Toohey the Lazy Boss?

In the midst of the nationalization of our economy and the coming election of one of the worst presidents in US history, here is a little something to chuckle at.

At Kiplinger.com, a career coach named Marty Nemko lists helpful advice in a "career survival kit." It contains some non-controversial ideas for keeping a job in a tough market, but in describing one bit of advice, he made quite a funny gaffe. If you're a fan of The Fountainhead, that is.

3. Be indispensable. When Ellsworth Toohey, the lazy boss in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, complained of too much work, Howard Roark offered to do some for him. Toohey became addicted to Roark's help, which made Roark indispensable to Toohey.

What? Who? Huh? I simply have no idea which characters he actually meant to describe here, or how anyone could have such a confused recollection of the book. But I laughed out loud when I read this. It's not a smear... it's just so wrong!

Imagine Roark trying to curry favor with a boss (Toohey his boss? What?) in order to become indispensible. That is funny stuff.

[HT: Randex]

ps: Does anyone have any ideas about what Nemko might have actually meant to write had he had his characters straight?


Craig L said...

I think he means Keating, not Toohey. I'm not sure about the whole "boss" thing. However, the rest of what he said vaguely matches up with elements of the story where Roark acted as a "ghost architect" for Keating's projects.

Cogito said...

I'm almost certain he meant exactly what he said, but replacing Keating for Roark and Francon for Toohey:

"When Francon, the lazy boss in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, complained of too much work, Peter Keating offered to do some for him. Francon became addicted to Keating's help, which made Keating indispensable to Francon"

Of course, this completely misinterprets the point of Rand describing this interaction in the first place...

C. August said...

I wondered if he meant Keating too, but rather the relationship between Francon and Keating, where Peter became indispensable to Francon.

If I substitute Keating for Toohey in the quote, it still makes zero sense to me. The only part where it "vaguely matches up" that I can see is that Keating did ask for Howard's help on a number of buildings.

Craig L said...

C. August,

And that Keating did become "addicted" to Roark's help to perpetuate his fraudulent public image as a gifted architect. You could say Roark then became "indispensable" to Keating in order to perpetuate that lie.

Other than those things, the comparison does break down. Francon and Keating is a good possibility.

How could this guy get himself so utterly confused anyway?

Adam Ross, Jessica Lee, Evan Ross Cooke said...

Keating was Roark's boss when he got a job as a draftsman at Francon & Heyer, and Keating did get addicted to Roark's help.

The Toohey thing is just stupid though. One should actually read a book if one wants to use it to make a point.

C. August said...

Since we all agree that the original quote with Toohey is laughably off base, I'm going pretend that he meant Keating and Roark for sake of argument.

Craig, I think you've described it pretty well. "Addicted" isn't really the right word, and all of it's a stretch, but since we're dealing with a nonsensical quote to begin with, I think it works as much as it can.

Adam/Jessica/Evan, you're right that Keating got Roark a draftsman job and had him fix his plans, but it wasn't because Keating was lazy. He just knew he sucked, and that Roark had some "magic ability" that he didn't understand, but he was at least aware enough to recognize.

But I take your point. The fact that Keating did hire Roark and kept asking him for help could fit Nemko's quote also.

In fact, it's likely that Nemko did mean to use Keating/Roark in his example. It would mean that he so fundamentally misunderstood the character of Howard Roark that he could actually think that Roark wanted Keating to find him indispensable. But based on everything else, that's not much of a stretch.

In real terms, the Francon/Keating example makes more sense, but I'd be surprised if that's what was meant.

Oh well... it's kind of fun to toy with this. I'm actually in the middle of re-reading The Fountainhead -- I think it's been almost 5 years since the last time I read it -- so this is an enjoyable, if completely silly, exercise.

Adam Ross Cooke said...

Right, I get that Keating wasn't lazy. He was just such an intellectually bankrupt second-hander that he always needed someone telling him what to do. But, in all fairness, if this joke of a writer has so little clue as to the confuse Toohey and Keating, then we really can't expect him to understand the intricacies of Peter's personality. Do they cover that in the Cliff's/Cole's Notes?


C. August said...

I'd guess you are joking about the Cliff Notes, but I just saw this on the Interwebs the other day.

Andrew Bernstein wrote the Cliff Notes for The Fountainhead. So, I'd guess that they really do cover the intricacies of Keating's personality and nature as a second-hander!

The Cliff Notes actually look really interesting. Look at this character map. My favorite part is the arrow from Toohey to Roark, with the relationship description of "Tries to destroy."

Adam Ross Cooke said...

Yes, I was kidding, but holy crap! No wonder my wife (a university English instructor) hates Cliff's Notes. I remember trying to use them once in grade school and it not working out so well. I guess they've improved a bit.

With a resource like that at his fingertips, Nemko loses the right to call anybody, fictional or otherwise, lazy.


C. August said...

I just bought the Cliffs Notes for both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. They each have critical essays in them that sound really interesting. Plus they have detailed chapter-by-chapter analyses as well as general explorations of the characters and themes. Since Bernstein wrote both of the Cliffs Notes "books", I'm looking forward to getting his perspective on these AR classics that I have read so many, many times.

Who knew I'd ever buy Cliffs Notes for anything? (though I may have tried one in early schooling as well, with similar results to what you described. At least I think I did... the memory gets foggy..)

Kyle Haight said...

When I read that, the thing that came to mind was the relationship between Keating and the head draftsman in Francon's office -- I forget his name. Tim something-or-other? Keating offered to do his work for him, and the head draftsman got so used to it that he stopped working himself and Keating wound up with his job.

Marty Nemko said...

That's what I get by trying to recall details of a book I read 30 years ago. You're giving me my much-deserved comeuppance. I'll try to fix it. Yeah, I meant Keating, not Toohey. (I guess it was because Toohey's name is so evocative of a loser.) And I meant that Keating was incompetent not lazy. I'm going to see if I can get the publisher to fix it.

Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

C. August said...

Marty, thanks for stopping by! I think "comeuppance" is too harsh a term (though I admit we were rather tough on you.) It was just a mistake, and I enjoyed the discussion that it spawned.

If you do try to fix it with the publisher, I'd respectfully suggest that you re-think the use of the Keating/Roark relationship also. For those who know the book well, even implying that Roark tried to keep his job as one of Keating's draftsmen by becoming indispensable is a glaring misrepresentation, and won't convey the meaning you are trying to get across to your readers.

Howard Roark took the job because he had nothing else, and it's true that he helped Keating occasionally. However, he didn't do it in the hopes of keeping his job; he did it because, to paraphrase something Roark said in the book (I don't have the book in front of me right now):

"I can untangle the mess of a plan you put in front of me, and I'll know that something that gets built by this firm will at least have a shadow of honesty and integrity."

Because Roark is a pure egoist, only working on his own terms, asking for opinions and favors from no one, using his character as an example of something trying to keep a job by becoming indispensable just doesn't work.

This may be more of a malevolent example than you would want to use in your article, but if you're still inclined to use a Fountainhead example, Kyle Haight's idea of Peter Keating and Tim Davis is a good one. Since we have been talking about Cliffs Notes, here is their description of the Davis/Keating scenario:

"Keating’s method of climbing the corporate ladder shows much about his character. A minor draftsman at the outset of his employment, his focus is not to improve his skills and rise through merit, but to exploit the weaknesses of his fellow employees and thereby remove them from his path. He discovers that Tim Davis is Francon’s chief draftsman, and that Davis is engaged to be married. Keating ingratiates himself with Davis, seeking the more experienced man’s trust. When Davis, who is apartment-hunting and planning his wedding, must be absent from work, Keating volunteers his assistance. He begins to do Davis’ work when the older man must be away from the office. Over time, this becomes a permanent arrangement. Eventually, Francon notices that Keating is doing Davis’ work and fires Davis, hiring Keating in his place. This was Keating’s intention all along."

Adam Ross Cooke said...

Marty, after reading through the comments again I find that I, in particular, have been harsh. Although, as I have intimated, it does behoove one (to put it lightly) to verify the basis for a literary example (especially in cases where the literary source is a hallmark of excellence held in the highest esteem by tens of thousands), my use of other adjectives for you may have been just emotionally reactionary. I do not know you or your writing well enough to call you a "joke," "clueless," or "lazy." I had you pegged for a horse of a different stripe and I apologise.

Anyone is capable of making a mistake, but to walk into the proverbial lion's den to own up to it takes a rare volume of character. Furthermore, to take steps to rectify the mistake shows journalistic integrity that is refreshing in this day and age. Bravo.

C. August, excellent characterisation of Roark, and an excellent suggestion for Marty in using the Keating/Davis relationship. Although, I don't know how comfortable I am with that tactic being propounded as something to be emulated. "Malevolent" is right!

Marty Nemko said...

Good news. I did get the publisher to change it but to Roark/Keating and from lazy to incompetent, not to Davis/Keating.

In response to C. August and others, the point I was making in the Kiplinger's piece was to advise people to make themselves indispensable to their boss, as--am I correct?--Roark did to his boss, Keating.

I didn't imply that people should subvert their values in order to please their boss.

C. August said...

Hi Marty. Glad to hear that you were able to change the article.

I agree with your point in your article that a good way to keep a job is to make yourself indispensable. One of your examples was "become an expert at something critical to the organization." I think that is good advice.

But I still think that the Keating/Roark relationship doesn't fit the intent of what you're trying to say. Keating certainly relied heavily on Roark's expert help, but Roark could not have cared less about it. Roark was never trying to "become indispensable." I suppose he did by default, though, so if that's what you're focusing on, I can see how you might want to use it as an example.

What I struggle with in trying to fit Roark and Keating into your column is that you are giving people advice on how to strive to keep a job (which is certainly important), but as a literary example, Roark is the antithesis of that kind of striving.

In the context of the book, the episode where Roark worked for Keating as a lowly draftsman was a very minor part, and was over quickly. The purpose of the episode was to highlight Keating's lack of integrity and his second-handedness, while showing Roark as an egoist who refused to compromise his values and was fired because of it.

Still, your example is technically correct; Keating did find Roark indispensable because Keating couldn't do the work himself (regardless of what Roark thought about it, and whether he cared or not). While I wouldn't have used that example because of the reasons listed here and in previous comments, I agree with what Adam said... your work to fix the mistake is commendable.

Adam Ross Cooke said...


The point is, Roark did not make himself indispensable on purpose. It was not volitional. What you seem to be implying in your article (of which I have only read the excerpt here) is a symbiotic employer/employee relationship. The Roark/Keating relationship was parasitical. Roark did what he did because he valued the buildings not his position, Keating, or the firm.

Where we're getting our wires crossed, and it seems to be an honest mistake on your part, is in the intention/outcome (or cause/effect) arena. Roark's ability was the bedrock that allowed Keating to succeed. In this vein, yes, Roark was indispensable to Keating. However, although the outcome is as you have observed, the intention is completely off-base.

Besides, wasn't Roark fired?

Adam Ross Cooke said...

Hilarious! August, you beat me by 60 seconds. It is interesting how similar our posts are, though.

C. August said...

Adam, thanks for expanding on the intention part. That's what I was trying to say too, but I think you pinpointed it more than I did. And yes, we do have very similar views on the book, it seems.

To answer your question, in case you or anyone else is interested, Roark was fired by the lead partner of the firm, Guy Francon. Roark had taken the job Peter offered him on the condition that he would only work as an engineering draftsman, working on the steel structures of buildings. He did need a job in order to subsist, but he refused to contribute to the awful design of buildings by regurgitating the Parthenon or Renaissance styles.

Peter was out of the office on a job site and Francon asked Roark to help out on a building for a client who had turned down a number of sketches already. The client wanted a modern building, like one designed by Henry Cameron (Roark's "mentor", for lack of a better word). Francon said:

"You know Cameron's tricks. But of course we can't let a crude think like this [Cameron's Dana Building] come out of our office... The point is to make it simple and in the general mood of this, but also artistic. You know, the more severe kind of Greek. ... Plain pediments and simple moldings, or something like that..."

Roark refused, saying that he couldn't do it unless he could make an original, modern building; not a copy of Cameron or old Greek styles. Francon blew up and fired him.

Adam Ross Cooke said...

Right, Marty, you may want to include that section as a "Don't" for your next article.