In 1907, the young Arnoldo Mondadori set up a small business in the editorial field driven by his passion for journalism. It was the start of what soon became one of the most important publishing houses in Italy. In the twenties, Mondadori started to stand out for the foresight and the ambition he showed in every choice he made, as proved by the deal with Walt Disney, officially signed in 1936 after Disney’s visit to Italy. Mondadori launched two new book series devoted to foreign literature, «La biblioteca romantica» (1931-42) directed by Giuseppe A. Borgese, and «Medusa» (1933-71). Both shed light upon American literary production and exhibited authors such as John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Pearl S. Buck, counting on translators such as Cesare Pavese and Elio Vittorini, who was also an important associate at the publishing house.
After WWII, Mondadori understood that the secret for future success was technological advancement and internationalization. He started fostering strong relationships with the US and took the American publishing industry as an example. In 1948 Giorgio visited Reader’s Digest and Walt Disney’s headquarters and the following year he accompanied his father on his first trip overseas. Here they purchased American printing equipment and technology by taking advantage of US post-war financial support.
In 1951, the company opened an office in New York, and chose Natalia Danesi Murray for its management. Danesi had already collaborated with the firm – she had reached a deal with Gabriele D’Annunzio for the rights of his entire works in the thirties. Moreover, she had many acquaintances and friends involved in the city's cultural circles thanks to her past experiences in New York. Danesi’s intermediation helped the publishing house gather information from the most successful American magazines and their manufacturing processes. In order to facilitate the exchange between Italian and American culture, Mondadori ingratiated himself with Clare Boothe Luce (appointed American ambassador in Italy in 1953) and her husband Henry R. Luce, tycoon of Time Inc., gaining access to exclusive content from Luce’s magazines. Mondadori, together with his wife, crossed the ocean again in 1954 to visit the American company.
The major effort required in the first years of activity of the NY office concerned the advertising and subscription campaign for Mondadori’s newspapers. Arnoldo wanted Danesi to focus on Bolero Film, Le Grandi Firme, and Avventuroso Film; but the turning point was achieved with Epoca, the weekly magazine inspired by the American magazines Look and Life, which received a very favourable response. At the same time, Danesi facilitated transatlantic transfers: she had to scout for promising works to be published in Italy as well as promote Mondadori’s Italian writers on the American market. Arnoldo was positive that there was a strong interest in Italian literature motivated by the significant presence of immigrants in the US. For those reasons, Danesi kept contacts with editors, libraries, Italianists, professors working in schools and universities. Later, she centralized in her office the sale of translation rights for the United States.
Danesi’s role was pivotal in exporting to the US Mondadori’s authors such as Alba de Céspedes, Vasco Pratolini, Alfonso Gatto and Vittorio Sereni (Mondadori’s editorial director). In 1953, besides selling short stories by Domenico Rea, Dino Buzzati and Luigi Santucci to some American magazines, Danesi sold the rights for Tiro al Piccione by Giose Rimanelli to Random House (Ben Johnson’s translation The Day of the Lion would be published the following year), and for Ugo Zatterin’s Rivolta a Sciangai to Popular Library (Revolt of the Sinners, translated by Marianne Ceconi). Later, Danesi got in contact with the magazine Chelsea, distributed in North America, where Buzzati’s inedit translations from Sessanta Racconti (Mondadori, 1958) appeared in 1960. Similarly, she promoted Ignazio Silone, Saverio Strati, and Mario Soldati (Soldati’s La volpe e le camelie translated by Eric Mosbacher was published twice, first in 1961 by Harper & Bros, and after a few months by Popular Library).
The book series for foreigners who wanted to learn the Italian language are indicative of Mondadori’s editorial strategy. Among these volumes, distributed also in the United States and advertised in Italica, there is an adapted version of Piccolo Mondo Antico by Antonio Fogazzaro (Mondadori, 1957). This version reached a significant distribution, and several American and Canadian libraries still hold a copy today.
In 1960, Arnoldo left for America again. He visited many editors and bought the rights for the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology from McGraw Hill. Later in 1964, Danesi welcomed Giorgio, Nando Sampietro - Epoca’s magazine director, Gianfranco Cantini - Mondadori Publishing director, and Giuseppe Ungaretti in New York to attend the World’s Fair, to which Epoca devoted a special number. Some days later, they were received by President Johnson at the White House and met the Italian Ambassador to Washington Sergio Fenoaltea.
As Giorgio was slowly taking over the company, in 1966 Danesi left the job. In 1971, after Arnoldo’s death, Mondadori International was created to manage the foreign offices, located in New York, Paris, Stockholm, Munich, and London.
Natalia Danesi Murray
Book editor, publishing executive, radio broadcaster
Writer, journalist, artist
Alba de Céspedes
Clare Boothe Luce
US ambassador to Italy
The Walt Disney Company
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