Gail Wynand, My Favorite Fictional Character

“Gail Wynand lived with his father in the basement of an old house in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. His father was a longshoreman, a tall, silent, illiterate man who had never gone to school. His own father and his grandfather were of the same kind, and they knew of nothing but poverty in their family. But somewhere far back in the line there had been a root of aristocracy, the glory of some noble ancestor and then some tragedy, long since forgotten, that had brought the descendants to the gutter. Something about all the Wynands–in tenement, saloon and jail–did not fit their surroundings. Gail’s father was known on the waterfront as the Duke. 

Gail’s mother had died of consumption when he was two years old. He was an only son. He knew vaguely that there had been some great drama in his father’s marriage; he had seen a picture of his mother; she did not look and she was not dressed like the women of their neighborhood; she was very beautiful. All life had gone out of his father when she died. He loved Gail; but it was the kind of devotion that did not require two sentences a week. 

Gail did not look like his mother or father. He was a throwback to something no one could quite figure out; the distance had to be reckoned, not in generations, but in centuries. He was always too tall for his age, and too thin. The boys called him Stretch Wynand. Nobody knew what he used for muscles; they knew only that he used it. 

He had worked at one job after another since early childhood. For a long while he sold newspapers on street corners. One day he walked up to the pressroom boss and stated that they should start a new service–delivering the paper to the reader’s door in the morning; he explained how and why it would boost circulation. “Yeah?” said the boss. “I know it will work,” said Wynand. “Well, you don’t run things around here,” said the boss. “You’re a fool,” said Wynand.

He lost the job. 

He worked in a grocery store. He ran errands, he swept the soggy wooden floor, he sorted out barrels of rotting vegetables, he helped to wait on customers, patiently weighing a pound of flour or filling a pitcher with milk from a huge can. It was like using a steamroller to press handkerchiefs. But he set his teeth and stuck to it. One day, he explained to the grocer what a good idea it would be to put milk up in bottles, like whisky. “You shut your trap and go wait on Mrs. Sullivan there,” said the grocer, “don’t you tell me nothing I don’t know about my business. You don’t run things around here.” He waited on Mrs. Sullivan and said nothing. 

He worked in a poolroom. He cleaned spittoons and washed up after drunks. He heard and saw things that gave him immunity from astonishment for the rest of his life. He made his greatest effort and learned to keep silent, to keep the place others described as his place, to accept ineptitude as his master–and to wait. No one had ever heard him speak of what he felt. He felt many emotions toward his fellow men, but respect was not one of them. 

He worked as bootblack on a ferryboat. He was shoved and ordered around by every bloated horse trader, by every drunken deck hand aboard. If he spoke, he heard some thick voice answering: “You don’t run things around here.” But he liked this job. When he had no customers, he stood at the rail and looked at Manhattan. He looked at the yellow boards of new houses, at the vacant lots, at the cranes and derricks, at the few towers rising in the distance. He thought of what should be built and what should be destroyed, of the space, the promise and what could be made of it. A hoarse shout–“Hey, boy!”–interrupted him. He went back to his bench and bent obediently over some muddy shoe. The customer saw only a small head of light brown hair and two thin, capable hands. 

On foggy evenings, under a gas lantern on a street corner, nobody noticed the slender figure leaning against a lamppost, the aristocrat of the Middle Ages, the timeless patrician whose every instinct cried that he should command, whose swift brain told him why he  had the right to do so, the feudal baron created to rule–but born to sweep floors and take orders. 

He had taught himself to read and write at the age of five, by asking questions. He read everything he found. He could not tolerate the inexplicable. He had to understand anything known to anyone. The emblem of his childhood—the coat-of-arms he devised for himself in place of the one lost for him centuries ago–was the question mark. No one ever needed to explain anything to him twice. He learned his first mathematics from the engineers laying sewer pipes. He learned geography from the sailors on the waterfront. He learned civics from the politicians at a local club that was a gangsters’ hangout. He had never gone to church or to school. He was twelve when he walked into a church. He listened to a sermon on patience and humility. He never came back. He was thirteen when he decided to see what education was like and enrolled at a public school. His father said nothing about this decision, as he said nothing whenever Gail came home battered after a gang fight. 

During his first week at school the teacher called on Gail Wynand constantly—it was sheer pleasure to her, because he always knew the answers. When he trusted his superiors and their purpose, he obeyed like a Spartan, imposing on himself the kind of discipline he demanded of his own subjects in the gang. But the force of his will was wasted: within a week he saw that he needed no effort to be first in the class. After a month the teacher stopped noticing his presence; it seemed pointless, he always knew his lesson and she had to concentrate on the slower, duller children. He sat, unflinching, through hours that dragged like chains, while the teacher repeated and chewed and rechewed, sweating to force some spark of intellect from vacant eyes and mumbling voices. At the end of two months, reviewing the rudiments of history which she had tried to pound into her class, the teacher asked: “And how many original states were there in the Union?” No hands were raised. Then Gail Wynand’s arm went up. The teacher nodded to him. He rose. “Why,” he asked, “should I swill everything down ten times? I know all that.” 

“You are not the only one in the class,” said the teacher. He uttered an expression that struck her white and made her blush fifteen minutes later, when she grasped it fully. He walked to the door. On the threshold he turned to add: “Oh yes. There were thirteen original states.” That was the last of his formal education. There were people in Hell’s Kitchen who never ventured beyond its boundaries, and others who seldom stepped out of the tenement in which they were born. But Gail Wynand often went for a walk through the best streets of the city. He felt no bitterness against the world of wealth, no envy and no fear. He was simply curious and he felt at home on Fifth Avenue, just as anywhere else.

He walked past the stately mansions, his hands in his pockets, his toes sticking out of flat-soled shoes. People glared at him, but it had no effect. He passed by and left behind him the feeling that he belonged on this street and they didn’t. He wanted nothing, for the time being, except to understand.                                       

He wanted to know what made these people different from those in his neighborhood. It was not the clothes, the carriages or the banks that caught his notice; it was the books. People in his neighborhood had clothes, horse wagons and money; degrees were inessential; but they did not read books. He decided to learn what was read by the people on Fifth Avenue. One day, he saw a lady waiting in a carriage at the curb; he knew she was a lady–his judgment on such matters was more acute than the discrimination of the Social Register; she was reading a book. He leaped to the steps of the carriage, snatched the book and ran away. It would have taken swifter, slimmer men than the cops to catch him.

It was a volume of Herbert Spencer. He went through a quiet agony trying to read it to the end. He read it to the end. He understood one quarter of what he had read. But this started him on a process which he pursued with a systematic, fist-clenched determination. Without advice, assistance or plan, he began reading an incongruous assortment of books; he would find some passage which he could not understand in one book, and he would get another on that subject. He branched out erratically in all directions; he read volumes of specialized erudition first, and high-school primers afterward. There was no order in his reading; but there was order in what remained of it in his mind. 

He discovered the reading room of the Public Library and he went there for a while–to study the layout. Then, one day, at various times, a succession of young boys, painfully combed and unconvincingly washed, came to visit the reading room. They were thin when they came, but not when they left. That evening Gail Wynand had a small library of his own in the corner of his basement. His gang had executed his orders without protest. It was a scandalous assignment; no self-respecting gang had ever looted anything as pointless as books. But Stretch Wynand had given the orders–and one did not argue with Stretch Wynand. He was fifteen when he was found, one morning, in the gutter, a mass of bleeding pulp, both legs broken, beaten by some drunken longshoreman. He was unconscious when found. But he had been conscious that night, after the beating. He had been left alone in a dark alley. He had seen a light around the corner. Nobody knew how he could have managed to drag himself around that corner; but he had; they saw the long smear of blood on the pavement afterward.

He had crawled, able to move nothing but his arms. He had knocked against the bottom of a door. It was a saloon, still open. The saloonkeeper came out. It was the only time in his life that Gail Wynand asked for help. The saloonkeeper looked at him with a flat, heavy glance, a glance that showed full consciousness of agony, of injustice–and a stolid, bovine indifference. The saloonkeeper went inside and slammed the door. He had no desire to get mixed up with gang fights. 

Years later, Gail Wynand, publisher of the New York Banner, still knew the names of the longshoreman and the saloonkeeper, and where to find them. He never did anything to the longshoreman. But he caused the saloonkeeper’s business to be ruined, his home and savings to be lost, and drove the man to suicide. 

Gail Wynand was sixteen when his father died. He was alone, jobless at the moment, with sixty-five cents in his pocket, an unpaid rent bill and a chaotic erudition. He decided that the time had come to decide what he would make of his life. He went, that night, to the roof of his tenement and looked at the lights of the city, the city where he did not run things. He let his eyes move slowly from the windows of the sagging hovels around him to the windows of the mansions in the distance. There were only lighted squares hanging in space, but he could tell from them the quality of the structures to which they belonged; the lights around him looked muddy, discouraged; those in the distance were clean and tight. He asked himself a single question: what was there that entered all those houses, the dim and the brilliant alike, what reached into every room, into every person? They all had bread. Could one rule men through the bread they bought? They had shoes, they had coffee, they had…The course of his life was set. 

Next morning, he walked into the office of the editor of the Gazette, a fourth-rate newspaper in a rundown building, and asked for a job in the city room. The editor looked at his clothes and inquired, “Can you spell cat?” “Can you spell anthropomorphology?” asked Wynand. “We have no jobs here,” said the editor. “I’ll hang around,” said Wynand. “Use me when you want to. You don’t have to pay me. You’ll put me on salary when you’ll feel you’d better.”

He remained in the building, sitting on the stairs outside the city room. He sat there every day for a week. No one paid any attention to him. At night he slept in doorways. When most of his money was gone, he stole food, from counters or from garbage pails, before returning to his post on the stairs. 

One day a reporter felt sorry for him and, walking down the stairs, threw a nickel into Wynand’s lap, saying: “Go buy yourself a bowl of stew, kid.” Wynand had a dime left in his pocket. He took the dime and threw it at the reporter, saying: “Go buy yourself a screw.” The man swore and went on down. The nickel and the dime remained lying on the steps. Wynand would not touch them. The story was repeated in the city room. A pimply-faced clerk shrugged and took the two coins. 

At the end of the week, in a rush hour, a man from the city room called Wynand to run an errand. Other small chores followed. He obeyed with military precision. In ten days he was on salary. In six months he was a reporter. In two years he was an associate editor. 

Gail Wynand was twenty when he fell in love. He had known everything there was to know about sex since the age of thirteen. He had had many girls. He never spoke of love, created no romantic illusion and treated the whole matter as a simple animal transaction; but at this he was an expert–and women could tell it, just by looking at him. The girl with whom he fell in love had an exquisite beauty, a beauty to be worshipped, not desired. She was fragile and silent. Her face told of the lovely mysteries within her, left unexpressed. 

She became Gail Wynand’s mistress. He allowed himself the weakness of being happy. He would have married her at once, had she mentioned it. But they said little to each other. He felt that everything was understood between them.

One evening he spoke. Sitting at her feet, his face raised to her, he allowed his soul to be heard. “My darling, anything you wish, anything I am, anything I can ever be…That’s what I want to offer you–not the things I’ll get for you, but the thing in me that will make me able to get them. That thing–a man can’t renounce it–but I want to renounce it–so that it will be yours–so that it will be in your service–only for you.” The girl smiled and asked: “Do you think I’m prettier than Maggy Kelly?” 

He got up. He said nothing and walked out of the house. He never saw that girl again. Gail Wynand, who prided himself on never needing a lesson twice, did not fall in love again in the years that followed. 

He was twenty-one when his career on the Gazette was threatened, for the first and only time. Politics and corruption had never disturbed him; he knew all about it; his gang had been paid to help stage beatings at the polls on election days. But when Pat Mulligan, police captain of his precinct, was framed, Wynand could not take it; because Pat Mulligan was the only honest man he had ever met in his life.                                      

The Gazette was controlled by the powers that had framed Mulligan. Wynand said nothing. He merely put in order in his mind such items of information he possessed as would blow the Gazette into hell. His job would be blown with it, but that did not matter. His decision contradicted every rule he had laid down for his career. But he did not think. It was one of the rare explosions that hit him at times, throwing him beyond caution, making of him a creature possessed by the single impulse to have his way, because the rightness of his way was so blindingly total. But he knew that the destruction of the Gazette would be only a first step. It was not enough to save Mulligan. 

For three years Wynand had kept one small clipping, an editorial on corruption, by the famous editor of a great newspaper. He had kept it, because it was the most beautiful tribute to integrity he had ever read. He took that clipping and went to see the great editor. He would tell him about Mulligan and together they would beat the machine. 

He walked far across town, to the building of the famous paper. He had to walk. It helped to control the fury within him. He was admitted into the office of the editor–he had a way of getting admitted into places against all rules. He saw a fat man at a desk, with thin slits of eyes set close together. He did not introduce himself, but laid the clipping down on the desk and asked: “Do you remember this?” The editor glanced at the clipping, then at Wynand. It was a glance Wynand had seen before: in the eyes of the saloonkeeper who had slammed the door. “How do you expect me to remember every piece of swill I write?” asked the editor. 

After a moment, Wynand said: “Thanks.” It was the only time in his life that he felt gratitude to anyone. The gratitude was genuine–a payment for a lesson he would never need again. But even the editor knew there was something very wrong in that short “Thanks,” and very frightening. He did not know that it had been an obituary on Gail Wynand. 

Wynand walked back to the Gazette, feeling no anger toward the editor or the political machine. He felt only a furious contempt for himself, for Pat Mulligan, for all integrity; he felt shame when he thought of those whose victims he and Mulligan had been willing to become. He did not think “victims”–he thought “suckers.” He got back to the office and wrote a brilliant editorial blasting Captain Mulligan. “Why, I thought you kinda felt sorry for the poor bastard,” said his editor, pleased. “I don’t feel sorry for anyone,” said Wynand.

Grocers and deck hands had not appreciated Gail Wynand; politicians did. In his years on the paper he had learned how to get along with people. His face had assumed the expression it was to wear for the rest of his life: not quite a smile, but a motionless look of irony directed at the whole world. People could presume that his mockery was intended for the particular things they wished to mock. Besides, it was pleasant to deal with a man untroubled by passion or sanctity. 

He was twenty-three when a rival political gang, intent on winning a municipal election and needing a newspaper to plug a certain issue, bought the Gazette. They bought it in the name of Gail Wynand, who was to serve as a respectable front for the machine. Gail Wynand became editor-in-chief. He plugged the issue, he won the election for his bosses. Two years later, he smashed the gang, sent its leaders to the penitentiary, and remained as sole owner of the Gazette. His first act was to tear down the sign over the door of the building and to throw out the paper’s old masthead. The Gazette became the New York Banner.  His friends objected. “Publishers don’t change the name of a paper,” they told him.

“This one does,” he said. 

The first campaign of the Banner was an appeal for money for a charitable cause.  Displayed side by side, with an equal amount of space, the Banner ran two stories: one about a struggling young scientist, starving in a garret, working on a great invention; the other about a chambermaid, the sweetheart of an executed murderer, awaiting the birth of her illegitimate child. One story was illustrated with scientific diagrams; the other–with the picture of a loose-mouthed girl wearing a tragic expression and disarranged clothes. The Banner asked its readers to help both these unfortunates. It received nine dollars and forty-five cents for the young scientist; it received one thousand and seventy-seven dollars for the unwed mother. Gail Wynand called a meeting of his staff. He put down on the table the paper carrying both stories and the money collected for both funds. “Is there anyone here who doesn’t understand?” he asked. No one answered. He said: “Now you all know the kind of paper the Banner is to be.” 

The publishers of his time took pride in stamping their individual personalities upon their newspapers. Gail Wynand delivered his paper, body and soul, to the mob. The Banner assumed the appearance of a circus poster in body, of a circus performance in soul. It accepted the same goal–to stun, to amuse and to collect admission. It bore the imprint, not of one, but of a million men. “Men differ in their virtues, if any,” said Gail Wynand, explaining his policy, “but they are alike in their vices.” He added, looking straight into the questioner’s eyes: “I am serving that which exists on this earth in greatest quantity. I am representing the majority–surely an act of virtue?” 

The public asked for crime, scandal and sentiment. Gail Wynand provided it. He gave people what they wanted, plus a justification for indulging the tastes of which they had been ashamed. The Banner presented murder, arson, rape, corruption–with an appropriate moral against each. There were three columns of details to one stick of moral. “If you make people perform a noble duty, it bores them,” said Wynand. “If you make them indulge themselves, it shames them. But combine the two–and you’ve got them.” He ran stories about fallen girls, society divorces, foundling asylums, red-light districts, charity hospitals.

“Sex first,” said Wynand. “Tears second. Make them itch and make them cry—and you’ve got them.” 

The Banner led great, brave crusades–on issues that had no opposition. It exposed politicians–one step ahead of the Grand Jury; it attacked monopolies–in the name of the downtrodden; it mocked the rich and the successful–in the manner of those who could never be either. It overstressed the glamour of society–and presented society news with a subtle sneer. This gave the man on the street two satisfactions: that of entering illustrious drawing rooms and that of not wiping his feet on the threshold. The Banner was permitted to strain truth, taste and credibility, but not its readers’ brain power. Its enormous headlines, glaring pictures and oversimplified text hit the senses and entered men’s consciousness without any necessity for an intermediary process of reason, like food shot through the rectum, requiring no digestion.

“News,” Gail Wynand told his staff, “is that which will create the greatest excitement among the greatest number. The thing that will knock them silly. The sillier the better, provided there’s enough of them.” 

One day he brought into the office a man he had picked off the street. It was an ordinary man, neither well-dressed nor shabby, neither tall nor short, neither dark nor quite blond; he had the kind of face one could not remember even while looking at it. He was frightening by being so totally undifferentiated; he lacked even the positive distinction of a half-wit. Wynand took him through the building, introduced him to every member of the staff and let him go. Then Wynand called his staff together and told them: “When in doubt about your work, remember that man’s face. You’re writing for him.” “But, Mr. Wynand,” said a young editor, “one can’t remember his face.” “That’s the point,” said Wynand. 

When the name of Gail Wynand became a threat in the publishing world, a group of newspaper owners took him aside–at a city charity affair which all had to attend–and reproached him for what they called his debasement of the public taste. “It is not my function,” said Wynand, “to help people preserve a self-respect they haven’t got. You give them what they profess to like in public. I give them what they really like. Honesty is the best policy, gentlemen, though not quite in the sense you were taught to believe.” 

It was impossible for Wynand not to do a job well. Whatever his aim, his means were superlative. All the drive, the force, the will barred from the pages of his paper went into its making. An exceptional talent was burned prodigally to achieve perfection in the unexceptional. A new religious faith could have been founded on the energy of spirit which he spent upon collecting lurid stories and smearing them across sheets of paper. 

The Banner was always first with the news. When an earthquake occurred in South America and no communications came from the stricken area, Wynand chartered a liner, sent a crew down to the scene and had extras on the streets of New York days ahead of his competitors, extras with drawings that represented flames, chasms and crushed bodies. When an S.O.S. was received from a ship sinking in a storm off the Atlantic coast, Wynand himself sped to the scene with his crew, ahead of the Coast Guard; Wynand directed the rescue and brought back an exclusive story with photographs of himself climbing a ladder over raging waves, a baby in his arms. When a Canadian village was cut off from the world by an avalanche, it was the Banner that sent a balloon to drop food and Bibles to the inhabitants. When a coal-mining community was paralyzed by a strike, the Banner opened soup-kitchens and printed tragic stories on the perils confronting the miners’ pretty daughters under the pressure of poverty. When a kitten got trapped on the top of a pole, it was rescued by a Banner photographer. 

“When there’s no news, make it,” was Wynand’s order. A lunatic escaped from a state institution for the insane. After days of terror for miles around—terror fed by the Banner’s dire predictions and its indignation at the inefficiency of the local police–he was captured by a reporter of the Banner. The lunatic recovered miraculously two weeks after his capture, was released, and sold to the Banner an expose of the ill-treatment he had suffered at the institution. It led to sweeping reforms. Afterward, some people said that the lunatic had worked on the Banner before his commitment. It could never be proved. 

A fire broke out in a sweatshop employing thirty young girls. Two of them perished in the disaster. Mary Watson, one of the survivors, gave the Banner an exclusive story about the exploitation they had suffered. It led to a crusade against sweatshops, headed by the best women of the city. The origin of the fire was never discovered. It was whispered that Mary Watson had once been Evelyn Drake who wrote for the Banner. It could not be proved. 

In the first years of the Banner’s existence Gail Wynand spent more nights on his office couch than in his bedroom. The effort he demanded of his employees was hard to perform; the effort he demanded of himself was hard to believe. He drove them like an army; he drove himself like a slave. He paid them well; he got nothing but his rent and meals. He lived in a furnished room at the time when his best reporters lived in suites at expensive hotels. He spent money faster than it came in–and he spent it all on the Banner. The paper was like a luxurious mistress whose every need was satisfied without inquiry about the price. 

The Banner was first to get the newest typographical equipment. The Banner was last to get the best newspapermen–last, because it kept them. Wynand raided his competitors’ city rooms; nobody could meet the salaries he offered. His procedure evolved into a simple formula. When a newspaperman received an invitation to call on Wynand, he took it as an insult to his journalistic integrity, but he came to the appointment. He came, prepared to deliver a set of offensive conditions on which he would accept the job, if at all. Wynand began the interview by stating the salary he would pay. Then he added: “You might wish, of course, to discuss other conditions–” and seeing the swallowing movement in the man’s throat, concluded: “No? Fine. Report to me on Monday.”

When Wynand opened his second paper–in Philadelphia–the local publishers met him like European chieftains united against the invasion of Attila. The war that followed was as savage. Wynand laughed over it. No one could teach him anything about hiring thugs to highjack a paper’s delivery wagons and beat up news vendors. Two of his competitors perished in the battle. The Wynand Philadelphia Star survived. 

The rest was swift and simple like an epidemic. By the time he reached the age of thirty-five there were Wynand papers in all the key cities of the United States. By the time he was forty there were Wynand magazines, Wynand newsreels and most of the Wynand Enterprises, Inc. 

A great many activities, not publicized, helped to build his fortune. He had forgotten nothing of his childhood. He remembered the things he had thought, standing as a bootblack at the rail of a ferryboat–the chances offered by a growing city. He bought real estate where no one expected it to become valuable, he built against all advice–and he ran hundreds into thousands. He bought his way into a great many enterprises of all kinds. Sometimes they crashed, ruining everybody concerned, save Gail Wynand. He staged a crusade against a shady streetcar monopoly and caused it to lose its franchise; the franchise was granted to a shadier group, controlled by Gail Wynand. He exposed a vicious attempt to corner the beef market in the Middle West–and left the field clear for another gang, operating under his orders. 

He was helped by a great many people who discovered that young Wynand was a bright fellow, worth using. He exhibited a charming complaisance about being used. In each case, the people found that they had been used instead–like the men who bought the Gazette for Gail Wynand. 

Sometimes he lost money on his investments, coldly and with full intention. Through a series of untraceable steps he ruined many powerful men: the president of a bank, the head of an insurance company, the owner of a steamship line, and others. No one could discover his motives. The men were not his competitors and he gained nothing from their destruction. 

“Whatever that bastard Wynand is after,” people said, “it’s not after money.” Those who denounced him too persistently were run out of their professions: some in a few weeks, others many years later. There were occasions when he let insults pass unnoticed; there were occasions when he broke a man for an innocuous remark. One could never tell what he would avenge and what he would forgive. 

One day he noticed the brilliant work of a young reporter on another paper and sent for him. The boy came, but the salary Wynand mentioned had no effect on him. “I can’t work for you, Mr. Wynand,” he said with desperate earnestness, “because you…you have no ideals.” Wynand’s thin lips smiled. “You can’t escape human depravity, kid,” he said gently. “The boss you work for may have ideals, but he has to beg money and take orders from many contemptible people. I have no ideals–but I don’t beg. Take your choice. There’s no other.” The boy went back to his paper. A year later he came to Wynand and asked if his offer were still open. Wynand said that it was. The boy had remained on the Banner ever since. He was the only one on the staff who loved Gail Wynand. 

Alvah Scarret, sole survivor of the original Gazette, had risen with Wynand. But one could not say that he loved Wynand–he merely clung to his boss with the automatic devotion of a rug under Wynand’s feet. Alvah Scarret had never hated anything, and so was incapable of love. He was shrewd, competent and unscrupulous in the innocent manner of one unable to grasp the conception of a scruple. He believed everything he wrote and everything written in the Banner. He could hold a belief for all of two weeks. He was invaluable to Wynand–as a barometer of public reaction. 

No one could say whether Gail Wynand had a private life. His hours away from the office had assumed the style of the Banner’s front page–but a style raised to a grand plane, as if he were still playing circus, only to a gallery of kings. He bought out the entire house for a great opera performance–and sat alone in the empty auditorium with his current mistress. He discovered a beautiful play by an unknown playwright and paid him a huge sum to have the play performed once and never again; Wynand was the sole spectator at the single performance; the scriptwas burned next morning. When a distinguished society woman asked him to contribute to a worthy charity cause, Wynand handed her a signed blank check–and laughed, confessing that the amount she dared to fill in was less than he would have given otherwise. He bought some kind of Balkan throne for a penniless pretender whom he met in a speakeasy and never bothered to see afterward; he often referred to “my valet, my chauffeur and my king.” At night, dressed in a shabby suit bought for nine dollars, Wynand would often ride the subways and wander through the dives of slum districts, listening to his public. Once, in a basement beer joint, he heard a truck driver denouncing Gail Wynand as the worst exponent of capitalistic evils, in a language of colorful accuracy. Wynand agreed with him and helped him out with a few expressions of his own, from his Hell’s Kitchen vocabulary. Then Wynand picked up a copy of the Banner left by someone on a table, tore his own photograph from page 3, clipped it to a hundred-dollar bill, handed it to the truck driver and walked out before anyone could utter a word. 

The succession of his mistresses was so rapid that it ceased to be gossip. It was said that he never enjoyed a woman unless he had bought her–and that she had to be the kind who could not be bought. 

He kept the details of his life secret by making it glaringly public as a whole. He had delivered himself to the crowd; he was anyone’s property, like a monument in a park, like a bus stop sign, like the pages of the Banner. His photographs appeared in his papers more often than pictures of movie stars. He had been photographed in all kinds of clothes, on every imaginable occasion. He had never been photographed naked, but his readers felt as if he had. He derived no pleasure from personal publicity; it was merely a matter of policy to which he submitted. Every corner of his penthouse had been reproduced in his papers and magazines. “Every bastard in the country knows the inside of my icebox and bathtub,” he said.                                     

One phase of his life, however, was little known and never mentioned. The top floor of the building under his penthouse was his private art gallery. It was locked. He had never admitted anyone, except the caretaker. A few people knew about it. Once a French ambassador asked him for permission to visit it. Wynand refused. Occasionally, not often, he would descend to his gallery and remain there for hours. The things he collected were chosen by standards of his own. He had famous masterpieces; he had canvases by unknown artists; he rejected the works of immortal names for which he did not care. The estimates set by collectors and the matter of great signatures were of no concern to him. The art dealers whom he patronized reported that his judgment was that of a master.

One night his valet saw Wynand returning from the art gallery below and was shocked by the expression of his face; it was a look of suffering, yet the face seemed ten years younger. “Are you ill, sir?” he asked. Wynand looked at him indifferently and said: “Go to bed.” 

“We could make a swell spread for the Sunday scandal sheet out of your art gallery,” said Alvah Scarret wistfully. “No,” said Wynand. “But why, Gail?” “Look, Alvah. Every man on earth has a soul of his own that nobody can stare at. Even the convicts in a penitentiary and the freaks in a side show. Everybody but me. My soul is spread in your Sunday scandal sheet–in three-color process. So I must have a substitute–even if it’s only a locked room and a few objects not to be pawed.”

Gail Wynand sat at the desk in his office and looked down at a pile of paper. He had many things to do, but one picture kept coming back to him and he could not get rid of it and the sense of it clung to all his actions–the picture of a ragged boy standing before the desk of an editor: “Can you spell cat?”–“Can you spell anthropomorphology?” The identities cracked and became mixed, it seemed to him that the boy stood here, at his desk, waiting, and once he said aloud: “Go away!” He caught himself in anger, he thought: You’re cracking, you fool, now’s not the time. He did not speak aloud again, but the conversation went on silently while he read, checked and signed papers: “Go away! We have no jobs here.” I’ll hang around. Use me when you want to. You don’t have to pay me.”

“They’re paying you, don’t you understand, you little fool? They’re paying you.” 

Aloud, his voice normal, he said into a telephone: ’Tell Manning that we’ll have to fill in with mat stuff….Send up the proofs as soon as you can….Send up a sandwich. Any kind.” A few had remained With him: the old men and the copy boys. They came in, in the morning, often with cuts on their faces and blood on their collars; one stumbled in, his skull open, and had to be sent away in an ambulance. It was neither courage nor loyalty; it was inertia; they had lived too long with the thought that the world would end if they lost their jobs on the Banner. The old ones did not understand. The young ones did not care. Copy boys were sent out on reporter’s beats. Most of the stuff they sent in was of such quality that Wynand was forced past despair into howls of laughter: he had never read such highbrow English; he could see the pride of the ambitious youth who was a journalist at last. He did not laugh when the stories appeared in the Banner as written; there were not enough rewrite men. He tried to hire new men. He offered extravagant salaries. The people he wanted refused to work for him. A few men answered his call, and he wished they hadn’t, though he hired them. They were men who had not been employed by a reputable newspaper for ten years; the kind who would not have been allowed, a month ago, into the lobby of his building. Some of them had to be thrown out in two days; others remained. They were drunk most of the time. Some acted as if they were granting Wynand a favor. “Don’t you get huffy, Gail, old boy,” said one–and was tossed bodily down two flights of stairs. He broke an ankle and sat on the bottom landing, looking up at Wynand with an air of complete astonishment. Others were subtler; they merely stalked about and looked at Wynand slyly, almost winking, implying that they were fellow criminals tied together in a dirty deal. 

The news editor had remained at his desk; the city editor had gone. Wynand filled in as city editor, managing editor, wire man, rewrite man, copy boy. He did not leave the building. He slept on a couch in his office–as he had done in the first years of the Banner’s existence. Goalless, tieless, his shirt collar torn open, he ran up and down the stairs, his steps like the rattle of a machine gun. Two elevator boys had remained; the others had vanished, no one knew just when or why, whether prompted by sympathy for the strike, fear or plain discouragement.” 

—Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

1 comment

    May you please explain the double meaning or full meaning of the line "oh yes. There were thirteen original states." I am reading the fountainhead and i am really curious as to what this means. Thanks.

    Pedro Mesa | 11 months ago

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