* 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]
THE GODFATHER saga
“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 pages next hit the desk of Peter Bart, Paramount’s vp for creative affairs, 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 a $1m) on Burt Lancaster.
“Bob Evans and I needed a writer and director for this still unpublished novel,” Bart recalled.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 TheGolden 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”
Eight film-makers passed: Richard Brooks, Sergio Leone, 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! .
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.
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.” After viewing Brando's improvised video-test, Jaffe asked: Who is that? Marlon had 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,” Jack Nicholson told Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, but…
Jack Nicholson passed, saying:
“Michael should be an Italian.”
Brando agreed: "He shouldn't be the usual leading man.Michael should bea 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.
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 God’s sake, give her the part.”
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 seem by her husband.” Worse, while the guys had great times with their idol, 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 aprofessor at the HB Acting studio in New York, was considered His 115 screen rolersincluded 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 Frank Puglia became too ill for the undertaker - it would have been the 231st screen role for the Italian kid of operetta and opera discovered for Orphans of the Storm by DW Griffith in 1921. Salvatore Corsitto inherited.
Clemenza . Ex-wrestling champ Lenny Montana. was picked, but Richard Castellano was chosen. Montana stayed aboardas Luca Brasi, Don Corelone’s loyal, if not very bright bodyguard.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.”
THE GODFATHER: PART II
Francis Ford Coppola . 1973
"Only way I'd do it was if they let me film Abbott and Costello Meet The Godfather,"jokedCoppolaas Paramount turnedthe sequel screw.
Martin Scorsese was first reserve until, after resisting five other offers, Coppola gave for a $1m superstarsalary.And full control. Totally identifying as always with MichaelCorleone, Coppola ruled out Puzo's script, TheDeath ofMichael Corleone (itbecame his subtitle for III), because "Michael would never have a mistress."
Brando "wentcrazy," 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 hisflashback scene before rewriting itand givingthe Don's lines to Sonny.
A disinterested Pacino was mollified
when told Michael would age to 70.
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 asGodpop I.Extra make-upwas tested anddroppedandDeNirodid it alone with the Brando-cum-Frank Costello hoarseness.
Hyman Roth . For 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 was73. This washis oldfriend and mentor,Lee Strasberg, oftheActorsStudio.Strasberg refused a $10,000offer, held out for $30,000 - which became $58,000 as the shooting stretched.
Clemenza . Richard Castellano agreed tocontinue as Clemenza, in both yesterday/todaytimespans-ifhislovercouldrewrite 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 versionwasrewrittenasanewcharacter - 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 16deaths later onJune 19,1974, in Italy, as the$6m. budgethit $13m -$8,000per hour. The 6hr 30mn rough-cut was cut to 3hr 20 mn.Strasbergfelt 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."
George, he knew nothing.
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 11nominationsonApril 8, 1975 (makinga two filmtotal ofninefrom20 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.”
Part1 and Part 11 top Pacino’s personal top five films: III doesn’t rate. The others? Scarface, Serpico, Looking For Richard.
“Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”
THE GODFATHER: PART III
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 III - Written, 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?
"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 Michael’s 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 Sam 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.” (She made up for it. In 1991, she brought Jim Hart's script of Dracula to 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 I’d 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 Fish, Peggy 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 after the first rotten reviews hit home.
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 Hagen. Robert 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. "
THE GODPOP MOVIE THAT NEVER WAS
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.