Night of January 16th

Night of January 16th
Night of January 16th

First hardback edition of book (1968)
Written by Ayn Rand
Characters Karen Andre
Mr. Stevens
Mr. Flint
Date premiered September 16, 1935 (1935-09-16)
Place premiered Ambassador Theatre
Original language English
Genre Courtroom drama
Setting A courtroom in New York City
IBDB profile

Night of January 16th is a play written by Ayn Rand, inspired by the death of the "Match King", Ivar Kreuger. First produced under a different name in 1934, it takes place entirely in a court room and is centered on a murder trial. It was a hit of the 1935-36 Broadway season. The play deals with issues of a man's ability to regard oneself as important and exist in a society where moral decay is ever prevalent. It also deals with issues of love, loyalty and betrayal.

One particularly interesting feature of the play is that members of the audience are picked to take on the role of jury members each night. Depending on whether the "Jury" finds the defendant of the case, as in the play, "guilty" or "not guilty" - the play would have different endings. Another unique feature of the play is that it does not state what the true events were on the night of January 16th, forcing the actors performing the show to decide how much of their character's testimony is actually true. Since several witnesses contradict each other, it is almost certain that some of them are lying.



Bjorn Faulkner has swindled millions of dollars from investors, by investing cash he did not have in order to control the gold trade. In the wake of a crash, he is facing bankruptcy despite the injection of money by Mr. John Graham Whitfield, a prominent banker whose daughter, Nancy Lee, married Faulkner shortly after the loan.

On the night of January 16th, Karen Andre and Bjorn are in the penthouse at the top of the Faulkner Building in New York when Faulkner falls to his death. The purpose of the play is to decide if it may have been a suicide - or murder.

Karen Andre is placed on trial on charges of having murdered Faulkner. She is being prosecuted by Mr. Flint and defended by Mr. Stevens.

Within the three acts of the play, the two lawyers call upon a number of witnesses, including doctors, security of the Faulkner building, private investigators, the coroner, and a notorious gangster, where each of their testimony build to contradictory stories.


Main characters

  • Bjorn Faulkner — Bjorn is of Swedish heritage and was considered to be the main controller of the gold industry of the world. At the beginning of the play, it is known that he had reached this position by swindling investors and employing questionable financial practices. He was married to Nancy Lee Faulkner at the time of his death. Dead at the start of the play, Bjorn is never seen during the show.
  • Karen Andre — Defendant. Karen Andre has been Bjorn Faulkner's secretary and mistress for the last ten years, since she was hired at age 18. She is the Randian heroine: independent, atheistic, and dismissive of societal norms.
  • Mr. Stevens — Defense counsel for Karen Andre. He seems to admire the ideals which Bjorn and Karen espouse in their lives.
  • Mr. Flint — Prosecution. He stands for more traditional values and desires Karen to be convicted as much because she represents an affront to the status quo as because of her guilt.

Witness for the prosecution

  • Dr. Thomas Kirkland — Medical examiner for the county. He delivers testimony on the condition of the body at the time of the fall, he also writes the report.
  • John Joseph Hutchins — A meek, elderly and timid man. He is the night watchman of the Faulkner building. He is one of the witnesses who sees Bjorn and Karen on the night of January 16th. [From script of "Night of January 16th", copyright Ayn Rand, 1968.]
  • Homer Herbert Van Fleet — A private investigator who was hired by Nancy Lee Faulkner and has been trailing Bjorn since the day after the marriage of Bjorn and Nancy. His main testimony is of the events of January 16th, which he was also a witness to. Not terribly bright, for which he tries to compensate by keeping meticulous notes on his observations which he frequently refers to. He also has an element of cockiness.
  • Magda Svenson — Swedish with a very thick accent. Very religious and severe. She was Bjorn Faulkner's nursemaid when he was a child and currently serves as his housekeeper. Her testimony covers the period between Karen Andre's initial employment and the night of January 16th. She highly disapproves of the loose sexual morality of Karen, but still loves Bjorn as if he were her own child.
  • Detective Elmer Sweeney — Inspector of police and the first policeman to arrive on the scene. He is the one who found Bjorn's suicide note. He comes off as being a bit of a bumpkin in his testimony of the 16th and is somewhat naive.
  • Nancy Lee Faulkner — Widow of Bjorn Faulkner and daughter of John Graham Whitfield. She met Bjorn at a society event and decided that she had to have him. Her testimony covers their courtship and marriage, portraying both as idyllic.
  • John Graham Whitfield — Father-in-law of Bjorn Faulkner. He is the president of Whitfield National Bank. He purports himself as the kind of person who never loses his temper, but proves himself a liar several times in the course of both times he is called to the stand. In his first appearance on the stand, he testifies mainly on the financial matters of Bjorn.

Witnesses for the defense

  • Siegurd Jungquist — Swedish with a faint accent. He was hired as Bjorn Faulkner's bookkeeper, and was promoted to secretary after Karen was fired. He admires Bjorn highly and would do anything to help him. His testimony regards events between Karen's firing and the night of January 16th and related financial matters. He blows up after being called a liar by D.A. Flint.
  • Lawrence "Guts" Regan — A gangster who is in love with Karen Andre. His testimony covers the time from when he met Karen to the day before the trial. He tells the story of after he and Bjorn left Andre's penthouse. He accuses John Graham Whitfield of killing Faulkner.
  • Karen Andre — Faulkner's mistress and business partner. She accuses Nancy Lee Whitfield of being elevated to the high state of matrimony by purchase.
  • John Graham Whitfield — His second appearance has him answering questions raised by defense testimony.


Rand wrote the play in 1933 under the title Penthouse Legend. Her agent submitted it to several theatrical producers in New York, but it was repeatedly rejected. She finally accepted an offer from E.E. Clive to produce the play at the Hollywood Playhouse in Los Angeles. It opened in October 1934 under the title Woman on Trial. Rand later described the production as "badly handicapped by lack of funds" and "competent, but somewhat unexciting." However, it was modestly successful and got some positive reviews.[1]

At the end of the run in Los Angeles, Al Woods offered to produce the play on Broadway, provided that he could make changes to it. One of the changes was to the title, which became Night of January 16th. Rand disliked this title, but when the play became a success she decided the name was too famous to change again. Rand also disliked a number of other changes that Woods made, including adding a new character and altering dialog. They clashed repeatedly over the changes. After some initial delays as Woods arranged financing, the play opened on Broadway in September 1935 and ran for six months. Woods then launched productions of the play in other cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and London.[2]

The element of selecting a jury from the audience created concerns among many of the producers that had considered the play and even for the director that Woods had hired. They thought it would destroy the theatrical illusion and feared that audience members might refuse to participate. After the play became successful, it was famous for its use of a jury drawn from the audience and this criticism dissipated. Nonetheless the play's original run received some negative reviews, and Rand considered even the positive reviews to be embarrassing because of the changes made by Woods.[3]

The play was first published for use by amateur theater organizations in 1936, using a version edited by Nathaniel Edward Reeid,[4] which included changes so it would be "cleaned up" (as Rand later described it) to eliminate elements such as swearing and smoking. Rand disowned this version due to the changes.[5] She also disowned a 1941 movie version produced by Paramount Pictures. She did not participate in the production. Three other writers were brought in to write the screenplay, which Rand claimed had only a single line from her original dialog. The film received little attention when it was released, and most of the reviews were negative.[6]

In the 1960s, Rand revised the text to eliminate most of the changes and had the "final, definitive version" published in 1968 with an introduction discussing the play's history.[7] She made several dozen further small changes in language for a production of the play in 1973.[8]


  1. ^ Rand, Ayn (1971), "Introduction" to Night of January 16th, New York: New American Library, pp. 6-8; Branden, Barbara (1986), The Passion of Ayn Rand, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, ISBN 0-385-19171-5, pp. 111, 117-118.
  2. ^ Rand (1971), pp. 8-12; Branden (1986), pp. 120-124.
  3. ^ Branden (1986), pp. 122-124.
  4. ^ Perinn, Vincent L. (1990), Ayn Rand: First Descriptive Bibliography, Rockville, Maryland: Quill & Brush, ISBN 0-9610494-8-0, p. 6.
  5. ^ Rand (1971), pp. 13-14
  6. ^ Johnson, Donald Leslie (2005), The Fountainheads: Wright, Rand, the FBI and Hollywood, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, ISBN 0-7864-1958-X, pp. 55-56; cf. Rand (1971), pp. 13-14
  7. ^ Rand (1971), pp. 15-16.
  8. ^ Rand (2005), Three Plays by Ayn Rand, Signet, "A Note From Ayn Rand's Executor"

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