Frank Sinatra Hated ‘The Godfather’, Told Author Mario Puzo to ‘Choke’

“The Godfather” holds a revered position in movie history with the Corleone crime family saga – starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan – perched at No. 2 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

However, Francis Ford Coppola’s 50th birthdayThe 1972 Mafia masterpiece resurrected the negative opinion of an influential critic: Frank Sinatra.

The chairman of the board was not a fan of “The Godfather,” an opinion Sinatra made clear as Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel was being adapted for film. In a legendary outburst at Hollywood restaurant Chasen’s, Sinatra rumbled, “Choke. Go ahead and choke” to Puzo, who was taking a meal break after writing the script for the film.

The infamous confrontation sparked the imagination of Michael Tolkin, creator of “The Offer,” a new Paramount+ series (premiering April 28) about the making of “The Godfather,” which features a recreation of the smash.

“The only story I knew about the making of ‘The Godfather’ was that Mario Puzo had a falling out with Frank Sinatra at Chasen,” Tolkin said last month of the 10-part series. “So I had five minutes in the written show, and I just needed nine hours and 55 minutes more to fill it.”

Sinatra’s vocal reprimand simmered for years.

“In many ways, Sinatra dominated ‘The Godfather’ production by far,” says Mark Seal, author of ‘Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather’. Sinatra partly owned the Las Vegas Sands hotel, where Puzo researched his mob novel.

Even before the book’s release, Puzo’s publisher received a letter “from Sinatra’s lawyers asking to see the manuscript”, Puzo wrote in his 1972 essay, “The Making of the Godfather”.

The editors politely declined the request. When “The Godfather” was published, many assumed that the novel’s central character, Johnny Fontaine – a drunken former crooner and womanizer who turns to the Godfather to relaunch his career with a film role – was modeled after Sinatra.

While making the film, Paramount’s legal team “showed concern” about the possibility of being sued by Sinatra. “I reassured them, the role was very minor in the film. Which turned out to be,” Puzo wrote.

The simmer boiled over at Chasen when Puzo met Sinatra, an artist he called an “idol from afar.” Puzo was dining with “Godfather” producer Al Ruddy as Sinatra greeted John Wayne across the room. “They were both absolutely brilliant, better than on screen, 20 years younger,” Puzo wrote.

Another well-connected restaurant insisted on introducing Puzo to Sinatra. He quickly went south, with Sinatra saying, “I don’t want to meet him,” after the two approached his table. Puzo apologized, saying, “Look, that wasn’t my idea”, which Sinatra assumed was a reference to Fontaine’s character.

“Sinatra started shouting insults” and threatened to beat him, the author recalls.

“What hurt was that he was here, a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian, with physical violence,” Puzo wrote, calling it “roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone”.

Puzo, who died in 1999, left without incident. But Ruddy, whose memories form the basis of “The Offer,” gives a more vivid account in the book “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli.”

“There are two servers holding Mario. They dragged Puzo out, put him in my car,” Ruddy told author Seal, noting that Puzo was upset afterwards, lamenting, “In the house where I grew up, my mom had two photos in the kitchen: one of the pope and another. from Sintra. And the fact that Frank Sinatra doesn’t like me, or thinks I’d do anything to hurt him, breaks my heart.

Sinatra used his influence to meddle with the film’s cast. Singer Al Martino, who played Fontaine in “The Godfather,” told Seal he was warned not to play the role. “If you take the role, Sinatra will kick you out of Las Vegas,” Martino recalled, adding that he continued to perform in Vegas. “I’m the last guy you could threaten. I was tough about it. I took the bull by the horns!

At the 50th anniversary celebration of “The Godfather,” where a fully restored version of the film was unveiled (released Tuesday on ultra HD Blu-ray), Coppola told USA TODAY about his own chance encounter with Sinatra, who died in 1998. , before shooting. This encounter was much more light-hearted, with Sinatra even joking about taking on Brando’s role as head of the crime family.

“He said jokingly, ‘Why don’t we buy this (movie) from Paramount and I’ll play the godfather,’ Coppola said. “That’s what I remember.”


Lola R. McClure