The Godfather Trivia

(Total Trivia Entries: 147)

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Marlon Brando wanted to make Don Corleone look like a bulldog, so he stuffed his cheeks with cotton wool for the audition. To find out more trivia keep on reading.

The Novel            Casting           Screenplay & Production


Mario Puzo modeled the character of Don Vito Corleone on New York mob bosses Joe Profaci and Vito Genovese. Many of the events of his novel are based on actual incidents that occurred in the lives of Profaci, Genovese and their families. Puzo based Don Vito’s personality on his own mother’s.


In the novel the Corleone family has a victorious rise to power in earlier New York gang wars in which Don Corleone survives a previous assassination attempt and Al Capone sends triggermen from Chicago in an unsuccessful attempt to aid a rival gang.


The novel details the savage attack on the two men who assaulted the undertaker Bonasera’s daughter, which was led by Paulie Gatto and involved retainer thugs, this was only alluded to in the movie.


Mario Puzo gave Vito’s eldest son the nickname of “Sonny” after the nickname given to the son of ‘Al Capone’. The similarities end there, Sonny Capone did not enter his father’s business.


In the novel a teenager Sonny’ dabbles impulsively in street crime and utterly lacks the tact and cool headedness possessed by his father.


Jack Woltz’s pedophilia is explicitly shown and mentioned by Hagen to Don Corleone in the novel; this was only briefly alluded to in the movie.


Don Corleone’s ingenious plan to bring Michael out of exile in Sicily is detailed in the novel.


The fates of Michael’s bodyguards in Sicily, Fabrizio and Calo differ in the novel. It’s stated that Calo dies along with Apollonia in the car explosion, and Fabrizio, implicated as an accomplice in the bombing, is shot and killed as one more victim in the famous “baptism scene” after he is tracked down running a pizza parlor in Buffalo. The movie has them both surviving, Calo, in fact, appears in the third installment. Fabrizio’s murder was deleted from the movie but publicity photos of the scene exist. However, he is later killed in a completely different scene in The Godfather Saga which was deleted from The Godfather: Part II (1974).


Connie’s confrontation with Michael over Carlo’s death is portrayed somewhat differently in the novel. Although she is initially distraught, accusing Michael of executing her husband as revenge for Sonny’s brutal murder, in the novel she apologizes to Michael a few days later, claiming she was mistaken, apparently glad to be rid of the abusive Carlo and that Sonny has been avenged. She also marries again less than a year later.


Singer Johnny Fontane is a major character in the novel and has misfortunes with women and problems with his voice, however, in the movie this was all trimmed away.


Sonny’s mistress, Lucy Mancini, was a substantial character in the novel, but only appears briefly in the movie. The novel states that Lucy Mancini was not pregnant by Sonny when she moved to Las Vegas, which is a major difference as in the movie The Godfather: Part III (1990) she has a son by Sonny, Vincent Mancini, who plays a major role.


Other characters with smaller roles in the movie than in the novel include Rocco Lampone and disgraced former police officer Al Neri’s recruitment as a Corleone hit man. These characters are reduced to non-speaking roles in the movie.


Characters dropped in The Godfather movie adaptation include Dr. Jules Segal, Vito’s terminally-ill consigliere, Genco Abbandando, in the movie he’s only spoken of, he first appears on film in The Godfather II (1974) and he appears in a deleted scene featured in The Godfather Saga and. Family friend Nino Valenti and Dr. Taza from Sicily are also not included.


In the novel Michael and Kay have two sons, but in the movies they have a son and a daughter.


The novel’s ending differs from the movie. In the movie Kay suddenly realizes that Michael has become “like his family”, however, the drama is toned down in the novel. She leaves Michael and goes to stay with her parents. When Tom Hagen visits her there, he lets her in on family secrets for which, according to him, he would be killed should Michael find out what he has revealed. Kay returns to Michael in an uneasy compromise; she loves him, holds herself apart from the details of his work and attends Catholic mass daily with Mama Corleone to pray for Michael’s soul, just as Mama had done for Vito.



Casting           The Novel            Screenplay & Production


Francis Ford Coppola initially offered the part of Don Vito Corleone to retired Maltese actor Joseph Calleia but the offer was turned down by Calleia due to health reasons.


Director, Francis Ford Coppola’s casting choices were unpopular with studio executives at Paramount Pictures, particularly Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone. Coppola’s first two choices for the role were both Brando and Laurence Olivier, but Olivier’s agent refused the role saying ‘Lord Olivier is not taking any jobs. He’s very sick. He’s gonna die soon and he’s not interested.’ Olivier lived 18 years after the refusal.


In a September/October 2003 “Cigar Aficionado” magazine cover story, Coppola said, “I 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, ‘Look, I don’t know, but who are the two greatest actors in the world? Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. Well, Laurence Olivier is English. He looked just like Vito Genovese. His face is great.’ I said, ‘I could see Olivier playing the guy, and putting it on.’ And 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.’ So, I said, ‘Why don’t we reach out for Brando?'”


Paramount wanted Ernest Borgnin for the role of Don Vito Corleone, but they originally refused to allow Coppola to cast Brando in the role, citing difficulties Brando had on recent film sets. One studio executive proposed Danny Thomas for the role citing the fact that Don Corleone was a strong “family man.” At one point, Coppola was told by the then-president of Paramount that “Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture”. After pleading with the executives, Coppola was allowed to cast Brando only if he appeared in the film for much less salary than his previous films, perform a screen-test, and put up a bond saying that he would not cause a delay in the production (as he had done on previous film sets). Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine on the basis of Brando’s screen test, which also won over the Paramount leadership. Brando later won an Academy Award for his portrayal, which he refused to accept.



Orson Welles lobbied to get the part of Vito Corleone. However, although Francis Ford Coppola was a fan of his, he had to turn him down because he already had Marlon Brando in mind for the role and felt Welles wouldn’t be right for it.


Andy Griffith, was almost cast in the role of Vito Corleone. He had given such a great audition that Francis Ford Coppola was ready to cast him instead of Marlon Brando.


Edward G. Robinson, Danny Thomas, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, and George C. Scott were all considered by Paramount Pictures for the role of Don Vito Corleone.


Paramount also considered casting Italian producer Carlo Ponti. Director, Francis Ford Coppola objected as Vito had lived in America since childhood and thus wouldn’t speak with Ponti’s Italian accent.


Frank Sinatra, despite his reported distaste for the novel and opposition to the film, had discussions with Coppola about playing Vito Corleone and at one point actually offered his services. Coppola, however, was adamant in his conviction that Brando take the role instead. This would be the third time Brando performed in a part sought by Sinatra, after playing Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls (1955).


Burt Lancaster wanted the role of Vito Corleone but was never considered.


Brando’s previous film, Queimada (1969), had been a terrible flop and he could not get work in American pictures, being considered by many producers as “washed up”. Paramount executives initially would offer Marlon Brando only union scale for the role of Don Corleone. Finally, the studio relented and paid Brando $300,000, according to Coppola’s account. In his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002), former Paramount production chief Robert Evans claims that Brando was paid $50,000, plus points, and sold back his points to Paramount before the release of the picture for an additional $100,000 because he had female-related money troubles. Realizing the film was going to be a huge hit, Paramount was happy to oblige. This financial fleecing of Brando, according to Evans, is the reason he refused to do publicity for the picture or appear in the sequel two years later.


Marlon Brando was paid $50,000 for six weeks and weekly expenses of $1,000, plus 5% of the film, capped at $1.5 million. Brando later sold his points back to Paramount for $300,000.


Production began on March 29, 1971, but Marlon Brando worked on the film for 35 days between April 12 and May 28 so he could honor his commitment to the film Last Tango in Paris (1972).


Marlon Brando wanted to make Don Corleone look like a bulldog, so he stuffed his cheeks with cotton wool for the audition. For actual filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist; this appliance is on display in the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.


Don Vito Corleone’s distinctive voice was based on real-life mobster Frank Costello. Marlon Brando had seen him on TV during the Kefauver hearings in 1951 and imitated his husky whisper in the film.


Marlon Brando based some of his performance on Al Lettieri who plays Sollozzo. While preparing for On the Waterfront (1954), Brando became friendly with Lettieri, whose relative was a real-life Mafioso. Brando and Lettieri would later co-star in The Night of the Following Day (1968). Lettieri also helped Brando prepare for his Godfather role by bringing him to his relatives house for a family dinner.


Apparently Marlon Brando did not memorize most of his lines and read from cue cards during most of the film.


In reality, all the actors who played Marlon Brando’s sons, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, James Caan, and Al Pacino, were only between six and 16 years younger than he was.


When Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather to represent him at the awards ceremonies. The presenters of the award were Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann. When Moore offered the statuette to Littlefeather, she snubbed him and proceeded with her speech about the film industry’s mistreatment of American Indians.


Warren Beatty (who was also offered directing and producing duties), Jack Nicholson, and Dustin Hoffman were all offered the part of Michael Corleone, but all refused.


Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell and James Caan auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone. Oscar-winner Rod Steiger campaigned hard for the role of Michael, even though he was too old for the part.


Suggestions of Alain Delon and Burt Reynolds for the role of Michael Corleone were rejected by Francis Ford Coppola.


Paramount production chief Robert Evans wanted Robert Redford to be cast in the part, Evans explained that Redford could fit the role as he could be perceived as “northern Italian”, but Coppola thought he was too waspy. Evans eventually lost the struggle over the actor he derided as “The Midget”. The Irish-American Ryan O’Neal then became the front-runner for the part, though it eventually was given to James Caan.


Before being cast as Michael, Al Pacino was committed to starring in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971). Coppola, in a 2003 “Cigar Aficionado” interview, said that Paramount pulled some strings and managed to get Pacino released. The Paramount brass, particularly Evans, were adamantly opposed to casting Pacino, who did poorly in screen tests, until they saw his excellent performance in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Caan went back to his original role of Sonny when Pacino came on board.


Al Pacino was not well known at the time, having appeared in only two minor films, and the studio did not consider him right for the role of Michael Corleone, in part because of his height. Pacino was given the role only after Coppola threatened to quit the production.



During the shooting of The Godfather, many people were unhappy about the quality of acting Pacino was giving. They thought he was showing the character as dumb and slow-witted. It wasn’t until the scene of the Sollozo murder, on the third and fourth day of shooting, that the big heads at Paramount saw “quality acting” on Pacino’s part. However, Pacino was still not highly regarded until The Godfather became a big hit, and Coppola was criticized immensely, and was threatened to be fired for his cast choices and the manner in which he was filming the movie.


According to Al Pacino in TV documentary, The Godfather Family: A Look Inside (1990), he nearly got fired midway through filming. At the time Paramount execs only saw the early scenes of Michael at the wedding and were exclaiming, “When is he going to do something?” When they finally saw the scene where Michael shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey in the restaurant, they changed their minds and Pacino got to keep his job.


This was Al Pacino’s first Oscar nomination and marks the first of 4 consecutive nominations, a feat he shares with Jennifer Jones (1943-46), Thelma Ritter (1950-53), Marlon Brando (1951-54) and Elizabeth Taylor (1957-60).


A then-unknown Robert De Niro auditioned for the roles of Michael, Sonny, Carlo and Paulie Gatto. He was cast as Paulie, but Coppola arranged a “trade” with The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971) to get Al Pacino from that film. This in turn enabled De Niro to star as the young Vito Corleone in the sequel, which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role.


Anthony Perkins auditioned for the role of Sonny.


After Paramount production chief Robert Evans insisted that James Caan be cast as Michael, Carmine Caridi was cast in the role of Sonny. According to Evans, he told Francis Ford Coppola that he could cast Al Pacino as Michael as long as he cast Caan as Sonny. Although Caan had been Coppola’s first choice as Sonny, he decided that Caridi was better for the role and did not want to recast Caan. Evans insisted on Caan because he wanted at least one “name” actor to play one of the brothers and because the 6’4″ Caridi would tower over Pacino on screen. Caridi was later given a small part in The Godfather: Part II (1974).


James Caan credits the stage persona of “insult comic” Don Rickles for inspiring his characterization of Sonny Corleone.



Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Dern, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Caan auditioned for the role of Tom Hagen. The role eventually went to Robert Duvall.


The only comment Robert Duvall made about his performance in The Godfather is that he wished “they would have made a better hairpiece” for his character.


A young Sylvester Stallone auditioned for Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto, but didn’t get either role.


Mia Farrow auditioned for Kay which eventually went to Diane Keaton.


Diane Keaton based much of her portrayal of Kay Adams on Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Eleanor Coppola.



Originally the character of Connie Corleone was supposed to be played by someone Francis Ford Coppola called “plain looking, the daughter of a big-shot who is only married off because she’s the daughter of some big Mafioso guy.” Coppola was reluctant to let his sister Talia Shire audition for the role of Connie. He felt she was too pretty for the part and did not want to be accused of nepotism. Only at Mario Puzo’s request did Shire get a chance to audition.



William Devane was considered for the role of Moe Greene.


The character Moe Greene was modeled after Jewish mobster Bugsy Siegel.


Jewish actors James Caan and Abe Vigoda portray Italian characters (Santino Corleone, Salvatore Tessio), while Italian Alex Rocco, portrays a Jewish character (Moe Greene).


Frankie Avalon and Vic Damone, both established and experienced singers, auditioned for the role of Johnny Fontane. Francis Ford Coppola was most impressed with Damone and gave the role to him, but Al Martino was cast by the producers, and used his organized crime connections to ensure he kept the part. Ironically, Fontane sings “I Have But One Heart,” which was Damone’s first hit song.


According to Mario Puzo, the character of Johnny Fontane was not based on Frank Sinatra. However, everyone assumed that it was, and Sinatra was furious; apparently when he met Puzo at a restaurant he screamed vulgar terms and threats at Puzo. Sinatra was also vehemently opposed to the film. Due to this backlash, Fontane’s role in the film was scaled down to a couple of scenes.


Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted Stefania Sandrelli for the role of Apollonia, but she turned it down. Olivia Hussey was also considered for this role by casting director Fred Roos.


The casting of Richard Conte as Don Brazini was an idea by the mother of Martin Scorsese, who asked Francis Ford Coppola if he could be in the movie.


This was the final American studio film of actor Richard Conte (Don Emilio Barzini).


Frank Puglia was originally cast as Bonasera but had to back out due to illness.


Apparently Gianni Russo used his organized crime connections to secure the role of Carlo Rizzi, going so far as to get a camera crew to film his own audition and send it to the producers. However, Marlon Brando was initially against having Russo, who had never acted before, in the film; this made Russo furious and he went to threaten Brando. However, this reckless act proved to be a blessing in disguise: Brando thought Russo was acting and was convinced he would be good for the role.


During pre-production, Francis Ford Coppola shot his own unofficial screen tests with Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton at his home in San Francisco. Robert Evans was unimpressed by them and insisted that official screen tests be held. The studio spent $420,000 on the screen tests but in the end, the actors Coppola originally wanted were hired.


Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton each received $35,000 for their work on The Godfather, and Robert Duvall got $36,000 for eight weeks of work.


Along with Mario Puzo’s source novel, Francis Ford Coppola based many of The Godfather characters on members of his own family.


To some extent, The Godfather was a family affair for Director, Francis Ford Coppola. In chronological order of appearance:

  • His sister Talia Shire portrayed Connie Corleone throughout the trilogy.
  • His mother Italia Coppola serves as an extra in the restaurant meeting, she also had a scene as a Genco Olive Oil Company switchboard operator, but this ended up on the cutting room floor.
  • His father Carmine Coppola who had a distinguished career as a composer, conductor and arranger, wrote additional music for the film and appeared as the piano player in the Mattress sequence.
  • His sons Gian-Carlo Coppola and Roman Coppola were cast as Frank and Andrew Hagen, the two sons of Tom Hagen. They are seen in the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo and behind Al Pacino and Robert Duvall during the funeral scene.
  • And his daughter Sofia Coppola is the baby Michael Francis Rizzi in the climactic baptism scene near the movie’s end (she was three weeks old at the time of shooting). Sofia later had a prominent role in The Godfather: Part III (1990) as Michael’s daughter, Mary.


Frank Sivero appears as an extra in the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo Rizzi. He would later appear in The Godfather: Part II (1974) as Genco Abbandando.


The associate producer, Gray Frederickson, made a cameo appearance as the cowboy in the studio when Tom Hagen encounters Woltz the first time.


According to Gary Frederickson, Lenny Montana, (who played Luca Brasi) had worked as a Mafia bodyguard, and had also bragged to Frederickson about working for the Mafia as an arsonist.


Ardell Sheridan, who plays Mrs. Clemenza, was Richard S. Castellano’s wife in real life.


This was Joe Spinell’s first film. He plays Willi Cicci, but is uncredited.


In the novel, Don Cuneo’s first name is Ottileo, but in the film he was known as Carmine Cuneo as homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola.


According to an August 1971 article by Nicholas Pileggi in The New York Times, a supporting cast member became so committed to his role that he accompanied a group of Mafia enforcers on a trip to beat up strike breakers during a labor dispute. But the enforcers had the wrong address and were unable to find the strike breakers. The actor’s name was not revealed.





Total Trivia Entries: 147



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