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On THE GODFATHER’S 50th Birthday, 50 Fun Facts About the Epic Crime Drama

03 / 26 / 2022

1) Seven directors were approached by Paramount Pictures and said “no” until Francis Ford Coppola signed on — and he had to be persuaded to accept by his friend George Lucas.

2) Parts of the musical score in The Godfather were composed by Carmine Coppola, who is the father of both Francis and Talia Shire (“Connie”).

3) The studio didn’t want Brando for “Vito” and refused Pacino as “Michael” until just before shooting started.

4) The Colombo crime family was so adamant about not having The Godfather made that they shot out the car that belonged to producer Al Ruddy. After that, Ruddy actually met with Joseph Colombo at the Park Sheraton Hotel — a few times. They came to an agreement that the word “mafia” would not appear anywhere in the script.

5) One of Vito Corleone’s killer, “Willi Cicci,” was played by Joe Spinell. Spinell not only appeared in the sequel in 1974, he also played bookie “Tony Gazzo” in Rocky and Rocky II in ’76 and ’78.

6) The Godfather was nominated for 11 Oscars at the 45th Academy Awards and took three home for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Pacino).

7) Mario Puzo’s novel was on the NYT Bestseller List for 67 weeks.

8) Coppola gathered the main cast together for dinners where they would improvise conversation; he did not allow them to break character while they were dining.

9) The cast that Vito is holding in the opening sequence was not in the script and was a stray. Coppola found it on the Paramount lot that morning and the idea popped into his head – so he brought it to the set.

10) Robert DeNiro auditioned for the role of “Sonny” before they cast James Caan.

11. “Luca Brasi,” played by Lenny Montana, always appeared nervous around Vito because Montana was genuinely intimidated by Brando. Coppola noticed it and then kept him doing it.

12) When Sonny breaks the FBI photographer’s camera at the wedding, it is a totally improvised scene. Caan did it on the spot and the actor playing the photog was caught completely off guard.

13) Paramount tried to fire Coppola during production due to being behind on schedule and making changes they didn’t like. The reason the movie is nearly three hours is because Paramount actually asked him to extend it after seeing a two-hour cut.

14) George Lucas assembled the “Mattress Sequence” (the montage of images from crimes scenes and newspaper headlines. Lucas did it as a return favor to Coppola for helping him to fund the production of American Graffiti.

15) The Godfather is the only film to win an Oscar for Best Picture and have the sequel win the same award.

16) Al Pacino was paid $35,000 to play Michael. Two years later he was paid $600,000 to reprise the role in The Godfather Part II.

17) The term “Godfather” in the context of organized crime did not exist before Mario Puzo invented it for his novel.

18) The scene where “Moe Greene” gets shot directly in the eye through his glasses was inspired on the actual death of gangster Ben “Bugsy” Siegel.

19) In the epic scene where Sonny gets gunned down by multiple hitters on the Jones Beach Causeway, James Caan was carrying 127 pouches of blood underneath his clothes.

20) During casting, Paramount’s top preference to play Vito was Ernest Borgnine.

21) Actor Giani Russo, who played one of Vito’s henchmen, was a gangster in real life who worked for mob boss Frank Costello.

22) It cost Paramount $6.2 million to produce The Godfather. To date it has grossed $269 million worldwide.

23) Though not in the credits, screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise, Mission Impossible) worked with Coppola and Puzo on the screenplay.

24) Members of the Gambino crime family would visit the set almost every day during production.

25) The dead horse’s head found in the Hollywood director’s bed was real.

26) At first, the plan for the opening scene was to show shots of the wedding. A friend of Coppola’s suggested something more dramatic. Coppola ended up opening the movie with a shot of the undertaker who begins his monologue to Vito with: “I believe in America.”

27) Brando wouldn’t agree to do a formal “screen test.” So Coppola convinced him to let them bring a camera into his house just to experiment with a couple of scenes.

28) Cinematographer Gordon Willis was nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness” for the way he intentionally under-lighted scenes in the movie. Willis was not nominated for an Oscar.

29) Brando used cue cards during the filming, and Robert Duvall once held them for him in a scene.

30) The second half of “Clemenza’s” famous line “Leave the gun — take he cannoli,” was improvised by actor Richard Castellano.

31) It took four days to shoot the scene where Sonny beats the crap out of “Carlo.” James Caan improvised the part where he grabs the top of a garbage can and repeatedly smashes Carlo’s head with it.

32) Brando did not attend the Oscars (or collect his award) that year to protest Hollywood’s depictions of Native Americans.

33) Brando and DeNiro, who starred in the sequel as a young Vito, are the only two actors to ever win Best Actor for playing the same character.

34) When Clemenza is teaching Michael how to cook, he is reciting a Coppola family recipe.

35) The voice that Brando uses to play Vito is based on the real voice of Frank Costello. Brando studied his voice by listening to the tapes of the Estes Kefauver organized crime hearings that took place in 1951.

36) After they shot the scene of Michael getting hit in the jaw by Captain McCluskey, Pacino had his mouth actually wired shut to make his character’s injuries seem more real.

37) James Caan was originally slotted to play Michael.

38) Production had already began on the sequel to The Godfather before they had finished the first film.

39) Peter Bart at Paramount bought the film rights to The Godfather from Mario Puzo when it was only a 20-page outline.

40) The filming of Duvall at director “Jack Woltz’s” home was filmed at the Hearts estate in Beverly Hills.

41) Before settling on Pacino for Michael, the studio had been considering Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Robert De Niro.

42) Al Pacino’s maternal grandparents are from Corleone, in Sicily, just as his character’s father is in the movie.

43) Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford, played the baby in the baptism scene. The was three weeks old at the time.

44) The Godfather was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1990, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

45) Paramount didn’t want the puppet strings logo to be the art for the movie. Coppola did want to use the Puzo image, and he won the argument.

46) Ninety percent of The Godfather was shot in New York City. The rest was shot in California and in Sicily.

47) Originally in rehearsals Brando placed cotton wool in his mouth for the Vito effect. In the movie, he wore a mouthpiece custom-made by a dentist.

48) Most of the wedding scene is improvised. Coppola told everyone there to have fun – and he had a crew shooting from multiple angles as they did.

49) Paramount paid Coppola $125,000 and six percent of gross rentals to direct the film.

50) At the time, The Godfather was the first film to ever gross more than $100 million. It cleared that hurdle in its 18th week in theaters.