The Godfather was almost never written by Mario Puzo. At the age of 45, his writing career was rapidly declining. He had earned little profit from his previous novels and received little backing from publishers for his most recent proposal, a novel about Italian-Americans involved in organised crime. Quotes from Francis Coppola’s film adaption entered the American vocabulary and became instantly well-known.
As millions of Americans began assuring one another that they would make “an offer they can’t refuse” and that they would “never choose sides against the family,” many were left wondering how accurate the images of these powerful families were. Many gangsters believed that Puzo obtained his information from first-hand sources.
This is remarkable given that Puzo himself claimed, “I am sorry to acknowledge that I wrote The Godfather based only on research. I never met a real honest-to-God gangster. I knew the gaming scene reasonably well, but that was about it.” His investigation must have been thorough since he noted that many gangsters he met after the publication of the book “refused to believe that I had never participated in the rackets. But they all adored the book.”
Nevertheless, many sections of the novel are at least loosely based on Mafia families and their businesses in 1940s New York.
Certainly, the concept of the five families of New York is grounded in reality. Despite the fact that each Boss and his family borrow qualities from actual New York families, there does not appear to be any apparent connections between the families. The fictional Tattaglia family in The Godfather and the real-life Gambino family were both notorious for their prostitute businesses. However, it is believed that Boss Philip Tattaglia is modelled on Tommy Lucchese rather than a Gambino boss or family member.
The five families in The Godfather are as follows:
- The Corleone family
- The Tattaglia family
- The Barzini family
- The Cuneo family
- The Stracci family
The five families of New York City are:
- The Genovese family
- The Gambino family
- The Lucchese family
- The Colombo family
- The Bonanno family
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The Commission, or the Mafia’s governing body, is another familial idea described in The Godfather that is firmly grounded in reality. In the film and in reality, the Commission is responsible for resolving family conflicts and approving new members and bosses. Only the Commission has the authority to remove a boss from power, despite the fact that there have been several rogue assassinations of Dons in both fictional and factional accounts.
Don Vito Corleone resembled several members of the five families of New York’s Mafia. It is difficult to identify a single inspiration for this figure. His manner was comparable to that of Joseph Bonanno, but his legitimate front business consisted of olive oil, similar to that of Joseph Profaci. His influence was comparable to that of Carlo Gambino, one of the most influential mob bosses of the 1960s and 1970s.
His reluctance to tolerate and promote the drug trade may also be attributed to the Gambino family, who had extremely stringent regulations prohibiting drug trafficking within the family. A violation of these regulations was punishable by death, with “Deal or die” being the family’s unwavering rule. Both Vito and Gambino had three sons and one daughter, and both died of a heart attack at the age of seventy-six.
Corleone and Luciano/Genovese criminal family member Frank Costello shared a greater resemblance. This part of Corleone’s business most resembled Costello’s life, as the majority of his power was generated from his business and relationships. When feasible, they both favoured resolving conflicts through dialogue and would only resort to violence as a last resort. Both Vito and Costello gained a substantial portion of their wealth through gambling and bootlegging.
Johnny Fontaine is one of the few film characters who is so obviously modelled on a famous person. His similarity to Frank Sinatra was not easily overlooked by spectators. A mob-connected acquaintance saved the neighbourhood singer from an unfair deal. J. Edgar Hoover stated that Sinatra had a “hoodlum complex” in reference to his connections to the underworld.
Both actors’ careers were saved by roles in war films, but Sinatra did not have to place a horse’s head between the sheets of the studio head to secure the part. While Sinatra was never charged of racketeering and does not appear to have participated directly in mob activities, he was undoubtedly a groupie. He was also briefly considered for the role of Vito Corleone, with Coppola apparently discussing the possibility.
According to reports, Willie Moretti was the guy who helped Sinatra escape his unfavourable contract with bandleader Tommy Dorsey. This is his most direct relationship to Luca Brasi’s character, who did the same for Johnny Fontaine. Moretti was not as nasty or psychopathic as Brasi was in Puzo’s account, but both suffered the same fate at the hands of his superiors. Moretti was executed for becoming too outspoken, and his death was viewed as a crucial step in releasing his cousin Frank Costello’s hold on the Genovese family, allowing the Gambino family to assume control. Similarly, Brasi’s passing rendered the Corleone family vulnerable to exploitation by the Tattaglia and Barzini families.
There is no known pure impact on Michael Corleone’s persona. Nonetheless, there are a few partial influences. Similar like Michael, Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno’s father sent him to law school and urged him to pursue a lawful life. Bill, like Michael, eventually becomes involved in the family business. Nonetheless, their legacies inside their respective families could hardly be more dissimilar. Bill was never accepted by the folks on the street; he was a colossal blunder. Michael led his family through a legitimate existence while keeping his criminal career. Also influential was Vito Genovese, who fled to Italy in 1937 to avoid murder accusations.
Emilio Barzini was less violent and more refined than Vito Genovese, but the effect is undeniable. They believed themselves to be the “Capo di tuti capi,” or “Boss of bosses,” due to their mercenary mentality and arrogance. Whereas other leaders reigned based on honour and tradition, Barzini and Genovese liked to do things independently. In the end, the culture they rejected was the glue that held their families together, and their failure to adhere to it led to their demise.
Moe Greene’s character was heavily influenced by Bugsy Siegel. Siegel was an executioner for “Murder, Inc.”, a gang of Jewish and Irish assassins based in New York that the Italian mob created to outsource a portion of their labour. After being sent on a business trip to Los Angeles, he developed relationships with Hollywood celebrities, including Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra. Las Vegas was a seedy town at the time, but Siegel saw its promise as a dazzling tourist destination.
Siegel contacted Meyer Lansky (the model for Hyman Roth, see below), the mob’s “numbers guy,” to fund his scheme, which involved purchasing the Flamingo, a luxury casino and entertainment venue. Siegel’s sponsors did not recoup their investment as rapidly as they had anticipated, despite the fact that he was able to attract a large audience. Despite warnings, he over his budget and failed to produce a profit even after the casino opened. Lansky felt sure that Siegel was skimming and conceded that he must depart. On June 17, 1947, Siegel was murdered at his mistress’ residence.
Moe Green is executed more for his public humiliation of the Corleone family than for skimming, but his biography and eventual execution are eerily similar to Siegel’s.
Salvatore Tessio, like his real-life inspiration Gaspare DiGregorio, was a valued family captain. He held tremendous influence inside the Bonanno family. However, the captain was insulted when Bonanno elevated his son instead of DiGregorio. He enlisted the aid of other bosses to concoct a conspiracy against Bonnano, igniting a conflict between the families that the media dubbed the “Banana War.”
Tessio orchestrated the murder of Michael Corleone in a similar manner. The similarities end there, however. Tessio is apprehended before to an attack, whereas DiGregorio and his accomplices are at least able to attempt an attack. However, every shot missed its mark, and DiGregorio was retired once his superiors found a suitable substitute.
In The Godfather, Part 2, Hyman Roth is introduced, and his connection with Don Vito mirrors that of Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello. Lansky was a financial genius who contributed significantly to the growth of organised crime during his era. Many prominent families, like the aforementioned, held his counsel in high regard.
Just like his real-life counterpart knew the necessity of Bugsy Siegel’s execution, Lansky understood he must consent to Moe Green’s murder. In actuality, the remark “We’re bigger than US Steel” spoken by Roth in the film has been ascribed to Lansky for decades. In contrast to Roth, who was killed by a Corleone agent, Lanksy enjoyed a long life in South Florida. Johnny Ola, Roth’s connection to the Mafia, was fashioned after Vincent Alo, Lansky’s liaison.
Many have credited John Gotti as the inspiration for Joey Zasa in The Godfather: Part III. While Gotti was prominently covered by the mainstream media at the time the third episode of the series was being prepared, Joseph Colombo was the genuine inspiration for Zasa. Both men established groups with the purpose of highlighting the positive aspects of the Italian-American community. In actuality, Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League was successful in preventing Paramount Pictures from using the term “mafia” in the series that would imitate his tactics. Both were slain during unity rallies for their respective organisations.
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Moe Green’s Death
Moe Green/Bugsy Siegel put Las Vegas on the map, but their inability to generate a profit infuriated many businesspeople. The bullet entered Siegel’s head and exited through the front of his eye. Moe Green was shot directly in the eye, a tribute to his inspiration’s demise. After Siegel’s death, the Mafia took over the Flamingo’s activities, just as the Corleones did after Greene’s.
Michael Corleone’s Restaurant Hit
In The Godfather, after encountering two of his father’s opponents in a restaurant, Michael kills them with a gun he concealed in the restroom. In 1931, Joe Masseria, Lucky Luciano’s employer, met him at an Italian restaurant. When Luciano excused himself to go the restroom, Masseria’s assassins entered the restaurant, shot him, and then fled.
The Horse’s Head
The scenario in which a producer discovers his thoroughbred’s head in his bed was not influenced by actual occurrences (at least not what my research revealed). Nonetheless, it resulted in numerous instances of life imitating art. As a reference to the historic scene, Mafia enforcers left the severed head of a donkey as a warning to a baker who refused to pay protection money in Villafranca Padovana, Italy, in 2008.
Similar to The Sopranos, The Godfather provided a thorough depiction of Italian American life. However, despite the fact that both tributes centred on traditions of devotion and family, they both also highlighted mob families. This resulted in many conflicting emotions among Italian-American families who were already facing prejudices and adjusting to life in a new nation. The Italian American Civil Rights League conducted a rally in 1970 to protest the unfavorable representation of Italian Americans in The Godfather. However, the film, along with other comparable films and television programs of the time, offered many Italian Americans a feeling of shared identity and experience and captivated both Italians and non-Italians.
Dons Embrace The Godfather
Numerous mobsters viewed Puzo’s depiction of the Mafia as a badge of pride and strove to live up to it. Many would imitate the atrocities described by Puzo, adopting them as their own and reinforcing the picture he presented. According to a 2001 Daily Mirror piece, infamous drug trafficker Griselda Blanco named her youngest son Michael Corleone.
Despite the fact that many gangsters attempted to prevent the creation of The Godfather, once it was released, they decided that they might as well play the role that had been written for them. When examining the houses of mobsters, American law enforcement agents frequently discover copies of The Godfather.
After the film’s premiere, Mafiosi began to speak like the characters, to the point where law enforcement officials claimed it made phone taps and other monitoring procedures more fun. The Godfather had the advantage of being told from a different perspective than other gangster films of its time; for the first time, the gang members’ thoughts and emotions were included. Don Corleone is a guy of integrity who is cruel to his foes yet committed to his family.
The 2009 book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate by Diego Gambetta revealed that numerous gangs utilise the film as a training tool. The Godfather, which sought to truthfully portray the life of a gangster, now influences today’s criminals. As Sammy the Bull thought on the iconic restaurant scene, he stated: