[Puzo, author of The Godfather, is in a Hollywood restaurant and is trying to avoid meeting a star guest with a grudge….]
Frank Sinatra… looked absolutely great, better than on the screen, twenty years younger….[and] beautifully dressed….
[They are forced into a meeting]
I said to Sinatra “Listen, it wasn’t my idea.”
And then the most astounding thing happened. He completely misunderstood. He thought I was apologizing for the character of Johnny Fontane in my book.
He said, and his voice was almost kind, “Who told you to put that in the book, your publisher?”
I was completely dumbfounded. I don’t let publisher put commas in my book. That’s the only thing I have character about. Finally I said “I mean about being introduced to you.”
Time has mercifully dimmed the humiliation of what followed. Sinatra started to shout abuse. I remember that, contrary to his reputation, he did not use foul language at all. The worst thing he called me was a pimp, which rather flattered me since I’ve never been able to get girlfriends to squeeze blackheads out of my back, much less hustle for me.
observations: This essay is both a huge entertainment, and a fascinating bit of history about film-making. Mario Puzo’s book, The Godfather, came out in 1969, the film in 1972, when this piece was written. So he didn’t know when he wrote it how phenomenally successful the film was going to be – almost unique in its combination of popular approval, Oscars, and lasting success. Few films are quite so accepted in the canon as being one of the greatest films ever, while still being something you’d watch for real pleasure.
But the book The Godfather is fabulous too – a bit sloppy, and not literary, but compelling and enthralling and brilliant in its way – and a lot of the dialogue is used in the film.
Puzo sounds like a lovely guy: he’s very funny and knows how to tell a good story, he is charming, self-deprecating and yet self-confident. He says clearly that he was not Mafia-connected. He ‘researched’ the book. Well my ‘research’ says he made most of it up – that’s what novelists do – but the Mafia liked this racy, pacy noir-ish picture of themselves so much that they adopted much of the language and theories he invented for them, and all claimed afterwards that yeah, Puzo was in the know. (Much the same thing happened vis a vis John Le Carre and British Intelligence, again according to my ‘research’). So now everyone acts as though the book is practically a documentary, when it isn’t. But it is a great American story, with a superb moral framework, and what is says about American history, immigration, and attitudes is well-worth reading, and will remain so for a long time.
The essay has been produced as an ebook by Grand Central Publishing, who let me download it for nothing.