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The Godfather trivia

We've just rewatched the entire trilogy in quick succession. That's probably the best way to watch the Godfather films, because then you stand a better chance of working out which minor character is connected to which other minor character in one of the other films.

Even that isn't enough to completely work out what is going on, so I did some research today to answer some questions that were bugging me about Part 3. Some I answered (Who exactly is Don Altobello? Answer: He was consigliere to the Tattaglias, who were fighting the Corleones in Part 1, but later acquired control of the Tattaglia Family), some I didn't. (Who the hell is the little girl who dances with Michael and Mary in Part 3, and is in the family photo? She's only credited as 'little girl'.)

As part of this research, I stumbled across all sorts of interesting trivia. This film series seems to have much better trivia attached to it than most. I picked out the best bits and copied them across to this post. Behind the cut, because obviously there are spoilers if you haven't seen all three films (and if you haven't, then why on earth not?).

My favourite piece of Godfather trivia is this one:

The famous horse’s head scene used a real horse’s head (acquired from a pet food factory). Nobody told John Marley (the actor playing movie studio boss Jack Woltz who wakes up to find he's sleeping with the decapitated head of his favourite racehorse). According to Marley, his scream of utter horror wasn’t acting.

Francis Ford Coppola only got the director job after Sergio Leone turned it down.

Marlon Brando was not first choice for the part of Vito Corleone. The studio wanted Ernest Borgnine. Francis Ford Coppola offered the part to Lord Olivier because of his physical resemblance to real life Mafia boss Vito Genovese (Mario Puzo based the character in part on Genovese), but Olivier turned the part down on health grounds.

The Corleone family was based on the Borgias:
Vito = Rodrigo
Michael = Cesare
Sonny = Juan
Fredo = Gioffre
Connie = Lucrezia (really?)

Paramount executives were adamant that Brando should not be offered the part because of his difficult reputation and the poor box office performance of his previous film, ‘Queimada’.

Other actors who wanted the part of Don Vito Corleone: Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra.

Al Capone appears in Mario Puzo’s original novel.

Tom Hagen’s predecessor as the Corleone Family consigliere was Genco Abbandando, Vito’s best friend in the flashback scenes in Part 2. He doesn’t otherwise appear in the films, although his death scene was shot and deleted from Part 1.

It’s an urban myth that Marlon Brando stuffed cotton wool into his cheeks for the part. He only did this for the audition. In the film, the effect is achieved with a mouthpiece.

Brando didn’t learn his lines, and is reading from cue cards in most of his scenes.

Actors who were offered the part of Michael, but refused: Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman.

Actors who auditioned for the part of Michael: Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell, James Caan, Robert de Niro.

Robert de Niro also auditioned for the parts of Sonny, Connie’s husband Carlo and henchmen Paulie. He got the part of Paulie, but was ‘traded’ to the producers of ‘The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight’ in return for their releasing Al Pacino to play Michael.

Paramount thought that Al Pacino was too short to play Michael.

Anthony 'Psycho' Perkins auditioned for the part of Sonny.

Actors who auditioned for the part of Tom Hagen: Bruce Dern, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Caan.

Sylvester Stallone auditioned for the parts of Carlo and Paulie.

Mia Farrow auditioned for the part of Kay.

It was Mario Puzo who wanted Talia Shire (Francis Ford Coppola’s sister) to play Connie.

James Caan won the ‘Italian-American of the Year Award’ following his portrayal of Sonny, despite not actually being Italian-American at all (he's of German-Jewish descent).

Al Martino, who played crooner Johnny Fontane, was a real-life singer. His single ‘Here in my Heart’ was the UK’s first ever number one single. While Fontane owed his success to his Mafia connections, Martino fled to the UK to escape his.

Mario Puzo denied that Fontane was based on Frank Sinatra. Sinatra didn’t believe him.

As well as Francis Ford Coppola’s sister Talia Shire as Connie and his daughter Sofia as Mary, his mother Italia was an extra, his father Carmine wrote music for the film and appears as a pianist, his sons Giancarlo and Roman play Tom Hagen’s two sons in the first film and his distant cousin plays the assassin in Part 3. Sofia actually appears in all three films – Mary in Part 3, Connie’s baby son Michael in Part 1 and a little girl at Ellis Island in Part 2.

Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi, had worked as a real Mafia bodyguard. He was so nervous about acting with Marlon Brando, that he fluffed his lines. Coppola kept that in the film – it’s the scene where Luca congratulates Vito on the wedding of his daughter.

The title “Godfather” was made up by Mario Puzo, but is now used by real Mob families.

Part 1’s opening scene  is a three minute long slow zoom out of an undertaker asking Don Corleone for help. The shot was achieved with a specially designed computer-controlled (in 1971!) zoom lens.

The cat held by Vito in the opening scene was a stray found by Marlon Brando. Its purring was so loud that the actors in the scene had to re-record their lines.

For the scene where Sonny is killed at the crossing, James Caan was wired up with 149 individual squibs (miniature explosive devices to simulate bullets), a record for any film at the time.

Michael’s son’s name is ‘Anthony’ because the three year old who played him in Part 1, Anthony Gounaris, got confused when called anything other than his real name.

In Part 2, Anthony is played by James Gounaris, Anthony Gounaris’s older brother.

Al Pacino’s maternal grandparents are from the small town of Corleone in Sicily, just like Vito Corleone.

Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza, was the nephew of real Mafia boss Paul Castellano.

Castellano was the highest paid actor in Part 1. He wanted even more money for Part 2, so Clemenza was written out and the character replaced by Frankie Pentangeli.

Marlon Brando and Robert de Niro are the only two actors to receive Oscars for playing the same character.

James Caan received as much money for his single scene in Part 2 (the flashback scene) as he did for Part 1.

In Part 2, Connie’s boyfriend Merle Johnson is played by actor Troy Donahue. Donahue’s real name is Merle Johnson.

In Part 2, the infant Fredo has pneumonia. Filming was delayed for a month because Al Pacino developed pneumonia.

The ship that brings the young Vito to America is the Moshulu. It is now a floating restaurant moored in Philadelphia, and in that capacity also appears in one of the early morning workout scenes in ‘Rocky’.

Marlon Brando should have been in the flashback scene at the end of Part 2, but didn’t bother to turn up.

The orchestra playing at the party at the start of Part 2 was actually Elvis Presley’s and Tom Jones’s Las Vegas backing orchestra.

Most of Robert de Niro’s lines are in Sicilian, a language / dialect that he had to learn for the part. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

‘The Godfather: Part II’ was only the second sequel with a numbered title in film history. The first was ‘Quatermass 2’.

John Cazale, who played Fredo, died of cancer at the age of 42. In his short career, he appeared in five films, all of which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

The character of Hyman Roth was rewritten to be seriously ill because the actor playing him, Lee Strasberg, became ill during filming.

Julia Roberts was originally cast as Mary in Part 3, but had to drop out. Rebecca Schaefer was second choice, but was murdered by a stalker. Winona Ryder dropped out at the last minute. Sofia Coppola was a last-minute choice, and the part had to be rewritten as five years younger.

Madonna wanted the part of Mary, but Coppola thought she was too old (only seven years younger than Diane Keaton, who would have played her screen mother).

It took a year to cast the part of Anthony, Michael's opera singer son, in Part 3, since the actor had to be a skilled musician and singer. Over 200 tenors were screen-tested before Franc D’Ambrosio got the part. On the evidence of this scene, I think they made a good choice:

Tom Hagen should have appeared in Part 3, but Robert Duvall wanted more money. George Harrison’s character B.J. Harrison was added instead.

Al Pacino also wanted more money, but gave in when Coppola threatened to rewrite the film without Michael.

One of the two women who stops Vinny to complain about the state of the neighbourhood is Martin Scorsese’s mother.

Robert de Niro wanted to play Vinny in Part 3.

Other actors who auditioned for the part of Vinny: Alec Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen, Billy Zane, Nicolas Cage, Luke Perry.

Frank Sinatra wanted to play Don Altobello, but wanted more money. The part went to Eli Wallach instead. Sinatra got his big part in ‘From Here to Eternity’ only because Wallach wanted more money for the same part.

Although the name of the Cardinal who becomes Pope John Paul I is different from real life, both the real and the film Pope had similarly short papacies, were found dead in their bed and had worked to remove financial corruption from within Vatican institutions.

The politician who asks Michael for a donation to a judge’s campaign fund is played by Willie Brown, former Mayor of San Francisco.

Joey Zasa was played by Joe Mantegna, also the voice of Mafia boss ‘Fat Tony’ in The Simpsons.

The chief villain of Part 3, Don Lucchesi, is explicitly based on former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. When Calo murders him with his own spectacles, not only are the spectacles of a style worn by Andreotti, but the words Calo whispers in his ear “Power wears out those that don’t have it” is an Andreotti quote.

Similarly, the corrupt Vatican banker Frederick Keinszig is based on Roberto Calvi, one of the bankers involved in the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. Both were found hanging dead from a bridge, apparently because of suicide. Calvi was known to carry a copy of Mario Puzo’s novel with him.

Archbishop Gilday, the corrupt head of the Vatican Bank, is allegedly based on Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who was chairman of the Vatican Bank in the 1970s and 1980s.

Immobiliare, the property company that Michael tries to purchase, is based on Societa Generale Immobiliare. The Vatican sold most of its shares in the company to Gulf + Western in the late 1960s, which ironically also owned Paramount.

The nature of Mary’s death at the end of Part 3 was inspired by the death of the sound designer’s daughter.

Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo had started work on the story for Part 4 before Puzo’s death. The film would have had a similar structure to Part 2, flicking between different eras. In one era, we would see Vincent leading the Corleone family in the modern era. In the other, we would see his father Sonny as a young man. Coppola’s first choice for the part of the young Sonny was Leonardo DiCaprio.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2015 11:26 pm (UTC)
Lots of info here. I agree that for any trilogy it's best to watch them in order so they are all fresh in your mind. That's cool that the characters were based on a real family.
And really cool that real mobs now use the term Godfather.
That's funny Lucca really messed up his lines and they kept it. I thought he was supposed to because he was so excited to meeting the Godfather and being loyal to him. I liked his character shame he got killed so fast. I loved you got to work with him in the game.
I can't imagine Orson Wells as the Godfather haha.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )