|Mario Puzo with a cat
American novelist, best-known for his Godfather saga. Puzo's novel stayed on The New York Times' best-seller list for sixty-seven weeks. The work had a deep impact on American society through its film adaptation, and the saying "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" has became a cliché. However, Puzo always claimed that he had never met a gangster in his life before writing his book.
|Marlon Brando with a cat
"Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, now matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man's troubles to his heart. And he would let nothing stand in the way to a solution of that man's woe. His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of "Don," and sometimes the more affectionate salutation of "Godfather."
|Mario puzo with Oscar
Mario Puzo was born into an immigrant family in New York City in the area known as "Hell's Kitchen". Both of his parents, Antonio and Maria Le Conti Puzo, were illiterate immigrants from Avellino, a town outside Naples. His father worked as a railway trackman for the New York Central Railroad. Puzo's mother had four children from a previous marriage; her first husband had been killed in a dokcs accident. At one time or another Puzo and his brothers also worked for the railroad. "But everybody hated their jobs except my oldest brother who had a night shift and spent most of his working hours sleeping in freight cars," Puzo recalled.
When Puzo was in his early teen, his father deserted the family and they moved to a housing project in the Bronx. His brother Antionio was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized. The discovery of public libraries and the world of literature led Puzo in the direction of writing, although his mother wanted him to become a railroad clerk, and had no understanding of his omnivorous reading. After graduating from Commerce High School, Puzo worked as a switchboard attendant for the railroad. During World War II her served in the US Air Force stationed in East Asia and Germany. For his combat service, he earned numerous decorations, though he never fired a shot – he had poor eyesight. After the war he stayed in Germany as a civilian public relations man for the Air Force. Puzo then studied at the New School for Social Research, New York, and at Columbia University. During this period he took classes in literature and creative writing. His first published story, 'The Last Christmans', appeared in American Vanguard in 1950. Puzo worked for 20 years as an administrative assistant in government offices in New York and overseas. In 1946 he married Erika Lina Broske, whom he had met in Germany; they had three sons and two daughters. After Erika's death in 1978, her nurse, Carol Gino, became Puzo's companion.
At the age of 35, Puzo published his first book, Dark arena (1955). The novel dealt with the relationship between Walter Mosca, a tough and embittered ex-GI, and Hella, a German native, his mistress. Hella dies of an infection, denied the drugs that would have saved her, and Mosca avenges her. From 1963 on Puzo worked as a free lance journalist and writer. He contributed to men's magazines, among them Stagand Male, and published book reviews, stories, and articles in such journals as Redbook, Holiday, Book World, and the New York Times. His second novel, Fortunate Pilgrim (1965) followed one family of Italian immigrants from the late 1920s through World War II. The plot centered round an Italian peasant woman, a twice-widowed matriarch Lucia, her perception of the 'American dream', and juxtaposed her honest and determined progress with that of a corrupt climber. Neither of Puzo's first two books gained financial success, though both received good reviews.
Puzo's fourth work, The Runaway Summer of David Shaw (1966), was a children's book. After an expensive medical emergency – a gallbladder attack – Puzo decided to write a novel that would also be a commercial success. While working in pulp journalism, he had heard Mafia anecdotes and begand to collect material on the East Coast branches of the Cosa Nostra.
"A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns."
Vito Corleone and his sons
"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"
Mario Puzo, The Godfather
Honoré de Balzac's "Le Pere Goriot" (1834) has been the inspiration for notable lines that have gain wide popularity in cinema history. Puzo opened his 1969 novel with an epigraph popularly attributed to Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." The saying is most likely evolved over time from Balzac's original text: "The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed".
Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac, Edited by George Saintsbury, Old Goriot (Le Père Goriot) (1896), Translated by Ellen Marriage, Quote Page 124, J. M. Dent and Co., London and New York.
The themes of love, crime, family bondage, Old World morals – including the concept of individual honour – were further developed in Godfather (1969), Puzo's international breakthrough novel. Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth," Puzo said years later, "in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother." With this work Puzo achieved his financial goals, but he also said that he wrote below his gifts. The central character, Don Corleone, is a sentimental bandit, individualist and ruthless scourge inside a tightly structured crime syndicate. His values are at the same anti-social and those of a bourgeois person; he is a conservative fundamentalist and his illicit activities spread corruption and violence. Puzo describes Don Corleone's struggle among the underworld bosses for power, and how family values are transferred from one generation to the next and how they change under social pressure. Puzo also referred to real-life events and persons. One of the characters had similarities with the famous singer Frank Sinatra, who verbally attacked the author in a restaurant in 1972.
Puzo's international bestseller was also adapted for the screen. Director Francis Ford Coppola did not like the book at first, but his films,Godfather and Godfather Part II, received several Oscars, including best picture and best script (written by Puzo and Coppola). The production was beset with difficulties. Before shooting began, the Italian-American Civil Rights League held a rally in Madison Square Garden and raised $600 000 towards attempts to stop the film. Finally Coppola agreed to eliminate the words "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" from the screenplay. Coppola's unlinear narrative technique and flashbacks in Godfather II puzzled critics. He cut back and forth between the late fifties and the late 1890s and early 1900s. Robert De Niro ais the young Vito is an immigrant in New York, and Michael (Al Pacino), his son, gets mixed up with the downfall of Batista's Cuba. Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times (December 13, 1974): "It's a Frankenstein's monster stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own... Everything of any interest was thoroughly covered in the original film, but like many people who have nothing to say, Part II won't shut up... Looking very expensive but spiritually desperate, Part II has the air of a very long, very elaborate revue sketch."
The third part (1990), which was not based on the original book, was written by the director Coppola and Puzo, starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, and Eli Wallach. Coppola's well-made film was a self-conscious mafia opera but did not find the critical or commercial success of the earlier pictures. The story was set in 1979, Pacino is now an aged don who wants to leave the world of crime behind. Compared to the movie versions, Puzo's books were less romanticized and they had more graphic sex and violence. Coppola's attitude toward the corruption is more cutting and he draws parallels to contemporary politics: the Watergate scandal was simultaneously revealing the reach of criminality into the highest levels of government. In the film, the civil servants and Cardinals of Vatican are potrayed as tough negotiators as the mobsters.
In the mid-1970s, Puzo worked on the scripts of Superman 1 and 2. His next novel after Godfather was Fools Die (1978) set in Las Vegas, Hollywood, Tokyo, and New York during the 1950s and 1960s. The protagonist is a dishonest fiction writer who considers himself a modern-day magician. Eventually Merlyn writes a bestseller that becomes a hugely profitable movie. May readers found the work aimless and dull. The Sicilian (1984) was based on the life of Salvatore Giuliano, the so-called Robin Hood of Sicily.
Puzo's later works from the 1990s include The Fourth K (1991), a global political thriller in the spirit of Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follet. In The Last Don (1996) Puzo returned to the world of Godfathers. The head of the most powerful Mafia family in the country, Don Clericuzio, decides to make his enterprises legal, and the story follows how the don's plan for his family future succeeds. Clerucuzio's daughter Rose Marie marries a member of the enemy family; she gives birth to a son who grows up into a rough man. Other central characters are Pippi De Lena, a hitman, and his son, Cross. Puzo died from heart failure on July, 1999, at his home in Long Island, after completing his final organized crime book, Omerta. This work came out in July 2000. Puzo depicts a family whose members represent the legitimate world and organized crime. Finally the right and the wrong side of the law come into conflict. His last years Puzo spent collecting material and writing The Family, dealing with the Borgias, masters of intrigues and one of the most influential families in Renaissance Italy. The book was completed by his longtime companion, Carol Gino. "The Family does not read like a Mario Puzo novel, even a lesser one. A work of such historical depth requires strong, interesting dialogue and even stronger characters to deliver it -- the very qualities that always raised Puzo's work to a higher plane. Neither exists here." (William Heffernan in The Washington Post, January 6, 2002)
The author of the Godfather, the book the Mafia loved
Monday 5 July 1999
Mario Puzo, who has died aged 78, said of his worldwide, bestselling novel The Godfather: "I wished like hell I'd written it better."
Puzo's remarkable success came about because he was broke and determined to write something which would make him money. He had a wife and five children to support.
"I was 45 years old, I owed $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks and assorted bookmakers and loan sharks. It was really time to grow up and sell out."
The public made his book one of the most widely read, post-war American novels, selling more than 21 million copies worldwide. Puzo's tale of treachery, violence, sex and revenge was also the story of the destruction of a family. It was written in the late 1960s, at the height of the war in Vietnam, when the country was tearing itself apart.
"Family values" was a crude slogan much favoured by right-wing politicians. But the figure of Don Corleone, with his peasant ways, holding the family together while struggling to restrain the impetuousness and ambitions of his sons and fend off the greed of rivals, deeply touched the popular imagination. Members of the Mafia, seldom interviewed about their literary judgments, were said to have loved the novel.
The Godfather remained a popular book for three decades, and in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola, Puzo wrote the screenplays for three wildly successful and award-winning films based on his novels and the characters he created: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III.
Born the son of illiterate Neapolitan immigrants, and one of 12 children, Puzo grew up in Hell's Kitchen on the west side of Manhattan. His father worked as a trackman for the New York Central Railroad.
Mario Puzo was 12 when his father abandoned the family. The recollection of his strong-willed mother determined to support her children, and to protect them from the slums came flooding back when Puzo began to write The Godfather. The element of personal dignity in Don Corleone, and his ruthlessness, was based on his mother. Puzo later said that it was her voice in his ear while he was writing the Don's dialogue.
After the second world war (in which he served in the US army), he married Erika, a German woman who died in 1978, and worked as a clerk in a government office. He wrote freelance articles and published two novels, The Dark Arena (1955) and The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965), a story of Italian immigrant life in New York city. They earned him respectful reviews, but no noticeable sales.
For The Godfather in 1969 he received an advance of $5,000 but by the time the foreign rights, movie rights and paperback rights had been sold, he was a millionaire.
The public assumed that Puzo had written about the Mafia from personal knowledge. But, in The Godfather Papers (1972), he said that he was only aware of the lowest level of organised crime in his neighbourhood. It was as a lifelong gambler that he knew, from a distance, the street talk about "mobbed up", "respect" and the "vig".
Puzo knew the domestic interiors of the mafiosi, because he knew the tasteless interiors of their souls. Having read Hemingway to good effect, he was able to create a stylised Mafia dialogue which the public adored. Phrases from his book entered the vocabulary of the Mafia itself, as well as the vernacular.
Drawn to Hollywood for the buzz, the big bucks and the gambling, Puzo wrote screenplays for a string of other big-budget movies, including the two Superman films and The Cotton Club. His novels after The Godfather enjoyed better reviews than similar popular products.
In 1996 The Last Don completed the geographical shift of the organised crime family from the Lower East Side to Las Vegas and Hollywood. Omerta, a novel which returns again to the Corleone family, is due for publication next year.
Mario Puzo is survived by his five children and his companion of 20 years, Carol Gino.
For Puzo, the characters so vividly presented in The Godfather had, in the end, been swallowed by Brando, Pacino and Duval. It was no longer his Mamma's voice that he heard, but Brando's rasp, mandolins, sepia tints, and Coppola's soundtrack.
For further reading: The Immigrant Experience, ed. by T.C. Wheeler (1971); The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions (1972); The Italian-American Novel by Rose B. Green (1974); Contemporary Novelists, ed. by J. Vinson (1976); World Authors 1970-1975, ed. by John Wakeman (1980); Contemporary Popular Writers, ed. by David Mote (1997); Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers by Lee Server (2002)
- Dark Arena, 1955
- The Fortunate Pilgrim, 1965- Mamma Lucia (suom. Mikko Kilpi, 1972)- The Fortunate Pilgrim, TV mini-series (1988), prod. Carlo & Alex Ponti, Rete Europa, dir. by Stuart Cooper, starring Sophia Loren, Edward James Olmos, John Turturro
- The Runaway Summer of David Shaw, 1966
- The Godfather, 1969- Films: Godfather (1972), dir. by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Marion Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, music Nino Rota. The film depicts events, when the Mafia's New York head dies of old age, and his son takes over reluctantly but later learns how to kill. Godfather Part II (1974), dir. by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall. Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro. In 1958, Michael Corleone reflects on the problems of himself and his father before him. Godfather Part III (1990), dir. by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia. Eli Wallach, Bridget Fonda, written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Operatic tale, where Michael Corleone attempts to become a legitimate businessman while grooming his brother's violent and illegitimate son as his successor
- The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions, 1972
- Earthquake, 1974, (script, with George Fox)- Prod. Universal Pictures, The Filmakers Group, dir. by Mark Robson, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene
- Fools Die, 1975
- Inside Las Vegas, 1977
- A Time to Die, 1982 (story: 'Six Graves to Munich')- Film prod. Carnation International Pictures (CIP), screenplay John F. Goff, Matt Cimber, Willy Russell, dir. Matt Cimber, Joe Tornatore, starring Rex Harrison, Rod Taylor, Edward Albert, Ralf Vallone
- The Sicilian, 1984- Film: The Sicilian (1987), prod. Gladden Entertainment, dir. by Michael Cimino, (Gore Vidal contributed to the screenplay, written by Steve Shagan), starring Christopher Lambert, Terence Stamp, Barbara Sukowa
- The Fourth K, 1991Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (screenplay with others, also the story)
- - Film: Prod. Quinto Centenario, screenplay John Briley, Cary Bates, Mario Puzo, dir. John Glen, starring Tom Selleck, Marlon Brando, Georges Corrafe, Rachel Ward
- The Last Don, 1996
- Films: The Last Don, TV mini-series (1997), dir. Graeme Clifford, starring Danny Aiello, Joe Mantegna and Daryl Hannah; The Last Don II, TV mini-series (1998), dir. Graeme Clifford, starring Patsy Kensit, Jason Gedrick and Kirstie Alley
- Omerta, 2000The Family, 2001 (completed by Carol Gino)