Mafia Was Involved in Making of ‘The Godfather’?

Claim:

Real members of the Mafia were involved in the making of 1972 film “The Godfather.”

In early 2024, a post on X went viral with a claim that real members of organized crime were involved in the making of the 1972 movie “The Godfather.”

“The mob actively followed the actors and actresses around and hovered around the sets,” read the post, which received more than 34 million views.

This claim is true. According to various reports and firsthand accounts from those involved in the production, the filmmakers received assistance and advice from people connected to the Mafia — whether solicited or not.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the crime novel by Mario Puzo, “The Godfather” depicts the fictional Sicilian Corleone crime family and their power struggles within the world of organized crime in New York City. During the production of the film, Coppola found himself intertwined with real-life mob figures.

Joseph Colombo, head of the Colombo crime family, reportedly struck a deal with Paramount Pictures to sanitize the film’s script by removing the word “Mafia” to present a less-negative portrayal of Italian Americans. This arrangement allowed the studio to film in New York City without interference from rival mob factions.

The casting process also saw involvement from individuals linked to organized crime. Russell Bufalino, a prominent Pennsylvania mob boss, reportedly influenced crooner Al Martino’s casting as singer Johnny Fontane after pressuring big-band singer Vic Damone to drop out of that role. Additionally, it’s believed that the character of Fontane was inspired by Frank Sinatra’s experiences with the mob, showcasing the intertwining of Hollywood and organized crime during the era.

Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi in the film, claimed to have Mafia ties and used those connections to secure his role. According to his 2020 memoir, “Hollywood Godfather: My Life in the Movies and the Mob,” Russo associated with Colombo, Frank Costello of the Luciano crime family and Carlo Gambino, the leader of the Gambino crime family. 

Speaking about his “Godfather” co-star James Caan, Russo told the New York Post in 2022, “He’s hanging around with mob guys, like Carmine Persico, and mob guys all know me already. I came from Mulberry Street, how do you live on Mulberry Street and not know mob guys?”

According to the overview of Russo’s memoir:

Gianni Russo was a handsome 25-year-old mobster with no acting experience when he walked onto the set of The Godfather and entered Hollywood history. He played Carlo Rizzi, the husband of Connie Corleone, who set her brother Sonny — played by James Caan — up for a hit. Russo didn’t have to act — he knew the mob inside and out: from his childhood in Little Italy, where Mafia legend Frank Costello took him under his wing, to acting as a messenger for New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello during the Kennedy assassination, to having to go on the lam after shooting and killing a member of the Colombian drug cartel in his Vegas club.

Additionally, Russo claimed he introduced Coppola to several real-life mobsters, including Gambino and Vito Genovese, who provided advice and support during the production.

Notably, actor Lenny Montana, known for playing Luca Brasi, had ties to the mob before his acting career. Montana, who was a wrestler in the 1950s, worked as an enforcer and bodyguard for the Colombo crime family, bringing authenticity to his portrayal of the intimidating enforcer in the film.

The relationship between the Mafia and “The Godfather” extended beyond casting and production. During filming of the opening wedding scene, Marlon Brando, in character as Don Vito Corleone, reportedly mooned 500 extras, including Montana and other men connected to the Bufalino crime family who were on set. In a clip taken from an interview prior to his death in 2004, Brando recalled the mooning incident:

These mob figures who contributed to “The Godfather” production used their influence to ensure filming proceeded unhindered, allowing director Coppola to bring Puzo’s novel to life on the big screen. While their involvement may have raised eyebrows, it ultimately added an aura of authenticity to the film’s portrayal of the Mafia underworld.

Sources

A Real Life Mobster Joined the Cast of The Godfather After Marlon Brando Mooned the Mafia From His Car. 13 Jan. 2024, https://fandomwire.com/a-real-life-mobster-joined-the-cast-of-the-godfather-after-marlon-brando-mooned-the-mafia-from-his-car/.

Alexander, Bryan. “‘The Godfather’ Turns 50: Why Frank Sinatra Loathed the Novel, Told Author Mario Puzo to ‘Choke.’” USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/movies/2022/03/18/godfather-50th-anniversary-frank-sinatra-famous-fight-mario-puzo/6997604001/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2024.

Colombo Crime Family | History, Members, The Godfather, & Facts | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Colombo-crime-family. Accessed 26 Apr. 2024.

Hollywood Godfather: My Life in the Movies and the Mob, Barnes & Noble, 7 July 2020, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hollywood-godfather-gianni-russo/1128526418.

James Caan’s “Godfather” Co-Star Gianni Russo on Working Together. 9 July 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/07/09/james-caans-godfather-co-star-on-working-together/.

Kyriazis, Stefan. “‘Frank Sinatra Hated Marlon Brando, Had Mobsters Threaten to Kill Him.” Express.Co.Uk, 22 Dec. 2021, https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/1539888/Frank-Sinatra-hated-Marlon-Brando-Guys-Dolls-mafia-feud-bisexual.

PressReader.Com – Digital Newspaper & Magazine Subscriptions. https://www.pressreader.com/usa/globe/20230828/282213720343999. Accessed 26 Apr. 2024.

Seal, Mark. “The Godfather Wars.” Vanity Fair, 4 Feb. 2009, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/03/godfather200903.

The Actor Whose Mob Connections Got Him onto “The Godfather.” 24 June 2023, https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/al-martino-the-actor-who-used-mob-connections-to-land-a-role-in-the-godfather/.

“The Offer” Reveals How Real Mobsters Got “The Godfather” Made. 26 Apr. 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/04/26/the-offer-reveals-how-real-mobsters-got-the-godfather-made/.

The Real Mafia Was Incredibly Involved in “The Godfather.” 8 July 2023, https://nypost.com/2023/07/08/the-real-mafia-was-incredibly-involved-in-the-godfather/.

“To Make ‘The Godfather’ His Way, Francis Ford Coppola Waged A Studio Battle.” NPR, 16 Nov. 2016. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2016/11/15/502250244/to-make-the-godfather-his-way-francis-ford-coppola-waged-a-studio-battle.

“When the Mob Protested ‘The Godfather.’” Mental Floss, 12 Apr. 2017, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/93739/when-mob-protested-godfather.

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