The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank
Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Staging of the Diary
By RALPH MELNICK
Yale University Press Read the Review
With My Own EyesMeyer Levin’s search for an authentic Holocaust voice began shortly after he entered the first of the many Nazi death camps to which he would bear witness as a war correspondent in the final days of the killing. Among them was Bergen-Belsen, the camp in which Anne Frank had been murdered. The mere hint of the camps’ existence had left him “haunted by the need to go forward, to learn the whole truth” of those horror-filled days. Five years later, in 1950 he wrote in his “book about being a Jew,” In Search, that “of all the commandments, I feel this to be the only one that was eternally applicable in the same form in which it had been issued … the commandment of truth, the commandment against bearing false witness.”
It was a revelation that had first come to him while returning a Torah to a decimated Jewish community in Germany in the early days after the killing had stopped. “For me, this was the essence of our fate…. This then was my inmost behest.” And though he knew that “the practice of absolute truth must be crippling in an imperfect world,” he had persisted, writing not the falsely “hopeful story … of the indestructibility of the Jewish community” that others would insist upon in the decades ahead, but “of the Jews of Europe as they were: broken, finished.”
Thomas Mann later praised Meyer’s memoir In Search as “a human document of high order, written by a witness of our fantastic epoch whose gaze remained both clear and steady, notwithstanding the shocking turmoil about him.” It would serve the future, Mann added, “as a source of enlightenment and as a living image of all that we had to experience,” for here was a book “bent on preserving what humanity is only too ready to forget.”
“It was not for me to bear false witness,” Meyer would affirm again and again, for the visions had remained as sharply drawn as when he had first brought them to his readers in America, Jew and non-Jew alike:
Buchenwald, May 2 –All week I have been talking to Jews who survived the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind. Each one owes his continued existence to a succession of miracles, accidents, oversights. My mind has become in the faintest way like their minds; I am beginning to understand how they feel. No one who has not been through their experience can ever understand them, for these people have gone through a sieve of death four years, five years, six years continuously. Tons of ashes, the ashes of seven million of their people have gone through the sieve, and these few are the last bits of cinder and stone somehow adhering to the mesh. My mind, after this week, faintly reflects their minds. It is a composite image of trains running three-tracked into smoking crematoriums, of remote Polish villages whose mud ruts were filled with human bodies, of a German officer, playfully lining up a group of Jewish children until they were precisely one head behind the other and then putting a single bullet through the line, of a woman holding her baby aloft over her head while savage police dogs ripped her apart, and through every image I see the brown, earnest undeniable eyes of a survivor who tells me this, and over each image is stamped the ever-recurring line, “I saw it, I saw it with my own eyes.”
It was Meyer’s wife, Tereska Torres, who passed along the recent French translation of Anne Frank’s Diary to her husband in the late summer of 1950. Tereska, a member of the Free French Army whose first husband had died in combat while she carried their child, had grown increasingly aware of the survivor’s guilt afflicting Meyer, in part because of the marginal role he had played in the struggle to stop the slaughter. “This is the guilt of the living,” he would write after returning home from the war, “a guilt that has invaded all humanity.” Yet for all the Holocaust’s universality of meaning, it was the Jews who had “sense[d] this guilt more painfully because they were closer to the center … yes, even … the Jews of America … who escaped because their forebears made the journey from Europe in steerage.” And if Jews everywhere questioned why they had survived, few did so with greater intensity than Meyer. “Isn’t there something we must do to pay for being alive?”
The answer came for Meyer in the words of an adolescent, clearly and powerfully spoken, thoughts that he could not adequately express himself. “How could he know, how could anyone here know, what was real?” he had written three years earlier in a novel of Holocaust victimization and survival. Here, at last, was “the voice from the mass grave” for which he had long been searching, and the means by which he could repay the debt owed for his own survival. Perhaps the Diary could provide some release from a part of his own suffering, if only he could share Anne’s book with those whose lives had remained largely untouched by the revelatory event out of which it had come. At work on a film adaptation of an earlier novel based on his life as a young Zionist on a kibbutz in the 1920s, Meyer at once put the script aside and finished reading the Diary. “From the first page the seizure was complete,” he wrote in his 1973 account of The Obsession that had captured his soul. “As I read on, I became certain–this was the needed document. For here, instead of a remote story-book journey, was an urban family with which every American reader could feel empathy.”
On September 8, 1950, Levin wrote the Diary’s French publisher, Calmann-Levy, asking for the agent handling the work in France and for the address of Anne’s father, Otto. Meyer was determined to see that an English-language edition appeared as soon as possible. “So I began a campaign to find a publisher,” he later wrote of the events that were to lead him “into a trouble that was to grip, occupy, haunt, and all but devour me, these twenty years.” On the nineteenth, Otto politely thanked Meyer for his interest, explaining that his “Paris agent Maison D. Clairouin are busy at present to place the English and American rights of Anne’s Diary, so that I cannot give you an option at present.”
Meyer was pleased to have established contact with Otto and sent him a copy of In Search two days later, “so that you may have some notion of my work.” He wished to assure Otto that his interest in the Diary was not commercial but “one of sympathy” with the experiences and ideas expressed throughout. It was his wish to translate the work and to “suggest … to my contacts in these fields” that it contained “the material for a very touching play or film.” While he believed that the likelihood of finding a commercial producer for such a project was “remote,” he hoped that with Otto’s consent, he could “feel free” to approach those whom he knew.
Otto had not yet begun to read In Search when he sent a long, detailed answer to Meyer’s several requests. Had Otto read his book, he might have responded with less enthusiasm, given its emphasis on Jewish themes and identity. He had, however, seen Meyer’s film on the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine, and had been favorably impressed. Otto said that his friend of several decades, Nathan Straus, the president of New York’s WMCA Radio and scion of the influential Straus family, was at the moment discussing with Random House the possibility of British copublication. But he wanted Meyer to know that “in case you should have some ideas on the direction of the film, you are absolutely free.” And though he gladly placed himself at Meyer’s “disposal” should he need “any assistance,” he found it difficult to see how Anne’s book, whose “value … is laying in her thoughts,” could be transferred to the screen.
Perhaps Otto’s disavowal was sincere, but he had nonetheless included dramatic, radio, film, and television rights in his 1947 contract with Ernest Kuhn, a New York attorney who continued to represent him in any negotiations with American and Canadian publishers. Otto could hardly have been as surprised by the idea of dramatization for screen or other medium as he must have appeared to Meyer. Although nothing had come of a Twentieth Century Fox reading of the Diary a few years earlier, Otto had some hope that it could be sold now that he had witnessed the interest of a major film company. Without offering a firm commitment, Otto encouraged Meyer to do all that he could to secure a producer, aware not only of the role of an agent, but of the difference between one under contract and another who worked without a binding agreement. If dramatized, the film would in all likelihood be the first of its kind, Otto noted six days after his first letter to Meyer, “the situation of a hiding family … not yet worked out in a film as far as I know.” He hoped to hear from Meyer again, even if a film of Anne’s work would ultimately “be rather different from the real contents of her book,” a prospect seemingly of less concern to him than one might otherwise have expected.
Meyer assured Otto that no such compromise was necessary, that given “a sensitive and daring producer, a very wonderful film could be made, staying very close to the book,” even filming in the house to give it “the fidelity of a record … if the thought does not shock you.” Meyer must have wondered at Otto’s willingness to compromise his daughter’s work for the sake of a cinematic treatment, and assured him that “such a film could do a great deal toward bettering human understanding” without “the thoughts and ideas of the book … [being] changed or lost.” He would soon be going to New York for several months and, with Otto’s permission, would raise the possibilities of publication and a film, “if after reading my book you feel I am the right person.” Meyer believed that his ideas resonated in Anne’s and that Otto’s consent to this search would be acknowledgment of this fact. It was a reasonable expectation, given Meyer’s repeated request that Otto consider his thoughts on Jewish identity and Zionism before agreeing to such an arrangement. So convinced was Meyer of this spiritual bond between himself and Anne that he further offered to undertake, as a “mitzvah” (a morally sanctioned religious act), the translation of the Diary. Together with his help in securing a publisher and a producer, he was offering Otto “a combination in which I may be of use … with no commitment on your part.”
“I want to answer your kind letter of Sept. 26 immediately and thank you for it,” began Otto’s encouraging response. Although an English translation was already under way (ultimately to be replaced by another), he encouraged Meyer to “find the right connection or person,” as long as it was not “an unknown house.” Otto confided to Meyer: “I rather prefer to wait” than give the book to an obscure publisher, though he was soon to receive a rejection from Random House, the book’s sixteenth from an English or American press. Victor Gollancz, Albert Heinemann, Allen and Unwin, Macmillan, Scribner’s, Sedgewick and Jackson, Doubleday Doran, Viking, Vanguard, Warendorf, Simon and Schuster, Appleton Century, Knopf, Schocken, and Hutchinson had all previously rejected the Diary. Otto was far more encouraging to Meyer concerning the prospect of a him, for no other agent in Europe or America was now actively at work on this possibility. Thanking Meyer again for his interest “in Anne’s book and my person,” he supported the suggestion of using the actual hiding place (“I would try my best to overwin my inner feelings”) and expressed new confidence that “a good solution to bring out the thoughts and ideas” of the Diary might be found, rather than seeing “the exciting and thrilling actions … prevail to please the public.” Otto’s favorable impression of Meyer’s Zionist film, My Father’s House, had convinced him of the seriousness with which Meyer was likely to undertake the project and promised that “if you see it in another way you just go on and I shall not interfere.”
Even before receiving Meyer’s response, Otto essentially granted him the role of American agent. Clairouin had been told that no decision regarding English-language publication would be taken “before I heard from this gentleman.” Meyer was to meet in New York with Random House and “to let me know your opinion about the chances as soon as possible.” Should they decline or offer an unacceptable arrangement, he was to send Otto his further “suggestions.”
Without a contract, and acting solely on good faith, Meyer had already made preliminary inquiries with the British Jewish publisher Valentine Mitchell, which, as Meyer immediately wrote Otto, was “eager to have Anne’s Diary.” Meyer, however, was reluctant to assume the position offered by Otto, having learned from him that others were already engaged in this role on both sides of the Atlantic. “I feel a little like an unnecessary intermediary,” he commented to Otto, though he promised to do what he could with the publishers. More important, he was pleased to report that his conversation with a film producer had resulted in “at least a preliminary interest in the project.”
Otto wrote again on October 9 concerning Random House and thanked Meyer “for all you are doing!” But Meyer thought it best for Otto to deal directly with the publisher and to allow his Paris agent to pursue the progress already made with Valentine Mitchell. Meyer would, of course, be willing to help with publication of the Diary if a problem developed. Two weeks later, Meyer wrote Otto from New York of the interest shown by two film producers, for whom Otto then sent copies of the French translation. With Random House awaiting “further word” concerning publication arrangements with Valentine Mitchell, Meyer advised Otto to sign with the British house so that an American contract could at last be negotiated.
On November 13, Meyer published a brief summary of the Diary in the American Jewish publication Congress Weekly as a part of the larger discussion of “the restricted market” for “too special” Jewish material. He wrote of the ease with which the prominent non-Jewish writer John Hersey had found a publisher for The Wall, a fictionalized account of the Warsaw Ghetto with a universal message of human triumph over evil, and compared it with the difficulty in placing Anne’s Diary, “a real document” of specifically Jewish suffering. To date it had been rejected by many of the same publishers who had recently declined to bring out In Search (as they had other Jewish works he had proposed over the previous two decades). Was Anne’s book, like his, “too Jewish”? Was it merely a commercial decision, as some insisted, pointing to The Wall’s marketable author? Or was there an overriding reluctance to speak to the particularity of the Jewish condition, to its uniqueness and to the moral questions and imperatives evoked and imposed by that uniqueness? “I bring this out to emphasize that work in our field continues to suffer a handicap, based upon obscure and sometimes not-so-obscure desires to be relieved of the continuous confrontation of the conscious problems evoked by the Jew.” Whatever the personal cost, he had no intention of removing himself from this struggle. “For myself, I believe that we must keep up the fight for attention, even if it sometimes makes us appear to be disagreeable characters.”
Otto’s search for an American or British publication arrangement continued to involve Meyer in the weeks that followed. Otto sought Meyer’s opinions regarding the best house, the proper tone of translation, and the intricacies of negotiating simultaneous contracts separated by three thousand miles. “What do you think?” and “Thanks for everything” became repeated refrains in his correspondence with Meyer. The high level of assistance rendered by Meyer was acknowledged by Otto in a letter to Nathan Straus, with whom Otto continued to discuss the possibility of Random House, though he had himself begun to encourage Little, Brown. “I am writing to another man too,” he told Straus, “Mr. Meyer Levin, an American writer who is very interested in Anne’s book. It was he who advised [me] to take up the matter with Valentine Mitchell. He spoke to Random House about it [a] short time ago.”
Otto similarly credited Meyer’s ongoing efforts in letters to him on November 23 and 24, though by now Little, Brown had made a solid offer, which Otto was inclined to accept. (The publisher may have been influenced by Janet Flanner’s “Letter from Paris” in the New Yorker of November 11, praising it as the work of “a precocious, talented little Frankfurt Jewess … [who] rightly aimed to be a writer when she grew up.”) “I hope that I do not bother you too much with my affairs,” Otto wrote Meyer, “but I know how interested you are in this book. I want you to know all steps taken.” Meyer responded immediately, unaware that Otto had already cabled Little, Brown with an acceptance of its offer, together with his suggestion that “details regarding translation” be discussed with Valentine Mitchell, whom he had decided upon as the Diary’s British publisher. Meyer spoke of Little, Brown as a “first class” house but advised going with whomever demonstrated the greater “enthusiasm and decisiveness.” He further urged Otto to retain all rights beyond simple publication, “particularly drama and film,” and to offer only a small percentage to whichever house he went with. “As the book is already known, anything you allow would be generous,” he wrote. “Convinced that the journal has stage and film possibilities,” he concluded with his “hope that in these matters you will refer to me, should any offers arise.”
Meyer continued to offer his assistance with the translation to assure its “literary flow” and to prevent the incursion of “Americanisms … providing the publishers and translator consent.” He was hesitant to tread on another’s territory but wanted the Diary to retain its authentic voice and not sound as if it had been written by an adolescent from the States. Meyer added news of his ongoing search for a producer, that he was “continually trying to interest friends of mine in the theater here, and also film people.” Certain that “the appearance of the book [would] undoubtedly stimulate interest in these fields,” he was concerned that the right person be found, not merely the best commercial arrangement. “It is here that it would be necessary for true sympathy in order that the material can be transferred from one medium to another without loss of fidelity.” Having witnessed Otto’s quick turnarounds regarding publishers and translators, Meyer worried that a compromise might be reached that would sacrifice Anne’s thoughts and vision. (Otto had already consented to two English translations, both of which he was now willing to reject for a third in order to sign with Little, Brown. Neither translator would ever receive compensation, though Otto thought the work of one “a good base for another translation.”)
From the start, Meyer’s emphasis on the critical importance of “fidelity” to the text was tied to his belief in the consonance between his own ideas and Anne’s. It was for this reason that he had sent Otto a copy of In Search, which Otto had begun to read by mid-November (“It will take some time to get through,” he commented), and why he was now forwarding a copy of his Congress Weekly article concerning the fate of publications considered to be “too Jewish.”
Otto responded twice to Meyer’s latest appeal, informing him of the arrangements with the two publishers and of his having “warned Little, Brown to have it translated by someone who is not in school in [the] USA as the charm of the book could be spoiled.” He then reassured Meyer that he would not grant film or theater rights to either house but that “if I get inquiries … I shall let you know and do nothing.”
When a dispute arose with Little, Brown, Otto wrote Meyer detailing his concern that a contract with them might force him to concede these rights. To protect himself, he asked Meyer to inform the translator and publisher that he was “busy in this matter already and … that the American publishers (or the English and others) had no [dramatic] rights as the book is known already.” Whether sincere or merely following his business sense, Otto assured Meyer that “it is self-understood that I refer to you in case someone else would write me about these rights.” Although Meyer would not participate in this questionable scheme (“I didn’t feel that I should further interject myself,” he wrote Otto upon his return to Paris on December 29), he was pleased to receive Otto’s confirmation that he would indeed play a prominent role as a writer in any future dramatization of the Diary.
Having heard from Meyer that efforts “to interest people in the film and stage possibilities” were continuing, Otto again promised that “about film and stage rights we will stay in contact.” It is curious that Otto made no comment on Meyer’s “Restricted Market” Congress Weekly other than to thank him for the “fine article.” He continued to read In Search, but being “pretty nervous” and unable to “find yet rest,” he still had not finished the book. (When Meyer later raised the issue of Otto’s emotional state at this time, Otto denied ever having experienced such agitation.) Negotiations between Little, Brown and Valentine Mitchell over Canadian rights were in the meantime delaying publication. “It is their fault,” Otto told Meyer, as Little, Brown had initially asked only for “U.S. rights”; Canada was a Commonwealth nation and rightly Valentine Mitchell’s.
While Meyer independently continued his search for a producer over the next two months, little occurred beyond negotiations with Little, Brown concerning film and theater rights. Then, on March 14, 1951, Francis Price, Doubleday’s European agent, wrote Otto for the second time of their interest in the Diary. Having failed to receive a response to his first inquiry some months earlier, he repeated Doubleday’s firm offer of terms financially similar to Little, Brown’s.
More than twenty years later, Price responded to the claim of a former Doubleday editor, Barbara Zimmerman, of a central role in the book’s publication and success, by sketching the sequence of events that had led to the publisher’s offer:
The facts of the matter are this: In September of 1949 I was sent to Paris to open Doubleday’s first editorial and sales office in Europe, and the very first book for which I contracted for American publication was Manes Sperber’s “The Burned Bramble.” Manes was then (and still is) an editorial consultant for the Paris publishing house of Calmann-Levy, and in this capacity he had come across “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which at that time had been published only in Amsterdam. He immediately recognized the unique quality of the diary and arranged for its translation and publication in France. And as soon as the French translation was completed, he brought it to me. I sent it on to Donald Elder, the senior editor at Doubleday who was in charge of liaison with the Paris office, with the strongest possible recommendation for its acceptance. A month later I was authorized to offer an advance and a contract to Anne’s father, Otto Frank.
Although Zimmerman was “present at the creation,” Price denied any legitimacy to her “truthfully claiming to be the mother.” Rather, the Diary’s “success came about primarily as a result of something over which they had no control–Meyer Levin’s memorable front-page review … in the New York Times Book Review.” Zimmerman’s otherwise crucial role in the Diary’s postpublication history, however, remained forever unknown to Price.
The arrival of Price’s letter even as Little, Brown continued to demand a significantly larger percentage of the sale of the book for film, radio, television, and theater settled the matter for Otto. Little, Brown maintained that its offer had been based on this assumption of “special rights.” No matter how lucrative the book might prove, the publisher insisted that such additional revenues were necessary to offset the “high operating costs in publishing now” and it had taken the liberty of restoring this “special rights” clause, which Otto had crossed out when signing the contract several days earlier.
On March 21, Otto informed Price that he was willing to discuss the Doubleday offer now that negotiations with Little, Brown had foundered, though “the question of moving picture and dramatic rights” was “more a matter of sentiment on my side than a financial one.” Perhaps a film or play might never be made, but if one were, it had to be done from a particular perspective. “I do not want a film to be made based on terror, bombardment and Nazis spoiling the ideal base of the diary and therefore want to keep these rights under control,” including the “right to interfere” so that Anne would be seen as he wished to portray her according to these ideals. The “decision depends on it to a great extent,” he carefully stated, promising to discuss contract possibilities “as soon as I know your standpoint about the film question.”
Having edited the Diary, Otto insisted upon the right to determine Anne’s theatrical portrait as well. It is clear, however, that in selecting material from her original text, he had altered not only her growing sense of terror and the seriousness with which she regarded her situation, but, more significantly, her search for peace both in a comforting God and in a deepening awareness of herself as a Jew. Although she disdainfully recorded her mother’s efforts to make her read prayers during their opening weeks in hiding, Anne wrote after a year in the Annex, “My fear vanished, I looked up in the sky and trusted in God.” Two months later she added: “I know that I have God … and that’s what keeps me going. Without the voice that keeps holding out comfort and goodness to me I should have lost all hope long ago, without God I should long ago have collapsed. I know I am not safe, I am afraid of prison cells and concentration camps, but I feel I’ve grown more courageous and that I am in God’s hands!” Otto chose to delete all of this, together with numerous other entries expressing similar thoughts, thereby offering a distorted portrait of Anne. Thirty years later, he still insisted that “she didn’t show any feeling for religion,” though privately, to the second Mrs. Frank, he had admitted as early as 1945 to being profoundly astonished at discovering her deep faith. Fritzi Frank related after his death that it had taken Otto a long time to read the Diary, “as he found it such an overwhelming emotional experience. When he finished it he told us that he had discovered that he had not really known his daughter. Although, of course, he was on good terms with her, he had never known anything about her innermost thoughts, her high ideals, her belief in God and her progressive ideas which had surprised him greatly.”
Otto similarly removed many of the passages that reflected Anne’s deepening awareness of herself as a Jew. “This morning Miep told us that last night they were dragging Jews from house after house again,” Anne had recorded during their early weeks in hiding. “If I just think of how we live here, I usually come to the conclusion that it is a paradise compared with how other Jews who are not hiding must be living,” she noted some time later. After only three months in the Annex, Anne wrote, “Yesterday it was Yom Kippur, and there can’t be many people who will have kept it as quietly as we did.” More than a year later, she further noted the passage of Jewish time by recording how the group had “skipped Chanuka” in their second year of hiding, an event unparalleled in the life of her family. Each of these references, and others, Otto would delete, denying Anne her own voice as she grew. In “the second half of 1943,” she noted in a similarly excised passage, “I became a young woman, an adult in body and my mind underwent a very great change, I came to know God!” Having so carefully molded the Anne he wished the world to see, an Anne reflective of his own background–secular, uneducated in Judaism, and anti-Zionist–Otto could not allow others to reshape his daughter’s portrait in her own image.
Price, of course, was excited by the possibility of acquiring the Diary for Doubleday, and he responded immediately upon receipt of Otto’s answer, feeling “quite sure there would be no difficulty with Doubleday about leaving all of the motion picture, dramatic, and television rights in your control.” All of this would be in a letter from Clairouin. He asked only that Otto inform him of his decision so that he and Clairouin might settle the details of their contract. On March 27, Otto notified Little, Brown that because of its insistence upon unfavorable terms concerning dramatization rights, “it would not serve any useful purpose to continue our correspondence.”
Before leaving for Amsterdam, Otto fulfilled a long-standing promise to visit with Meyer and his family. The contents of their conversation on March 30 were later the subject of much dispute. For the moment, it was a chance for all to meet. Meyer and Tereska repeated their interest and thoughts concerning Anne’s Diary and the young woman they had come to know through it, while Otto thanked them for the kindnesses they had shown over the past half year toward him and his efforts to bring Anne’s work to an ever-greater audience. Just how much discussion took place at this time regarding Meyer’s efforts to secure a film or theater producer ultimately became the basis for an extended legal battle.
From Amsterdam, Otto wrote Clairouin on April 3 that he had begun to negotiate with Doubleday on his own and that despite the agency’s having made initial contact with Price, it was no longer needed. He promised, however, to keep the agency informed of developments. Clairouin’s Madame Tschebeko responded three days later and wrote again after another three weeks, arguing that the agency was entitled to a standard commission for all its work over the last year or more and for a continuing role in the negotiations. But by that time, Otto’s contract with Doubleday had been signed.
Price had sailed to New York immediately after his meeting with Otto in Paris and had secured a contract for him with the unusual stipulation that “the ultimate decision” concerning all nonprint use of the Diary would “remain entirely in your hands.” Receipt of this contract had allowed Otto to send his final note of refusal to Little, Brown on April 18. “I suppose that it is useless to go further into the matter,” he wrote, without mentioning that he had reached an agreement with another publisher.
Otto’s signing with Doubleday on April 27 brought him great relief. Within days, word of the Diary’s future publication in English prompted the first request to reprint portions of it. Otto was pleased to refer the leading American Jewish journal Commentary to Doubleday as proof to himself that the search begun four years earlier had been happily concluded. There were, however, significant costs to others that Otto felt free to disregard. Clairouin had opened several doors for him, including Doubleday’s, and was entitled to a full commission by all standards of fairness. Otto’s direct negotiation with Price had not been an amateur’s oversight. In a letter to Nathan Straus the previous August 11, Otto had already discussed the possibility of bypassing Clairouin in his negotiations with Random House. “If I would have asked Clairouin to write … I would have to pay agents fees for something they did not work for,” he wrote Straus with self-justification. On the other hand, “if they bring a firm [offer], this is without discussion.” (Little wonder that he had been so eager to have Meyer, who asked for no compensation, negotiate with Random while in New York.) Yet, when the contract with Doubleday was signed, following Clairouin’s initial contact and several conversations with Price, Otto saw himself as free of all monetary obligations toward the agency. (Had Otto neglected to encourage Price’s first approach in order to avoid this fee?) Price, unaware of Clairouin’s extensive work on the project in the years before his involvement, agreed with Otto when he sought advice on the matter. Only after a rancorous exchange of letters did Otto agree to pay a third of the customary agents’ fee “pour les efforts que vous avez fait en generale.”
Equally questionable, in light of Otto’s encouragement of Meyer’s efforts on his behalf, were the actual terms of the media clause with Doubleday. Promising to make no decision without Meyer’s involvement, he had negotiated terms with Doubleday that clearly could jeopardize Meyer’s interests. There is no evidence that Otto had ever mentioned Meyer to Price, whose understanding “after our discussion” in Paris was that Otto would want Doubleday “to handle any approach … from a film or radio concern, should there be interest in the dramatization in one form or another.” As yet unaware that Otto had signed a contract, Meyer wrote him three weeks later of new interest in the Diary by an American film producer. “And what finally came of the American negotiations?” Meyer asked, still believing himself to be an important part of the process of bringing Anne’s message to the world. “Is Doubleday going to do it?”
Meyer requested a copy of the Diary’s English translation to give to this potential producer for consideration. Otto advised Meyer that although Valentine Mitchell’s retranslation was only partially completed, the earlier English version was available and would be sent. It was the translation whose rendering he had encouraged but for which, because it would not be published, he had refused to make payment. Still not mentioning his Doubleday contract, Otto asked Meyer what he knew of the Italian film producers who had shown some interest (a question he also had recently put to Price).
Meyer advised Otto on May 12 that the best Italian producers had focused exclusively on “Italian life” and that with finances being an essential question everywhere, it would be best to continue looking in England and America, where “one would [not] have to ‘sell’ one of the producers on doing the film.” Otto again thanked Meyer and, without mentioning the Doubleday contract, continued to encourage representation in these matters. “I have enough confidence in you and your wife [whose ongoing interests had begun with her letter to Otto a day before Meyer’s first] to leave the film question to your judgment, knowing that you will not start any binding arrangements and keep things in hand.” By spring 1951, Otto had managed to secure the services of two agents in his search for wider exposure for Anne’s Diary. But to one, he had made no binding commitment of his own.
(C) 1997 Yale University All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-300-06907-3
Novel by Meyer Levin