Am I worth a million dollars to you?

Photo: Jonathan Borba

As he approached his teenage years, decades before winning a Pulitzer Prize for his music, American composer Ned Rorem began a diary—the first of many he would go on to keep. His diary entries could be candid, gossip-filled, profound, and often starry—increasingly so as he grew in age and fame. This particular entry was written in February of 1974, days after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old grandchild of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. At the time of writing, her assailants—far-left terror group Symbionese Liberation Army—were demanding that the Hearst family distribute food to every needy person in California, to the tune of $400’000’000. They declined. 19 months later, having been caught on camera robbing a bank with the SLA, Patty Hearst was arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison1.

The Diary Entry

13 February

Warm, and robin’s-egg bright.

As a child I used to ask my parents, Am I worth a million dollars to you? Why yes, of course, they reassured. After I’d been “bad” I would ask them, Am I still worth a million dollars?

Four decades later, without children and not rich, how would I confront the two-hundred-million-dollar ransom demand for a daughter, as Mr. William Hearst is asked to confront it this morning? From the sidelines the demand at first seems less outrageous than stupid. This money, asked as a benefit for the poor, would be absorbed without a ripple, leaving the poor as poor and Hearst poorer. Still, in the name of the Revolution, the demand’s not dumb. The gesture, like the granting of civil rights, is a fact that could burst an abscess. Probably I’d shell out. But then, I’m without children and not rich.

Further Reading

The first volume of Ned Rorem’s diaries to be published was A Paris Diary in 1966, followed the next year by A New York Diary. However, handily, those two books—which collectively cover 1951 to 1961—have since been released as a single volume. Next up was The Later Diaries Of Ned Rorem: 1961-1972, and then The Nantucket Diary of Ned Rorem, 1973-1985. In 2000, there was Lies: A Diary (1986-1999), and the final volume, Facing the Night: A Diary (1999-2005), came in 2006.

THE NANTUCKET DIARY OF NED ROREM: 1973-1985 by Ned Rorem. Copyright © 1987 by Ned Rorem. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.


1. There is so much more to this story. Wikipedia is a good starting point should you wish to lose a few hours.

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