by Richard Fleischer
With four months of my contract gone we finally hit on a project that looked like it would see the light of day, SACCO AND VANZETTI. The fact the Dino took my suggestion and hired Edward Anhalt, one of Hollywood's most professional and respected writers, to work on the screenplay in Rome gave me reason to hope for the best.
"Hope," as the saying goes, "deceives more men than cunning can," and it surely deceived me. Anhalt finished the screenplay in three months, then left for California. The project languished. Nothing was moving ahead. There was no talk of preproduction.
Then something ominous happened. My paychecks stopped coming. At first I thought it was some bookkeeping slipup. After a few weeks I realized it was no slipup. Dino was on an extended trip to New York and there was no one else to talk to about it. I put the De Laurentiis corporation on notice that my contract was being breached, but on the advice of my agent and an Italian lawyer, I continued to report for work every day. After five weeks I stopped. The De Laurentiis dream was ending with a whimper. But not quite. On July 1 I sent them a legal notice that I was suing them for default of the contract.
Five days later, on July 6, I answered the door to my apartment. A small, shabby man stood there smelling like a process server. "Signor Fleischer?" he asked. "Si, sono Io," I replied. He pulled a long envelope from an inside pocket, handed it to me, tipped his hat, and left. It was, indeed, a summons. I was being sued, it informed me, for default of contract for failure to report for work! Not only that, but there were damages resulting from my nonperformance. The amount? One million dollars!
The De Laurentiis dream was truly over, not with a whimper, but a bang.
There was a lot of hand-wringing going on in my home. In 1963, being sued for a million dollars was staggering. Even today it's no laughing matter. My Italian lawyer was very confident about the merits of my case, but Mickey and I were more than a little apprehensive. I was, after all, a foreigner suing Italy's most important producer. What if we drew a Fascist, or just plain anti-American, judge? There were still plenty of them around. It didn't make for restful sleeping, especially when you didn't have a million to your name.*
*Several years later, after returning to California, the case was about to come to trial in Rome. A judgment there would be valid in the United States. The idea of an unfriendly judge still plagued me. I offered to drop my case against Dino if he'd do the same with me, and that's the way it was settled.