Family dispute threatens to scupper Little Prince film

IT IS one of the biggest selling books of all time but a secret deal over royalties from The Little Prince has come back to haunt the author’s family.

The biographer of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the aristocratic French writer and aviator who penned the classic tale of a boy’s travels, has discovered that his widow forged inheritance documents to cash in on the book.

The revelation has triggered a legal battle between Saint-Exupéry’s descendants and a Hollywood studio that threatens plans to turn the fable into a film.

Since The Little Prince was published in 1943 — a year before Saint-Exupéry vanished on a wartime reconnaissance flight — it has sold more than 100m copies worldwide.

The adventurer left behind an embittered wife, Consuelo, after a tempestuous marriage during which he took a number of mistresses. He did not leave a will.

A new biography by Jean-Claude Perrier claims the author’s widow altered his letters to ensure she would inherit all the “moral rights” and royalties from his works, falsely implying she had been his great love.

In one letter sent to her by her husband, Consuelo faked his handwriting and inserted the phrase: “If I die, I leave you my work. You are my sole inheritor.” Perrier says Saint-Exupéry’s mother threatened to have her charged with fraud. But fearing a trial risked besmirching the family name and her son’s reputation as a fallen hero of France, she decided to do a secret deal with Consuelo in 1947.

Consuelo avoided possible prosecution by renouncing all rights to Saint-Exupéry’s works, except for royalties from America. Her acceptance of the agreement appears to confirm her guilt.

“This was a huge secret, totally unknown even by some family members,” said Perrier, whose biography of Saint-Exupéry has just been published in France and will appear in the UK next year.

Now the affair has resurfaced in a legal row involving Saint-Exupéry’s descendants — headed by Olivier D’Agay, his great-nephew — and Paramount, the Hollywood film studio.

Paramount is blocking the family’s bid to make a feature-length animation of The Little Prince, claiming it has the sole rights to the book. Consuelo sold it these rights in 1946, a year before her deal with her mother-in-law and more than six decades before her deception came to light.

This weekend D’Agay said: “Paramount is destroying our right to make a movie. We must fight.” The film studio declined to comment.

source : Times Online