Rand received a May 24, 1946, letter from Armitage (“Mike”) Watkins of the Ann Watkins literary agency, which handled some of Rand’s works, informing AR that he had “asked one of our authors (Donald Downes) in Italy to do a little research for us with respect to a rumored Italian-made motion picture of We the Living.” In Downes’s May 16, 1946, letter, which Watkins enclosed, Downes reported that Scalera Studios “made not one, but two movies [Noi Vivi and Addio Kira] from the book” and “both were extremely successful during the war years, not only in Italy but had a big box office in Germany and Vichy France.” The partial explanation, continued Downes, was that “both were made in cooperation with the Ministry of Popular Culture as semi-official, fascist, anti-Russian and anti-leftist propaganda.” The Scalera brothers, he wrote, “were pretty deeply in the fascist stew and are not noted in Italy for their honesty. They are at present the darlings of the Hollywood crowd here and have paid highly to be darlings. They have most important friends at Allied Commission and are said to be fairly expert at buying other people’s lawyers.” Downes went on to recommend that, in any attempt to recoup funds, Watkins and Rand hire “a man so far removed by politics and history from the Scalera crowd that they would not even try to buy him . . . . I repeat I think it highly dangerous to take a lawyer because, before the war, he was the respectable correspondent of your New York attorneys.”
Only the first paragraph of AR’s letter responding to Watkins was published in Letters of Ayn Rand; the complete letter was previously published on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
May 28, 1946
Mr. Armitage Watkins
Ann Watkins, Inc.
77 Park Avenue
New York 16, New York
Dear Mr. Watkins:
Your letter of May 24th was certainly a bombshell to me. I am extremely indignant at the piracy of WE THE LIVING by the Italian producers, and at the use which they made of it. Thank you for finding this out for me. I shall now blast them with the kind of lawsuit which they deserve. I am amazed at the whole procedure, and can not understand how a picture company which is still in business could have done such a thing. How did they hope to get away with it?
I am writing to a very prominent attorney in Washington, who is a friend of mine and whom I would like to have handle the case for me, if he will undertake it. I think this will require the services of an international lawyer who has Washington connections.
I did not quite understand the sentence in Mr. Downes’ letter which reads: “I think it highly dangerous to take a lawyer, because before the war he was the respectable correspondent of your New York attorneys.” Is this a warning specifically against the correspondent of Ernst, Cane & Berner, or against any representative of American law firms?
Have you any information on whether the Italian publishers of WE THE LIVING, Baldini and Castoldi, were involved in this matter in any way? Is it possible that they co-operated in the piracy or received any financial return from it? Were they in a position to stop the production of the motion picture and yet allowed it to be produced?
I have just received from Miss Nancy Brettner copies of the contract with Baldini and Castoldi for the Italian rights to THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I will have to wait before I sign this contract, to learn what their part was, if any, in the piracy of WE THE LIVING. If they had anything to do with it, I certainly will not sell them another book of mine.
Page 2 Mr. Armitage Watkins 5/28/46
Do you know whether there are other such cases of American books being stolen during the war? The reference in Mr. Downes’ letter to the piracy of THE LITTLE FOXES would indicate that this sort of thing must have gone on in Europe on a grand scale. Can you find out for me what the other American authors are doing about it?
Please let me know what you think about this case, and I would appreciate any suggestions you and your mother can give me.