individuality, I know that I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life expressing it one way or the another, and I think that I’ll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence. I don’t mean to say that I’m about to state my credo here on this page, but merely to affirm, sincerely for the first time in my life, my belief in man as an individual and independent entity. Certainly not independence in the everyday sense of the word, but pertaining to a freedom and mobility of thought that few people are able – or even have the courage – to achieve.
Even Rand, who can make it live and breathe between two paper covers, seems to have trouble putting this certain spirit or attitude into words, so I don’t think that I, at an age where this thing is just beginning to slip into the realm of reality, should offer any excuses for not being able to express it in the everyday language of words. That will come later.
And I can see your dilemma – in wanting to believe in this thing, yet not being able to find a way to believe in it and eat it too. Keep in mind that the ability to create is an integral part of the makeup of man. If a lack is encountered, it lies not in the ability, but in the scope of perception of one’s own creative ability.
With that, I leave you to your efforts on the assembly line. I don’t write many letters like this, so don’t be afraid to drop me a line.
Cheerio . . .
And "Cheerio" to you, Hunter, on the anniversary of your birth!
".... who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?" ~ HST