(Clic to enlarge)  

* There was talk of George C Scott, Rod Steiger even Sophia Loren’s producer husband, Carlo Ponti. The Mafia voted Ernest Borgnine or Anthony Quinn. Once Francis Coppola got the directing gig, he said it was very simple. He needed “the best actor in the world.” Brando – or Olivier. And Olivier was ill.                                                                        [Montage by Reg Oliver, 1976]






“My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”


Francis Ford Coppola . 1971


“I would have given my soul to play it,” said Orson Welles. “But I don’t get offered great parts.”

Don Ameche, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte, Raf Vallone were as Coppola videotaped “every old Italian actor in existence.” Plus Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn, Edward G Robinson, Raf Vallone.   Even Carlo Ponti (Sophia Loren’s producer husband) was considered. (He never  really worked out if the invite was a compliment or an insult). And hot-shot lawyer Melvyn Belli was interested.  Conte, up for the Don a low-budget contemporary version, became Brazini and Vallone turned up in III as… The Pope.  While Ameche would learn to never do the Mafia a favour in David Mamet’s Things Change, 1987.

Paramount’s owner, Charles Bludhorn, head of Gulf & Western, sent the book – well, the galleyproofs – to Warren Beatty. To star in, or produce, or direct. Or all three. Which-watever he wanted. Beatty dutifuilly read it and then declared… as he remembered for Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond, November 16, 2016… “Charlie, I know it is only in galleys but it is filled with misspelling and all kinds of typos. And by the way, I think these movies are over, I mean this type of movie. I don’t think it’s going to do well.”

Exactly what Jack Warner had told Beatty about Bonnie & Clyde…!

After Mario Puzo’s first

Mario Puzo’s first 60 pages next  hit the desk of Peter Bart, Paramount’s vice president   for creative affairs,  and his boss Robert Evans stumped up $12,5000 “against $75,000 if it becomes a book” shepherded the 30-page treatment to best-sellerdom. But the suits were not impressed: Mafia movies never made money.  So, hey, let’s off-load it (for an el cheapo  $1m budget) on Burt Lancaster…  London director Lewis Gilbert, on a global high after Michael Caine’s Alfie, and the first of  two 007 films, Sean Connery’s You Only Live Twice.

While making The Adventurers at Paramount, Gilbert was signed up for project Puzo.  As per always, money was the problem. “Because of their financial problems, Paramount could only find $2m to make it. I said it needed $7m.”   (The Adventurers had cost $17m).

Producer Irwin  Winkler’s book, A Life in Movies,  like Winkler himself, is a steadfastly stoic about his hits and misses. He recalled deciding that Francis Coppola  lacked trhe tight temperament to handle a Mafia comedy, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (featuring Robert De Niro).  Francey’s next gig was… Godpop!

Producer Irwin  Winkler’s book, A Life in Movies,  like Winkler himself, is a steadfastly stoic about his hits and misses. He recalled deciding that Francis Coppola  lacked trhe tight temperament to handle a Mafia comedy, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (featuring Robert De Niro).  Francey’s next gig was..  Godpop!

“Bob Evans and I needed a writer and director for this still unpublished novel,”  Bart recalled. “I brought up Coppola. I kept bringing him up again and again at various company discussions (the book had by now become a best seller). I also worked hard to sell him on the idea of making a crime movie – he’d just finished Finian’s Rainbow.”

Half-heartedly, Paramount sent for director Otto Preminger, who immediately sent a copy to Frank Sinatra. “He would’ve been wonderful.   I even offered to eliminate the singer who some people thought was patterned after Sinatra. Nevertheless, he said: ‘Ludvig, I pass on this.’ I didn’t want it without him, so I passed, too.  It was a reversal of The Man With The Golden Arm, 1955.This time, Brando got the plum role and Sinatra lost out.” 

Not forgetting Guys and Dolls.  

Frank hated losing to Brando.  So, naturally, once Sinatra he heard Brando was targeted, Sinatra quickly arranged  talks with Coppola about the titular role.  No go!   OK, so Ole Blue Eyes next tried to buy the rights to make the film  himself – or to block any movie at all.  Because Sinatra hated the book. (Yet he nearly joined the third film). 


“He was the only Italian director

in Hollywood, said Evans.

“I wanted to smell the spaghetti”


Seven  film-makers passed: Richard Brooks, Arthur Penn, Peter Yates. Costa-Gavras felt it too American.  Franklin  J Schaffner,  Fred  Zinnemann thought it  too kind  to the  Mob.  In sheer desperation, Paramount  asked Warren Beatty to direct, produce… and play Michael Corleone! .  Sergio Leone regretted refusing the job which probably inspired him to make his own gangster epic, Once Upon A Time in America, 1983 – originally eight to ten hours log, and using Coppola’s flashback techniques.

Producers Albert Ruddy and Gary Frederickson chose Sidney J Furie for a $1m TVesque production on the back lot.  But Puzo’s impact never diminished. The 1969 book, originally called Mafia – the one word never spoken in the film -r emained a giant best-seller for 67weeks. “It was getting bigger thanI was,” quipped Coppola. Gangsters were secondary to Francey.  More into family than Family, he further shocked Evans by seeing the film as a metaphor for US capitalism.

“I was young,” recalled Coppola at 80, “which meant that they thought they could push me around, and they did push me around. And also I was pretty much considered a good screenwriter, and they definitely needed a free rewrite of that script, so that’s why I got the job. How I kept it, I don’t know.”

When Danny Thomas was the favourite Don, Warren Beatty was invited to star and produce but he had not been “bothered” by anything since Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo,  Reds. “The Mafia doesn’t bother me. I hope.” (Twenty years later, he made Bugsy (Siegel) as more of a love story than a Mafia movie).

Don Corleone .  George C Scott had no wish “to play that old.”  Rod Steiger said the role would have been his – if  he had accepted Coppola’s script of Patton.  (One  Godpop legend has Steiger, at 47, campaigning to play… Michael!).  Coppola wanted either an Italian-American.  “Or an actor who’s so great that he can portray an Italian-American. So, they said: Who do you suggest?  I said: 


“Who are the two greatest actors in the world? 

Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. 


“Well, Olivier is English. He looked just like Vito Genovese. His face is great. I could see Olivier playing the guy… Brando is my hero of heroes. I’d do anything to just meet him. But he’s 47, he’s a young, good-looking guy. So, we first inquired about Olivier and they said: Olivier is not taking any jobs. He’s very sick. He’s gonna die soon and he’s not interested. [Oh no? He was busy perfecting an  Italian accent.]. So, I said: Why don’t we reach out for Brando?”

Coppola asked who should be Don Vito and  Pacino said, without hesitation, Brando. “Francis had Brando in his mind first,” felt Al.  So did Puzo, who wrote to the actor about the role two years before: “You’re the only actor who can play the part with that quiet force and irony the part requires.” “Impossible,” said Brando, “the studios would never  take me on. I’m all washed up.” He was right.  His previous (Italian) film, Burn, flopped. He was burned out!  New York cabled:  WILL NOT FINANCE BRANDO IN TITLE ROLE. Paramount president Stanley Jaffe vowed that the “troublesome” star would never be in the film: “Furthermore, I will no longer allow you to discuss it.”

In 2019, Copppola told Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr the full story of how Brabndo won the role…

“Brando was probably one of the smartest people I ever knew and he knew what I was doing. I went to his house at, like, 7am.. I had brought Italian cheese and a little sausage and little Italian cigars and I put them around. We were all ready when all of a sudden the door opens and out comes this beautiful – he was 47 – guy in a Japanese robe with long, blonde hair and he looks around and he sees what’s going on.

“He rolls up his hair, takes some shoe polish and makes his hair dark. He says, “The character gets shot in the throat so maybe he talks like this…” He puts some Kleenex in his mouth. He did it all himself and then he took the little cheese and he nibbled it. I remember, he took the lapel of his shirt and he sort of creased it. “Their lapels are always creased,” he says. I’m sitting there, astonished, and then the phone rings. He picks up the phone and he starts talking like the character..!

“When I had this whole transformation of him into what you saw in The Godfather, I took a wild chance. I went to New York because I knew, whatever Charlie Bluhdorn said, that all the guys would fall in line because they were afraid of him. [Tycoon Charles Bludhorn owned Paramount]. I went to his office and he came out to the conference room where I had put a machine. He said, ‘Francis, what are you doing here?’ ‘Charlie, I just want to show you something.” He looked at it, he saw the door open, and then Marlon Brando came out, with the blonde hair. He said: ‘No, no, absolutely not.’ He kept watching. ‘That’s incredible,’ he said. And that’s how Brando got the part ”

Marlon based his voice on  a real Don seen on TV during the 1951 Kefauver hearings: Frank Costello. He whispered huskily… the original hoarse head. “Powerful people don’t need to shout,” said Brando.

“Every actor you can think of was testing for this and that,” reported Jimmy Caan. Indeed, Evans would spend close to $500,000 Paramount lucre in testing actors from sea to shining sea, whenCoppola had already chosen, tested and decided on his five leads: Brando, Caan, Duvall, Pacino and Diane Keaton.  Said Caan: “For the price of the four corned-beef sandwiches we had at lunch he shot this 16-mm improvisation.”

Michael Corelone . Evans’ first choice for was his pal Alain Delon, of whom Paramount chief Charlie Bludhorn had said the previous year, during The Adventurers casting: “We don’t need Delon. Stars are out of date and… they cost too much!”  Anyway  the Eurostar’s English was not up to it. Christopher Jones lost out, he said, when his managers asked too much – same as his Ryan’s Daughter salary of $500,000. Dustin Hoffman “desperately” wanted to do it. Burt Reynolds was ruled out,  or  so he said,  “because it wasn”t considered a Burt Reynolds role.”  “I could have played it in spades,” said Jack Nicholson, who knew it was going to bne a good fiilm, “But  in the script I read, there was no scene with Marlon.”


Jack Nicholson passed, saying: 

“Michael should be an Italian.”


Brando agreed: “He shouldn’t be the usual leading man. Michael should be a man who broods.” 

Nicholson also passed on The Sting. “Even though I am a non-mercenary artist, I had a pretty good idea of the commercial worth of those properties. But, creatively, they were not worth my time.”   Owch!

Evans forgot he had voted for his then-wife Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal to repeat their broody Love Story affair.  (Paramount’s owner, Charles Bludhorn, also wanted O’Neal – “ya know, the kid on the bench”).   Up came the names of Charles Bronson, Robert De Niro (the star of Godpop II) and Tommy Lee Jones. Although he flubbed through 15 takes Coppola preferred James Caan’s test to other Michael wannabes:   David Carradine, Peter Fonda, Tony LoBianco, Dean Stockwell – and Coppola’s future Apocalypse Now star, Martin Sheen.

Michael became a battle between Caan (Puzo’s favourite) and Pacino (“too Italian,” said Paramount!).  “Very nerve-wracking,” said Al. “I didn’t care if I got the part or not.” He told Francis: I don’t want to be around where I’m not wanted. So, please, Francis, no more auditions, no more screen tests. I can live without this picture.No, he said, you must play it. Then the trouble started – nobody else wanted me!” 

Senselessly –  desperately! –  Evans even nominated the oh-so-Italian Robert Redford!  “As a northern Italian,” suggested Evans.  “Sicilians are blonde and blue-eyed because they were occupied by the French for many years. So there could be a blonde, blue-eyed Sicilian.”

Coppola had already  met Pacino.  “So when I read the book I just pictured him. When you do that it’s very hard to get that out of your mind. That’s why I was so persistent.”  Falling for him in  Needle Park, Puzo was really won over by Pacino’s improvisations. However, Bob Evans told Al’s manager, Martin Bregman: “Your client will play Michael Corleone over my dead body… A runt will not play Michael!”   

Falling for Pacino on seeing Panic In Needle Park, Puzo was really won over by Pacino’s improvisations. However, Bob Evans told Al’s manager, Martin Bregman: “Your client will play Michael Corleone over my dead body…   A runt will not play Michael!”


For insisting on Pacino, Coppola was almost fired.

Almost? Evans fired him three times.


“I just kept pressing on,” laughed Coppola.  Said Brando: “If they fire you, I’ll quit.”

With seven weeks to go, Francey tested a further 30 Michaels, including Frank Langella,  before an eight minute reel from Needle Park convinced Evans (and Paramount) about “that dwarf Pacino.” He was paid $35,000 – $15,00 of which went on legals fees to get out of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight at MGM. (Guess who replaced him).

“I wanted all the other parts,” recalled Pacino. “I thought they were better than mine… Then, for the first few weeks, they were thinking of firing me. And I couldn’t understand why they didn’t .   I didn’t know what to do, frankly.   I was a kid and it was my second movie I didn’t know what was going on. I just thought:  Francis wants me. I don’t know why… but he wants me.”

The only reason he was not canned was the suits saw him gunning down Sollozzo.  Wait a minute – this kid ain’t bad!

Nicknamed Sonny as a kid, Pacino grew up with his Sicilian grandfather, who was   born – and Al kept it quiet for years – in… Corleone. “Fate? Yes, maybe – it’s very strange. But then life has so many twists and turns.”

Sonny Corleone . “I thought he wanted me for Sonny,” said Pacino.

Legend says that having lost Michael, Burt Reynolds was given Sonny – except Brando refused to work with a TV star. And certainly not one who resembled him. “I thought I had the chance of being one of his sons because of the physical likeness. He made sure I wasn’t and I never understood why,” Burt told Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming Jr in December 2015. “I think he hated that people kept telling him, there’s this young actor who… but you know, I never tried to act like him. I do a pretty good imitation of him, but I never did it in a movie, or at a party, or anything like that. Rita Moreno was a real good friend of mine, and when they were together, she used to say he was so curious about me. He would constantly ask her questions about me, how I was to be around… The Jimmy Caan part would’ve been better [than Michael] for me, physically, and I’d’ve loved to have done it. I liked Jimmy, he’s a good actor, but I would’ve loved to have done that part.”

Jimmy Caan became Sonny (named after Al Capone’s son) instead of… Keir Dullea, Steve McQueen, Anthony Perkins, Aldo Ray (again!), John Saxon or the initially signed Carmine Caridi – too tall opposite Pacino. (Caridi was compensated with small roles in Godpop II and III).

Robert De Niro was another  “of the 400 – well, more like 4,000!” testees. He made such an electric job of Sonny that Coppola cast him as Paulie (“won’t see him no more”) Gatto…  and remembered him for Godfather II. De Niro quit, however,  and took over the role Pacino quit in MGM’s half-baked Mafia movie, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Springing Pacino lose from MGM was a job for mob lawyer Sidney Korshak, a pal of Bludhorn and Evans, who called him “my consigliere, my godfather.”  Much in the way John Marley’s Hollywood producer is phoned in the movie,  a call was put into MGM’s owner, Kirk Kerkorian, still trying to build his MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “Wanna finish your hotel?” said Korshak.  That was enough.

Kay Corleone . Jill Clayburgh was turned down as unsuitable for Pacino’s wife – when, in reality, the two actors were living together.   Then, Diane Keaton tested with Pacino in the opening wedding scene – “the wrong scene,” he moaned, “it’s an expository scene.” “They tested us together a lot,” recalled Diane. “Like, for days.


“I think they finally got so tired

of seeing me, they said:

For Gods sake, give her the part.”


At the 2017 AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards, Al Pacino recalled the first time he met (ex-lover) Diane Keaton “at Patsy’s in East Harlem for… a rehearsal dinner for the intimate cast, Robert Duvall, John Cazale and Brando. “Diane was enamored of Marlon, she sorta liked him.  He introduced himself to Diane: Hello I’m Marlon Brando.“  And Pacino imitated her response: “Yeah, OK, well.”  And added: “Everyone else was confused but I laughed.”

Bad  news  for other  hopefuls:  Karen Black,  Susan  Blakely, Genevieve  Bujold, Jill Clayburgh,  Blythe Danner, Mia Farrow Veronica Hamel (soon Daniel J Travanti’s lady in the mythical Hill Street Blues,1981-1987), Jennifer O’Neill, Michelle Phillips, Jennifer Salt, Cybill Shepherd, Trish Van Devere. 

And yet, Keaton never related to her Kay in any of the three films… “a woman standing in a hallway waiting for permission to be seen by her husband.”  Worse, while the guys had great times with their idol. During the shoot,  all the mighty Brando ever deigned to  say to Keaton was:  “Nice tits!”

Connie Corleone .  “I didn’t wear my contacts – I was afraid of seeing him standing beside the camera,” said Coppola’s sister, Talia Shire, about her test.  Seeking a film debut, she had plenty of competition: Julie Gregg (married off to Sonny, instead), Peggy Marshall, Maria Tucci,  Brenda Vacarro,  Kathleen Widdoes.  Nepotism had nothing to do with it, swore Talia.  My test was picked by Bob Evans. He had no idea I was Francis’sister.  In fact, Francis was very angry when he discovered I’d been cast!”

Fredo Corleone .  Austin Pendleton, busy stage actor and a professor at the HB Acting studio in New York, was considered.  His 115 screen roles included Alice’s White Rabbit and the lead of (Tom Stoppard’s) The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, 1995.

Mama Corleone . Another singer, Morgana King (ex-Maria Grazia Morgana Messina de Berardinis), won Brando’s wife from Anne Bancroft and Italian stars Anna Magnani and  Alida Valli.

Tom Hagen .  At 70,  old-time crooner Rudy Vallee offered to play Hagen, aged 35!   Among those seen for Don Corleone’s consigliere were: James Caan, John Cassavetes, Bruce Dern, Peter Donat (he won a Godpop II bit and was Fox Mulder’s father in The X Files), Peter Falk, Richard Mulligan (not yet the surprise Soap star), Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Barry Primus, Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Ray Thinnes, Rudy Vallee, Jerry Van Dyke, Robert Vaughn – and the winner, Robert Duvall. (Caan, Duvall, Pacino were all Oscar-nominated).

Johnny Fontane .  No great surprise when Frank Sinatra Jr bowed out of “the Sinatra role” of washed-up singer Johnny Fontane.Coppola kept permutating the real thing – Frankie Avalon, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Greco, Bobby Vinton. And Al Martino well used in performing for, and indeed being beaten up by The Mob – played it after Coppola’s choice of Vic Damone “could not in good conscience continue.” Truth is, he was warned off by the Dons who had already OK’d Martino. The role was “only minimised,” said Copp[ola, due to Martino being no Sinatra as an actor. “I was completely ostracised on the set because of Coppola,” thundered Martino. “Brando was the only one who didn’t ignore me.”

Apollonia .  Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 Juliet, Olivia Hussey, was first choice for Pacino’s bride in his Sicilian exile.  Although  she was far too much woman for little Al,  Coppola fancied (hey, didn’t we all!) Stefania Sandrelli.  Name-wise, the compromnise was close: Simonetta Stefanelli.

Carlo Rizzi .   Sylvester Stallone auditioned and John Ryan quit as the bridegroom in the opening wedding.  Gianni Russo used his organised crime contacts to get him the role. Brando didn’t approve, saying Russo was no actor.  Russo then went for him and Brando OK’d him.  He thought Russo had been acting his threats.  He most certainly had not. Jimmy Caan didn’t like Russo, either and really went for him in their fight,  busting two of his ribs.   Russo managd 53 other screen gigs and a 12-year affair with Dionne Warwick.

Bonsera . And yet another singer…  Coppola chose Frank Puglia – in 240 movies since DW Griffith discovered him on the New York stage  in 1921 – to play the undertaker. However, an illness led to him being replaced by anbother Sicilian, Salvatore Corsitto… in the first of his two movies.

Luca Brasi .  Having refused  Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch three years earlier – “too violent” – hardly surprising that the German star Mario Adorf would refuse Coppola’s invite to play Luca Brasi  – garrotted by Al Lettieri’s gang. Coppola thought of  the unpredictable Timothy Carey. The someone told him: “Ya shoulda get Bull Montana.”  That was the professional name of Lenny Montana, Brooklyn-born as Lenny Passaforo. He was a 6ft 6ins and  320 lbs wrestler, wannabe actor and former enforcer and bodguard for the Columbo Mafia family. (It was this family which forbade the use of the M Word – Mafia – in Coppola’s film!).  Montana’s feared hitman wasn’t alive that long in the movie, but sure  made his presence felt. Result: 16 films in ten years. OK, he was typed as a muscular doofus or MrIntimidation, but the money was good and he even helped write his swansong, the horror film,  Blood Song, 1982.

Clemenza .  Lenny Montana. was picked, but Richard Castellano was chosen.  .The success of the movie went to Castellano’s head as we shall see in Part II.

Paulie Gatto  .   Another failed audition for  the young Sly Stallone,  before the hood went to John Martino. He went on to be part of Warren Oates’  Dillinger gang when Sly started writing about a club fighter called Balboa… And the Rocky series would co-star Connie Corleone: Talia Shire. 

Moe Green .  William Devane was on the short list for the gangster based on Bugsy Siegel.   Peter Falk was only too pleased to participate in Coppoola’s enterprise.   Until he read the script.  “Gimme me another day to make up my mind,” he asked producer Al Ruddy.  “What for?” “I gotta hire  a private detective.”  “A detective? But why?”  “I can’t find my role!”  (Alex Rocco did). 

Sollozzo .  Franco Nero said he discussed the role with Coppola in London – Al Lettieri, too.  And he won.


Finally,  Francey started directing on March 23, 1971

– on the first of 120 locations – and 23 deaths


Two years and four days later, the film collected three Oscars from nine nominations and shook Roger Moore when he announced  Brando as Best Actor and wannabe Native American Sacheen Lightfeather refused it  for him – due “the treatment of American Indians today in the film industry.”

Paramount had only wanted to pay him the union scale   (There is a union scale for a tile role?!)  Coppola reported the studo relented and paid $300,000.  In his bio, Robert Evans said the figure was $500,000 – plus points, which Brando foolishly sold back to Paramount for $100,000.  Such a paltry figure,  given the final proifits, is the reason  Brando refused to appear in any shape or (flashback) form in…  



“He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”


Francis Ford Coppola . 1973


“Only way I’d do it was if they let me film Abbott and Costello Meet The Godfather,” joked Coppola as Paramount turned the sequel screw.

Coppola screwed back, as he told Mike Fleming Jr at Deadline Hollywood in 2019 – at age 80. “When The Godfather fooled everyone and was this colossal success, they came to me and said: ‘Of course we want to make Michael Corleone Returns, because it made money.’ I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with Paramount Pictures or Bob Evans. I didn’t want to have anything to do with gangsters. I could say that because I now had a couple of bucks.

“Finally I said: Here’s what I will do… I loved Mario Puzo… a wonderful man and I really liked working with him. I said: ’I’ll work with Mario, and we’ll make a script for a second Godfather movie, but I don’t want to direct it. I’ll help produce it and I will choose a young director that I think would be great and you could have what you want.

“I had this crazy idea of a movie that would be two time periods that would tell the story of the father and the son when they were the same age. You would see Michael when he was a mature young man and, of course, the father, who would have been already dead. It was far out but I liked it. When the time came, I went to them and I said: I’ll tell you the director who should do it. This young director, I think, is a fabulous talent.’ Fine, who is he? Martin Scorsese! They said, “Absolutely not. That’s outrageous.” So I told them to forget it. Goodbye. Then the whole deal was off.

“Charlie Bluhdorn himself calls me up, with his Viennese accent. ‘Francis, you are crazy. You’re not going to do it? You have the formula of Coca-Cola. You’re not going to make more Coca-Cola?’ I said, “Charlie, my opinion of Bob Evans, he has talent but he was so tough on me and he’s so second-guessing of me, it’s such a struggle, I don’t want to go through it again.”

“But I said: ‘OK, here’s my deal. One, I want a million dollars. That’s to write and direct it’ That to me was like asking for a great fortune. ‘#2: I want Bob Evans to have nothing to do with it. I don’t have to talk to him. He doesn’t read the script. I don’t get his opinions. And #3, I don’t want to call it some stupid sequel. I want to call it The Godfather Part II.”

“They pushed back… ‘You can have the million dollars. You can have nothing to do with Bob Evans.’ He was already in a little trouble,I think, with Paramount with some other stuff, but they gave him up like that. ‘But we can’t call the picture The Godfather Part II.’  Why not?  Because our marketing department tells us that if we call the movie The Godfather Part II everyone’s going to think it’s the second half of the movie they already saw instead of a separate movie.’ I swear to God!”

He  got into another big argument with them 16 years later because this time  he didn’t want to call the third one Godfather Part III.

Brando “went  crazy,” said Evans, over losing at least $11m by selling his five points of the first film when he needed $100,000  in a hurry.  Therefore,  he refused the sequel –  yet Coppola waited until actually shooting his  flashback scene before rewriting it  and giving  the Don’s lines to Sonny. 

Martin Scorsese was first reserve until, after resisting five other offers, Coppola gave for a $1m superstar salary.  And full control. Totally identifying as always with Michael Corleone, Coppola ruled out Puzo’s script, The Death of Michael Corleone (it became his subtitle for III), because “Michael would never have a mistress.”

Brando “went crazy,” said Evans, over losing at least $11m by selling his five points of the first film when he needed $100,000in a hurry. Therefore, he refused the sequel – yet Coppola waited until actually shooting his first flashback scene before rewriting it and giving the Don’s lines to Sonny.


A disinterested Pacino was mollified

when told Michael would age to 70.

(He didn’t).


Pacino was offered $100,000,$250,000…all the way to $350,000. Then overa bottle of J&B, Al was shown a tin box with a million dollars in it.In cash. “An abstraction,” he told the producer. “I ended up kind of apologising to the guy for not taking the million.”

What changed his mind was not agreeing to $600,000 and 10% but Coppola inspiring him by outlining his script. “He just got me charged with electricity… The hairs on my head stood up.I usually say, If you feel that from a director,go with him.”


Coppola saw Michael as Hitler – and as himself.

“To some extent I’ve become Michael –

a powerful man in charge of an entire production.”

Michael wore MFC monograms. F for Francis.


Robert DeNiro, not yet a star, instantly became one as the younger Vito.Coppola had noticed his similarities to Brando during various tests for what wasnow known as Godpop I.Extra make-up was tested and dropped and DeNiro did it alone with the Brando-cum-Frank Costello hoarseness.

Hyman RothFor the Jewish gangster based on Meyer Lansky, Coppola and casting man FredRoos wanteddirectorElia Kazan or the agent who first signed Jerry Lewis at age 16: the cadaverous Abner JGreshler. There wassomeoverlyhopefultalkofJames Cagney… and even Peter Sellers. (Great as he usually was in films, Selleers was rarely in great movies, as biopgrapher Roger Lewis pointed out). Feisty director Samuel Fuller shot a test with Pacino – “ten minutes of uninterupted dialogue .I have it at home. But I was too young!” At 62.. .Pacino’s idea was 73. This was his old friend and mentor,Lee Strasberg, of the Actors Studio. Strasberg refused a $10,000 offer, held out for $30,000 – which became $58,000 as the shooting stretched.

Clemenza . Richard Castellano agreed tocontinue as Clemenza, in both yesterday/today timespans – if his lover could rewrite his dialogue and work on the whole script. Arrivederci Ricardo! Francey chose Bruno Kirby, Castellano’s TV-son in The Super, as the young Clemenza(after testing an unknown Joe Pesci, who would join Don Scorsese’s Mafia) andthe older version was rewritten as a new character – Frankie Pentangeli, played by playwright Michael V Gazzo  (A Hatful of Rain), another hoarse head.

Some of the original losers got into II.Peter Donat (Robert’s nephew) became Senator Questadt and the taller-than-Al Carmine Caridi was a Rosato brother. Robby Benson, at age 18, was signed as Michael’s son, Anthony – eventuallyplayedatage sevenbyJamesGounaris, age 9, succeeding his brother from the first film.

Shootingstarted in Lake Tahoe, October 1, 1973,  ending nearly nine months and 16 deaths later on June 19, 1974, in Italy, as the $6m. budget hit $13m – $8,000 per hour. The 6hr 30mn rough-cut was cut to 3hr 20 mn. Strasberg felt the audience was cheated by the cutting – “the material that was cut wasn’t bad material.”


George Lucas told his old boss:

“Francis, you have two movies.

Throw one away. It doesn’t work.” D’oh


Francey went back to the editing table and made both work – enough for it to bethe first sequel to win a Best Picture Oscar,one of six from 11 nominations on April 8, 1975 (makinga two film total of nine from 20 nods). Coppola got three for adapted screenplay (with Puzo),directing and bestpicture (he produced with Fred Roos and Gary Frederickson).

Coppola treated the “two films” as one and finally edited them together, in sequential order this time,for The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1902-1959for NBC in November 1977, with various cuts and additions making up 7 hrs 14 mn: 57 mn longer than the two separate films. Pacino hated it. “A linear picture… and one I object to…From the momentI saw it. It doesn’t play. Godfather II is meant to seenas it was made, with the intercutting of the De Niro section. It was in… that mesh that Francis found the metaphor for Godfather II.”

Part 1 and Part 11 top Pacino’s personal top five films: III doesn’t rate. The others? Scarface, Serpico, Looking For Richard.  Michael’s victims this time included his weak brother, Fredo –  John Cazale, dead himself, from lung cancer, by 1978.   Said Pacino; “I learned more about acting  from John than… anyone.




“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”


Francis Ford Coppola . 1989



“Everybody wanted to be in this movie,”

said Joe Mantegna.

“It’s the Italian Star Wars.


Pacino compared it to King Lear – and Indiana Jones. “It has chapters, a natural evolution and people seem to want another one…. The first one is great storytelling. Two said a lot more. It was risky. The third one didn’t seem so focussed as the other two, it seemed unfinished. We missed the Duvall character strongly…

It  took  Paramount  16 years to persuade Coppola to go to bat again, an offer he should have refused. He remained aloof, disinterested, as a dozen treatments and scripts arrived from Alexander Jacobs, Nick Marino, Vincent Patrick, Dean Riesner (a Clint Eastwood scripter), producer Don Simpson, Thomas Lee Wright – who introduced a character based on an infamous Harlem gangster, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, eventually played  by Cuba Gooding Jr.  


Wright’s version interested Eddie Murphy:

“I’d act in The Godfather for nothing!”


There was also a draft by Mario Puzo, of course.   And another from the Paramount (later Disney) chief Michael Eisner- and even from his boss, the head of the parent company, Gulf and Western, Charles Bludhorn. (III is dedicated to him).

Feeling they’d lost Coppola, most of the scripts avoided the Corleones – or eliminated them with extreme prejudice.

Some of the scripts muddled the new Don, Michael’s son, Anthony, with James  Bond –  battling the CIA, Castro  or South American drug cartels. In 1978, Mario Puzo had Anthony (aimed at John Travolta or Robby Benson) recruited by the CIA to assassinate a Latin American dictator. Coppola turned  up for awhile, working with Puzo, then left again.  In 1986, Puzo got together with Nicholas Gage and they created Sonny Corleone’s bastard son, Vincent Mancini-Coreleone…  the result of Sonny banging one of the bridesmaids in the opening wedding (ie let’s introduce everybody) sequence of the first film.

After Apocalypse Now, One From The Heart and The Cotton Club, Coppola was in poor shape again,financially and artistically strapped. Other directors approached included three still on the A List since  1971 – Beatty, Costa-Gavras, Scorsese. Plus, as they rose and fell: Robert Benton, James Bridges, Michael Cimino, Philip Kaufman, Sidney Lumet, Michael Mann, Alan J Pakula. And a “flattered”Louis Malle.

Proving just how much Hollywood had changed since GodpopI in 1971, one of the numerous new scripts came from Don Simpson, the producer – not the writer! – of Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun. His sole scripting work was uncredited bits of Aloha, Bobby and Rose, 1975, and co-writing Paul Bartel’s Cannonball, 1976, which featured – as an uncredited Mafioso – a certain Sylvester Stallone.


So, guess who was being asked

to run the Godpop III show?



Stallone had auditioned and lost two bits in Godpop I, and that rejection, he said, made him turn to scriptwriting… Now, he was Mr. Rocky Rambo – bigger than the fast-fading Coppola. Sly had even made Francey’s sister, Talia Shire, into a bigger name as Rocky‘s wife than as Michael’s sister!

Revenge is sweet – except… but let him tell it.

“Charlie Bluhdorn, head honcho at Paramount and a really colourful character, actually had a huge poster made up: The Godfather IIIWritten, Directed by and Starring Sylvester Stallone. I said: “Why don’t you just rent a blimp, fill it full of old pianos and drop them all squarely on my face – because that’s what the critics will do.


“Coppola created masterpieces

and I was going to cover them in sludge?

Not likely!”


“So, naturally, I turned it down, but was extremely flattered. Coppola went on to do the third one, which had my favourite form of assassination – the ever-faithful, never to be doubted, man-size serving of poison cannolis.”


Pacino would age this time

and he asked for $7m. Said Coppola” 

“We open with Michaels funeral!”


Paid $35,000 for the first  film, Pacino accepted $5m – which made his by then off-on-off lover Diane Keaton want something similar. She settled for $1.7m.

With Michael’s son, Anthony, quitting the family business for opera (Broadway singer Franc D’Ambrosio), Coppola polished Puzo’s scheme of starring Sonny’s sonny – seen being conceived during the wedding reception opening of Godpop I.

Don Vincent Mancini-Corleone.    De Niro wanted to be this heir apparent, to play, in effect, his own grandson. They were about the same age – or they were in the 90s, not so much for the film’s 60s period. They worked on aged tests at Coppola’s Napa Valley home. They didn’t work.= with Michael in 1971,  there was  no  shortage  of Vincent wannabes: Kevin Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Luke Perry, Vincent Spano tested. Coppola’s nephew, Nicolas Cage was seen,  along with Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen (his father had tested for Michael in 1972) and Billy Zane.

The smooth, Cuban born Andy Garcia won.  “It was long, six or seven months, but remarkable,” he told Alex Simon.  “I mean, you had Francis, Al, Diane Keaton, Gordon Willis, Dean Tavoularis, Milena Canonero and all these other amazing artists collaborating. To be a part of that trilogy was a dream come true. To see Francis work as a filmmaker was like coming full circle for me. I’ve always been moved by the work of independent filmmakers and at his heart, Francis is an independent filmmaker. Watching him work was a great inspiration for me because I had the script for The Lost City and was trying to get financing for it. It took me 16 years to finally do it… So it was a great master class for me, as was working with all the great directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with…. If [they] know you have an interest and a passion for the work, they’re usually happy to answer questions and let you observe.”

Mary Louise Corleone . Front runners for Michael and Kay’s daughter were Madonna and Julia  Roberts   – too busy becoming a  Pretty Woman (Al Pacino had once been up for The Guy). Francey also saw: Trini Alvaro, Linda Fiorentino,  Bridget Fonda (who won Grace Hamilton, instead), Laura San Giacomo, Annabella  Sciorra,  Madeleine Stowe,  before giving  it  to Winona Ryder.  She was “honoured” at being chosen and arrived in Rome in mid-meltdown after completing three films, back-to-back.  She was ordered  home.  “It wasn’t even a choice… I couldn’t get out  of bed.  They’d working with  a wet noodle.” (Gossip hounds said Johnny Depp persuaded her to quit in order to join him in Edward Scissorhands). She made up for it.  In 1991, she brought Jim Hart’s script of Draculato Coppola – and he asked her to star in it.


Her agents were ecstatic at meeting Coppola.

Then, Anne Heche  blew it by asking:

“This guy ever direct anything Id know?”


Attempts  were made to get Julia again  or  Laura San Giacomo. And poor Rebecca Schaeffer, 21, was murdered by a stalker hours before her appointment with Coppola. Her last film was The End of Innocence, 1990.   (Her killer, Robert John Bardo, was jailed for  life).

Finally, in a lazy move that flawed the entire movie, Copopla – forever over-identifying with Michael – made his daughter, Sofia, into Michael’s daughter. Not her first Coppola film. She was Michael’s godson being baptised inGodpop I and had bits and bobs in Rumble FishPeggy Sue Got Married. She had also written Life With Zoe, with her father for  New York Stories.

Sofia had simply arrived in Rome to visit with  her folks, when her mother passed on her father’s news. “It was like: ‘Excuse me? Are you sure?  I  just want to  take a shower.”  He re-wrote Mary for her.  De-sexing the role.  (But hadn’t  he always maintained hat he’d written the role  for Sofia in the first place…?)  But no, no, it was not nepotism, argued Coppola. “A lot of the times,  your family’s the only ones who will  do it, who will show up.”

Maybe so, but the Paramount suits were not pleased.  The  #2 man, Sid Gannis, flew into Palermo and talked to Pacino about The Sofia Problem. Didn’t work. Coppola won.  Sofia lost. A 19-year-old college kid, she had no real experience (or talent) as an actress, which is why she eventually joined the family business as a director.  Confessing to a difficulty in pronouncing Corleone (which the whole world could pronounce since 1971), she had to loop most of her scenes before facimnga maelsatrom of harsh criticism…  “I wasn’t traumatised by it. I mean it definitely wasn’t enjoyable at the time.  But… it wasn’t my dream to be an actress.  I was OK. It toughens you up, too.” By 2018, she had 25 acting  credits, 23 as a director (The Virgin Suicides andLost in Translation toMarie-Antoinette  and On The Rocks), 15 as producer, 13 as scenarist.  And Pop believes that his new III version  will vindicate Sofia‘s performance.  (That’s what Pop[s are for). 

Grace Hamilton . Madonna was nearly switched to Grace, the journalist, but proved too expensive at $500,000. Diane Lane and Virgina Madsen were seen before the shutter-bugger went to another famous kin: Bridget Fonda, Peter’s daughter, Henry’s grand-daughter, Jane’s niece.

Tom HagenRobert Duvall wanted at least half Pacino’s $5m fee –  “not ideal,  but OK”  – to inhabit Hagen a third time. (He got  $36,000 for the first). Coppola was annoyed the studio didn’t agree to pay, stressing the importance of Hagen v Michael.  “Bobby didn’t really want to play another supporting  part,” thought  Coppola, regretfully writing a line on how Hagen had died and simply re-naming the consigliere  BJ Harrison and  offering it to, of all people,  George Hamilton. 


“No billing, no money, no part…

This is an offer I can really refuse.”


After talking to Rome, Hamilton took the next plane. Of course, he did.

They all did. But it was not the same.“It had a lacklustre, middled-aged feel,” felt Diane Keaton. “Everyone was older but not happier.Francis Coppola preferred to direct from the Silver Bullet, his trailer.”

Joey Zasa.  Like Fonda for Mary, Mickey Rourke was not Italian  enough for Joey. John  Turturro  was  – and he got  it.  If  Joe Mantegna was not free.  He was… Dennis Farina got his revenge for losing Zasa to Joe  by beating Joe to succeeding the late Jerry Orbach in 46 chapters of Law & Order, TV, 2004-2006.   Zasa was, in fact, three guys…  The late  Joe Spinell’s Willi Cicci in the first two movies had been due back, working for the all new Russo brothers –   Coppola simply merged  the trio into Zasa (the name  of Coppola’s maternal grandmother).  

Don Tommasino .   Italy’s Corrado Gaipa  was another actor who died before  died  – before reprising his Sicilian  don from  the 1971  film.  Coppola quickly  called another Rome actor,   Vittorio Duse.  In the 20 years since the first film, about 14 of the original cast had died. However, back from 1971 were Franco Citi, Al Martino – and Carmine Caridi, not as a Rosato brother anymore but the old Don Volpe.

Don Altobello .   The big shocker about Godpop III was Frank Sinatra almost – almost! – changing his mind about the franchise and almost – almost! – agreeing to portray the veteran Mafia chief Altobello.

The Voice had hated the first book for the horse’s head chapter, relating how Don Corleone arranged singer Johnny Fontane’s much needed Hollywood comeback. Of course, Fontane was based on Sinatra winning From Here To Eternity. But was that inspiration – or as everyone all too readily jumped to believe, the truth? Either way, Sinatra was apoplectic and refused the entreaties of the early director choice, Otto Preminger, to go titular for him.

And now, 18 years later, Old Blue Eyes was contemplating playing Altobello, proving his line – “Treachery is everywhere” – in the battle between the two Dons. Mrs Barbara Sinatra is said to have talked him out of the threquel.

So, if not Frankie, who? Timothy Carey’s was Coppola’s back-up (Carey had been up for Luca Brasi in Godpop 1).   Carey – who is to eccentricity what Coppla is to brilliance – regretted passing on  roles in the first  films.  Now he set his heart on  the aged Don.  “You look too young,” Coppola told him.  OK, Tim shot off and set up his own test, whitening hair and face.  Coppola was impressed – then  Carey suffered stroke. Finally, Eli Wallach ate the poisoned cannoli. A better actor than both of them… and, indeed, just to complete the circle, Wallach was the actor replaced, do very suddenly, by Sinatra an entire Eternity ago… 

The Pope . Before making a Pontiff out of Raf Vallone (the Italian star considered for Don Coreleone in 1971, had since played real Mafia chief Joe Bonanno on TV), Coppola also considered Vittorio Gassman, Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli.

Archbishop Liam Francis Gilday .  For the shady Vatican archbishop, Coppola shuffled through Albert Finney, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Gian Maria Volonte. Making the character Irish made it tailor-made for Donel Donnelly… an actor that Coppola had first tried to book for Finian’s Rainbow some 22 years earlier! 

Shooting began at Cinecitta November 27, 1989 and lasted about as long as the original, six months, to May 24,1990, with the over-schedule budget hitting $55m. The ending, itself, went through a dozen re-writes. “There was one,” reported Diane Keaton, “where Talia Shire kills Eli Wallach, Al is blinded and Andy breaks off with Sofia the instant before she is assassinated. After blind Al discovers his dead daughter on the steps of the theatre, he blows his brains out. There was one where Al is assumed dead but comes back. There was one where he is shot but lives, only to be killed on Easter Subnday on his way ti church. There was the version where Al is gunned down at Teatro Massimno but Sofia lives. None of us knew what to expect.”

Unfortunately, it was all too rushed.  Worse, it showed…   .   “A failure of heartbreaking proportions,” complained Washington Post critic Hal Hinson.  

Coppola had wanted $6m as scenarist, producer, director, with six months for writing, about the same again for shooting. Paramount gave him $1m, six weeks to write and a few months to shoot and cut in time for the already announced Christmas 1990 opening.  Murder! 

“I’m not really interested in gangsters,” claimed Coppola. “I like the Italian part.


“This is an Italian-American family and even

though they’re gangsters, they’re probably

very similar to what my family was like.”


For Pacino, III never found itself because of one main reason: Robert Duvall did not want to play. “ I don’t want to make Bobby into a villain here. He must have had his reasons…. But Michael’s relationship with Tom Hagen was the catalyst for his involvement in that whole thing with the church. Hagen was killed and it was Michael’s investigating his murder that brought him into the church. He wasn’t coming there with hat in hand. A totally different idea…”

“Francis then rewrote the script and cast his daughter as Michael’s daughter. I think that’s when everything sort of changed.” Later Al said: “He thought that would serve us in the film because his vision of the part was that kind of innocence. He knew what he wanted. So you have to grant him that.

“If I were to do it over again… I wouldn’t have that hair… It was a mistake… the antithesis of what the character was and how I saw him.”

There was a bigger problem which Pacino outlined to Lawrence Grobler in 2005. “Nobody wanted to see Michael have retribution and feel guilty. That’s not who he was. The thing about the other scripts was that in his mind he was avenging his family and saving them. Michael never thought of himself as a gangster. Never. That was not the image he had of himself… He’s not part of the Goodfellas thing… I’ve played gangsters… but not Michael. [He] had this code.


“Michael lived by something

that made audiences respond.

Once he… started crying over coffins.

making confessions, feeling remorse

It wasn’t right.”


“I applaud Francis for trying to get to that but Michael was so frozen in that image.

“There was in him a deep feeling of having betrayed his mother by killing his brother… (Ban him. Exile him in some way. He was harmless). That part of Michael was off. Just as he denies the mother of his children. How could you do a thing like that? .. That was a mistake. And we are ruled by these… crucial, brutal mistakes that we make in life. His choices – he was wrong. Like the way in Scarface when Tony kills Manny, that was wrong. And he pays for it. And in his way, Michael pays for it… All this contemplation and dealing with the King Lear connection.

“Maybe in retrospect, the movie should have been about Kay.”

At 80, Coppola announced he wanted to redux IIIo.  With the title he was not allowed  use before  – it came from Mario Puzo. Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. “Coda’ means epilogue. In other words, you got Part One and Part Two and then the Epilogue. There’s a cut I want to make that would be 14 minutes shorter. Usually, I go back and make them longer. This would be effective, and it makes the ending break your heart. And so what I want to say to them is if you allow me this, you won’t have to pay me.

“I want to show Sofia in a new version, because she is so beautiful in it and so touching. She wasn’t an actress. But she was the real thing, playing that 19-year-old Italian girl in love with her own cousin. Godfather III as The Death of Michael Corleone is doubly painful because at the end he doesn’t die but he does worse than die. He loses everything he loves – and he lives. There are certain things in life that are worse than death.”



In March 2010, Andy Garcia reported that Coppola had “informally planned” a Part IV.   Rather like his finest achievement, Part II, it would have a parallel narrative. One with Garcia’s Vincent, leading the Corleones into the 21st Century, the other with Leonardo DiCaprio enacting the youth of Vincent’s father, Sonny Corelone. Coppola aborted the project upon the death of his collaborator, Mario Puzo. Paramount (once owned by the Vatican Bank, incidentally!) flirted with a new chapter with or without Francis… possibly based on Mark Winegardner’s Godfather novels.