The Making of the Godfather


By Mario Puzo

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In this entertaining and insightful essay, Mario Puzo chronicles his rise from struggling writer to overnight success after the publication of The Godfather.

With equal parts cynicism and humor, Puzo recounts the book deal and his experiences in Hollywood while writing the screenplay for the movie. Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Evans, Peter Bart, Marlon Brando, and Al Pacino all make appearances-as does Frank Sinatra, in his famous and disastrous encounter with Puzo.

First published in 1972, the essay is now available as an ebook for the first time. A must-have for every Godfather fan!

Featuring a foreword by Ed Falco, author of The Family Corleone.


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The Making of The Godfather

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Because Mario Puzo's essays are simultaneously buttressed and undermined by a wicked sense of humor, you can't take him literally. For example, in "The Making of The Godfather," he tells the reader that he went to Hollywood only to get out of the house. He promised his wife, he tells us, that if he ever hit it big, he'd get out from under her feet and go write someplace else. So what could he do? Having made his wife a solemn promise, he had no choice but to go to Hollywood and play tennis a lot while he hung out with celebrities and was feted as a famous writer. Ah, the sacrifices a man has to make for the sake of his marriage! This is funny, but the reader understands both that Puzo is entertaining us with an amusing version of the truth, and that he was cynical from the start about Hollywood and script writing, about movies and the powerbrokers who get movies made. Puzo asks the reader to see him as a likable schlub who also happens to be "one of the best technicians of the Western World" and, as the author of the acclaimed novel The Fortunate Pilgrim, an accomplished artist. He tells us that for most of his early life he was the family chooch, or screwup, and we sense that he still likes that designation. It allows him the freedom of a clown, though we also understand that he's an artist of substantial gifts. This picture he presents of himself embodies the tone of "The Making of The Godfather," which is both funny and serious, as well as passionate and cynical about writing and movie making and the connections between the two.

If we were to take Puzo literally in "The Making of The Godfather," we'd have to believe that he "never held it against Paramount that they got The Godfather so cheap," or that he didn't disapprove of the fact that the William Morris Agency might have sold him down the river (his words) in making the Paramount deal. Nothing, apparently, riles this Mario Puzo. He is so calmly cynical and accepting regarding the machinations of those in power that when he saw The Brotherhood—a movie for which he was paid and credited nothing though he believes it was stolen from his outline—he tells us, "I wasn't angry because I thought Paramount hustled me." Nor was he angry, we're told, when Lancer Books claimed to have sold nearly two million copies of The Fortunate Pilgrim though they paid him for approximately 30 percent of that amount. He accepts all of this as "perfectly reasonable business behavior." This is a Mario Puzo who has nothing in common with the Sicilians he writes about, a people who hold slights and acts of disrespect close to their hearts, a people you'd be well advised not to abuse, a people for whom "revenge is a dish best served cold." No, this Mario Puzo accepts the outrages and injustices of the world as matters of fact, as ordinary examples of the way, of course, the world operates. All this will strike the reader as true and not true, as funny and not really very funny at all. It is true that the world, as Puzo sees it and convincingly portrays it, is a place of ordinary corruption. It is impossible to believe, though, that Puzo wasn't wounded by it—certainly not after reading the body of his work, novel after novel in which corruption leads to chaos and violence in the lives of men who—seeing that the world is rigged against them—go about creating their own justice, to terrifying effect. Puzo as a lovable comedian who slides amusingly through a world of corruption is funny; Puzo as a victim of unscrupulous businessmen is not really very funny at all.

The one thing Puzo ever truly believed in, he tells us, is art: "I didn't believe in religion or love or women or men, I didn't believe in society or philosophy. But I believed in art for forty-five years." If we were to take him literally—which I have been arguing we should not—then at age forty-five he gave up on art and went about writing books that would make money. Again, this is true and not true. Surely he wrote The Godfather to make money—and he succeeded magnificently. He wrote the screenplays to The Godfather and its sequels to make money, and again he succeeded. And, yes, it appears that every novel that followed The Godfather was written to make money and with an eye toward the film version—and in all of this he succeeded, writing several more bestsellers that went on to film or TV adaptations. But it is also not true that he gave up on art. In every one of his novels he continued to explore his obsessive themes: the power of those animal impulses that lead to the corruption of men and society, of the violence in the human heart and the hypocrisy of culture. To these themes, pursued through stories of the criminal underworld, Puzo remained a faithful artist. He did all that any artist can do, which is to explore the mind's and heart's obsessions honestly.

The essay that follows this introduction tells the story of Mario Puzo's, the writer's, journey to Hollywood, where he translated The Godfather into a feature film. The essay, like a good raconteur, shares amusing stories of the things that happened to Puzo in Hollywood. And while Puzo is busy at the work of entertaining the reader, he also takes some time to argue for the primacy of the writer in the construction of all narrative art, which is a lesson the film industry seems destined never to learn. But mostly the essay is, as the title makes clear, the story of the things that happened to Mario Puzo—including his famous and disastrous encounter with Frank Sinatra—along the way to the filming of The Godfather. It's a read no real Godfather fan can refuse.

Ed Falco

Blacksburg, Virginia

January 2013

The Making of The Godfather

The real reason I decided to write the piece that follows was, I think, because the wheels at Paramount refused to let me see the final cut of the movie when and how I wanted to see it. I hate to admit I have that much ego, but what the hell, nobody's perfect.

That incident as described also made me come to the decision that I would never write another movie unless I had final say. I so instructed my agent. Which in practical terms means I'm out of the movie business.

Before all this happened I signed to write two more movies, which at this time are almost done. So I think I'm qualified to say that the movie script is the least satisfying form for a writer. But like most everything else it's fun to try one time.

Most movies are lousy, and they are lousy because the people who have final say really don't know how story and character work. Hollywood still hasn't caught on that it's money in the bank to promote a writer to a status equal to that of producer, director, and (dare I say it) studio chief.

The Book

I HAVE written three novels. The Godfather is not as good as the preceding two; I wrote it to make money. My first novel, The Dark Arena (1955), received mostly very good reviews saying I was a writer to watch. Naturally I thought I was going to be rich and famous. The book netted me $3,500 and I still didn't know I had a whole fifteen years to wait.

My second novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, was published ten years later (1965) and netted me $3,000. I was going downhill fast. Yet the book received some extraordinarily fine reviews. The New York Times called it a "small classic." I even like the book myself and immodestly think of it as art.

Anyway I was a hero, I thought. But my publisher, Atheneum, known as a classy publishing house more interested in belle-lettres than money, was not impressed. I asked them for an advance to start on my next book (which would be a BIG classic), and the editors were cool. They were courteous. They were kind. They showed me the door.

I couldn't believe it. I went back and read all the reviews on my first two books. (I skipped the bad ones.) There must be some mistake. I was acknowledged as a real talent at least. Listen, I was a real writer, honest, a genuine artist, two acclaimed novels behind me, every word in them sweated over and all mine. No help from anybody. It couldn't be true that my publisher would not give me an advance for another novel.

Well, we had another talk. The editors didn't like the idea behind my new novel. It sounded like another loser. One editor wistfully remarked that if Fortunate Pilgrim had only had a little more of that Mafia stuff in it maybe the book would have made money. (One of the minor characters was a mob chief.)

I was forty-five years old and tired of being an artist. Besides, I owed $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks and assorted bookmakers and shylocks. It was really time to grow up and sell out as Lenny Bruce once advised. So I told my editors OK, I'll write a book about the Mafia, just give me some money to get started. They said no money until we see a hundred pages. I compromised, I wrote a ten-page outline. They showed me the door again.


On Sale
Apr 23, 2013
Page Count
42 pages

Mario Puzo

About the Author

Mario Gianluigi Puzo was an American author, screenwriter, and journalist of Italian descent. He is known for his crime novels about the Italian-American Mafia and Sicilian Mafia, most notably The Godfather, which he later co-adapted into a film trilogy directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

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