‘The Godfather’ turns 50: Why Frank Sinatra loathed the book and told Mario Puzo to ‘choke’

Written by on March 18, 2022

“The Godfather” holds a revered place in movie historical past with the Corleone crime household saga – starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan – perched at No. 2 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.

Nonetheless, the 50th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 mob masterpiece has resurrected the detrimental opinion of 1 influential critic: Frank Sinatra

The Chairman of the Board was not a fan of “The Godfather,” an opinion Sinatra made abundantly clear as Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel was being tailored for movie. In a legendary blowup at Hollywood eatery Chasen’s, Sinatra snarled, “Choke. Go forward and choke” at Puzo, who was taking a meal break from writing the movie’s screenplay. 

The notorious confrontation sparked the creativeness of Michael Tolkin, creator of “The Provide,” a brand new Paramount+ sequence (premiering April 28) concerning the making of “The Godfather,” which encompasses a re-creation of the fracas.

 “The one story I knew about making ‘The Godfather’ was that Mario Puzo acquired right into a combat with Frank Sinatra at Chasen’s,” Tolkin mentioned final month about the 10-part sequence. “So I had 5 minutes within the present written, and I simply wanted 9 hours and 55 minutes extra to fill it in.”

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Frank Sinatra was less than thrilled with "The Godfather" and had a heated public confrontation with author Mario Puzo.

Sinatra’s vocal rebuke simmered for years. 

“In some ways, Sinatra loomed over the ‘The Godfather’ manufacturing from afar,” says Mark Seal, writer of “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather.” Sinatra partly owned the Las Vegas Sands lodge, the place Puzo researched his novel on the mob.

Even earlier than the e-book got here out, Puzo’s writer obtained a letter “from Sinatra’s attorneys demanding to see the manuscript,” Puzo wrote in his 1972 essay, “The Making of the Godfather.”

The publishers politely refused the request. When “The Godfather” was printed, many assumed the novel’s central Johnny Fontaine character – a hard-drinking, womanizing, past-his-prime crooner who turns to the godfather to revive his profession with a film function – was modeled after Sinatra.

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Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) sings to Connie (Talia Shire) in "The Godfather" wedding scene. A fully restored "The Godfather" trilogy is out March 22 on Blu-ray.

When making the film, the Paramount authorized group “confirmed concern” about the potential for being sued by Sinatra. “I reassured them the half was very minor within the movie. Which it turned out to be,” Puzo wrote.

The simmer boiled over at Chasen’s when Puzo bumped into Sinatra, an entertainer he known as an “idol from afar.” Puzo was eating with “Godfather” producer Al Ruddy as Sinatra greeted John Wayne within the room. “They each seemed completely nice, higher than on the display, 20 years youthful,” Puzo wrote.

One other well-connected diner insisted on introducing Puzo to Sinatra. It went south shortly, with Sinatra saying, “I do not need to meet him,” after the 2 approached his desk. Puzo apologized by saying, “Pay attention, it wasn’t my concept,” which Sinatra assumed was a reference to the Fontaine character.

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“Sinatra began to shout abuse” and threatened to beat him, the writer recalled. 

“What damage was, right here he was, a Northern Italian, threatening me, a Southern Italian, with bodily violence,” Puzo wrote, calling it “roughly equal to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone.”

Puzo, who died in 1999, left with out incident. However Ruddy, whose recollections type the premise of “The Provide,” offers a extra vivid account within the e-book “Depart the Gun, Take the Cannoli.” 

“There are two waiters holding Mario again. They dragged Puzo out, put him in my automotive,” Ruddy instructed writer Seal, noting that Puzo was upset afterward, lamenting,  “In the home the place I grew up, my mom had two footage within the kitchen: one of many pope and one among Sinatra. And the truth that Frank Sinatra doesn’t like me, or would suppose I’d do something to harm him, breaks my coronary heart.” 

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone speaks with Francis Ford Coppola on the set of "The Godfather."

Sinatra used his affect to meddle with the movie’s casting. Singer Al Martino, who performed Fontaine in “The Godfather,” instructed Seal he was warned off taking part in the half. “When you take the function, Sinatra will bar you from Las Vegas,” Martino recalled being instructed, including that he continued to play Vegas. “I’m the final man you would threaten. I acquired hard-nosed about it. I took the bull by the horns!”

On the 50th anniversary celebration of “The Godfather,” the place a completely restored model of the movie was unveiled (out Tuesday on extremely HD Blu-ray), Coppola instructed USA TODAY about his personal probability encounter with Sinatra, who died in 1998, earlier than filming. This run-in was much more lighthearted, with Sinatra even quipping about taking up the Brando function as head of the crime household.

“He type of jokingly mentioned, ‘Why do not we purchase this (film) from Paramount and I am going to play the godfather,’ ” Coppola says. “That is what I recall.”


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