I was working at a Wall Street firm as an intern in the summer of 1969 when Mario Puzo’s amazing book, “The Godfather” was published. I commuted to my job on the Long Island Railroad. There was an outstanding bookstore in Penn Station that was selling Puzo’s book in hardcover. I had to have it.
I looked forward to reading about how modern-day gangsters lived and fought with each other. The book promised to give readers insights into deeply held traditions. After all, the mafia was a very private institution shrouded in secrecy. I’m a second generation Italian but had no connection to the kind of people I would soon be learning about.
While I was waiting for my father at the station, who was commuting with me, I purchased the book. I was very anxious to read about the highly touted story of the Corleone mafia family. When my father saw me with the book, he asked why I didn’t wait for the paperback to be published to save some money. He made no comments about the book’s subject matter and whether it was a stain on our ancestry.
I told him that I was surprised that he was critical about me buying a book when he was giving me as much money as I wanted on the weekends to go out drinking with my buddies. He immediately apologized and said that he was out of line. He agreed it was a good purchase, and he wanted to read the book when I finished it. Needless to say it didn’t take me very long to read the tome. It was the best book I had ever read up to that point. The mysteries of the Corleone family along with the life and death moments were very exciting.
The 50th anniversary of the movie is being celebrated this year, and of course I took the opportunity to watch the movie for the umpteenth time. I wanted to make some personal comments about the book to my readers and the story behind it. And in that regard, I also watched a movie which chronicled the events during the making of the Godfather movie. The film is called “The Offer.” I learned that writing the book, then the screenplay, then hiring stars, then filming the picture was fraught with all types of problems; egos and money were at the top of the list. Also, Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola were a team and needed to find a way to work together.
It was very difficult for Puzo to get support for his novel to be made into a movie in the late 60s. The Italian American community, led by a mafia strongman, objected to the characterization of Italians and the showcasing of violence and criminal activity.
Puzo and Coppola, the director of the movie, wanted to convert the book into a script that people would find fascinating. It is a story about a very unique family. The sensitivities about insulting Italians were paramount. Was the book another gangster novel or was it a deep dive into a troubled ethnic family that became wealthy from illegal activities?
Certainly, getting Marlon Brando to play the part of Vito Corleone, and Al Pacino to play the part of Michael Corleone went a long way towards giving the book and the movie credibility.
Earlier this week, I watched the first part of the original Godfather movie again. The opening of the story was the marriage of Vito Corleone‘s only daughter, Connie Corleone, played by Talia Shire. During the wedding, Don Corleone received guests in his private office. They all asked him favors including assaulting some boys who beat the daughter of a neighborhood undertaker and helping a neighbor get immigration papers for his daughter’s boyfriend.
For those that have been loyal to Don Corleone, he granted their requests. It’s a tradition at a Sicilian wedding to do favors for the attendees. The respect and an honor amidst all the sinister unlawful activities was a bit hard to swallow. Brando stroked a cat as he listened to other people’s problems and decided whether to help them. The cat was not part of the screenplay.
In the meantime, there was action celebration all throughout the wedding segment. Sonny Corleone, the Don‘s oldest son and renown ladies’ man, was having an affair with one of the bridesmaids. Luca Brasi, Don Corleone‘s very large and scary henchmen, was looking to thank the Don for inviting him to the wedding. He spent an inordinate amount of time rehearsing his speech. Brasi has a memorable line. He hoped that the first child of the newlyweds would be “a masculine child.”
Suddenly there was a lot of girls screaming. Johnny Fontaine, the Don’s godchild, showed up at the wedding. Supposedly, he represented Frank Sinatra. Don Corleone would do anything to help him in his career, which was in decline. During his meeting with Don Corleone, Fontaine began to whine about not receiving the nod for a lead role in a war movie being produced by a big-time movie producer. The Don slapped him across the face a few times and made fun of his whining and weeping. The Don was going to make the producer “an offer he could not refuse.”
Michael Corleone, fresh from World War II heroics, arrived at the wedding, he being the youngest son of the Don. He was accompanied by his girlfriend Kaye who was not exactly someone you were expected to see you at a mafia wedding. Blonde hair, blue eyes and skinny by Italian standards, she showed up on Michael’s arm and made a big hit with the Corleone family, but not the Don.
The last of the scenes I watched was the one where Tom Hayden, the Don’s consigliere (main advisor), was sent by the Don to try to convince the Hollywood movie producer, a man named Wolk, to give Fontaine the role in his movie. Wolk had some derogatory things to say about Italians. He said he would not be intimidated by gu—s, and he would not give the part to Fontaine.
Cut to the next scene in Wolk’s bedroom. It is one of the most memorable. Somehow the bleeding head of a spectacular horse that cost Wolk $600,000 was in his bed as he slept. Wolk had blood all over himself and started screaming uncontrollably when he saw that somebody cut off his prized stallion’s head. Fontaine got the part, by the way.
I may write more about my feelings relating to the Godfather, but I strongly recommend that anyone who has not read the book or not seen the movie to do it sometime in the near future. It is highly entertaining. Moreover, there are some great lines in the film subsequent to the scenes that I was watching. My favorite one was when one of Don Corleone‘s other henchmen killed a worker who was not loyal to the family. He left the body in a car near a swampy area. As he was about to leave, the henchman told his assistant “to leave the gun and take the cannoli” that he had brought with him.