Showing posts with label Valachi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valachi. Show all posts

25 November 2019

Bringing Joe Valachi's memoirs to the Web

The 1000-plus page memoirs of Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi are valuable source material for organized crime historians. The manuscript, entitled "The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra," is one of just three authoritative inside sources on the Mafia during the period of the 1930-31 Castellammarese War (the others are published autobiographies, Vita di Capomafia by Nick Gentile and A Man of Honor by Joseph Bonanno). The Valachi memoirs were consulted and quoted by author Peter Maas for his 1968 book, The Valachi Papers, which grew into a 1972 Charles Bronson motion picture. Until now, these Joseph Valachi papers could only be accessed through the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. I have been working to change that.

I first published a couple hundred pages of the manuscript on the mafiahistory.us website some years ago. The pages were acquired through the assistance of another Mafia historian, who requested anonymity. In summer 2019, I visited the JFK Library to access the remaining thousand or so pages. Since that time, I have been processing and formatting the pages for the web in small batches. At this moment, visitors to mafiahistory.us can access the first 500-plus consecutive pages of The Real Thing and an additional 80-plus scattered pages of the rest of the manuscript.

Copyright of the Valachi memoirs has been a concern. While the papers have been in the custody of the United States government and accessible to the public for decades since their official 1980 donation, the JFK Library has provided no clear guidance on any possible copyright holder. Following my summer 2019 visit to the library, I submitted a Freedom of Information request for access to the internal library paperwork relating to the memoirs. After some initial hesitation, the National Archives agreed to publicly release the "Deed of Gift" and "Donor File" relating to the memoirs. Transcriptions of these documents also have been added to the mafiahistory.us website.

The documents establish that the papers were donated to the library by Peter Maas on Christmas Eve of 1980. Maas stated his wish that they "be made available for research as soon as possible, and to the fullest extent possible." A New Year's Eve, 1980, memorandum indicates that Valachi intended at one time to publish his manuscript. Instead, the memoirs were used as source material for Maas's book, and Valachi received a payment of $75,000 for his story. Following Valachi's death in 1971, his estate went through normal probate procedures. "According to Maas' attorney, no question from Valachi's heirs about the rights to the manuscript or copyright arose during the settlement of the estate," the memorandum states. "Maas, therefore, has had the manuscript and accompanying transcript since 1965 without anyone questioning his right to the material."

This history and Maas' donation appear to place ownership of the memoirs clearly in the hands of the National Archives and the American people. In doing the work of bringing the memoirs to the Web, it is my hope to achieve Maas' goal of making them available for research "to the fullest entent possible."

Visit the Entrance Page for "The Real Thing: The Autobiography of Joseph Valachi" on Mafiahistory.us.