20 facts you might not know about 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II'
Paramount Pictures

20 facts you might not know about 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II'

Many movies have made about the mob. Few of them are considered true works of cinematic art, though. One clear instance of that, and a movie that changed the landscape of film, is Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” The movie was a huge box-office success, for a time the highest-grossing movie ever made, and so much more. Many consider “The Godfather” the best movie ever. Well, except the people who consider its sequel “The Godfather Part II” the best movie ever. What an incredible combo of movies. You may know these movies, but do you know these 20 facts about the films?

 
1 of 20

The novel the movie was based on was an incredible hit

The novel the movie was based on was an incredible hit
Paramount

Mario Puzo actually sold the rights to the manuscript for the book that would become “The Godfather” before it was even finished. Evidently, the author was in need of a quick influx of cash and was happy to sell the rights to Paramount’s Robert Evans, the legendary producer. It paid off for the studio after the book became an incredible hit. Puzo’s “The Godfather” was on “The New York Times’” bestseller list for a staggering 67 weeks.

 
2 of 20

Many directors were approached before Coppola got the gig

Many directors were approached before Coppola got the gig
Paramount

Coppola became a huge name in showbusiness after “The Godfather,” but before he got the job he was not necessarily a success. He had not really had a big hit yet and was coming off a flop in “The Rain People.” After many directors, including Sergio Leone, Peter Bogdanovich, and Arthur Penn turned it down, Coppola got the opportunity, in part because he was an Italian-American and Evans felt that was important.

 
3 of 20

Coppola also didn’t get the chance to finish the movie

Coppola also didn’t get the chance to finish the movie
Paramount

Paramount was worried about whether or not Coppola was capable of taking on such an epic production. The cost of the film was rising and Coppola was making decisions they didn’t necessarily like. In fact, Evans talked to director Elia Kazan about taking over the film. Despite the tangible fear that he would be fired, Coppola finished the production.

 
4 of 20

Puzo really wanted Marlon Brando for the film

Puzo really wanted Marlon Brando for the film
Paramount

Puzo, who also worked as a screenwriter on the movie, wrote a letter to Brando to say he felt he was the only actor that could play Vito Corleone. In the end, it came down to Brando and Ernest Borgnine for the role. Some executives were worried because Brando didn’t a reputation as necessarily being easy to work with. However, he was serious about getting the role and put cotton balls in his mouth for his audition to change his diction and to give Vito a certain look he felt he should have. It paid off, as he got the role.

 
5 of 20

James Caan was the first choice…for Michael

James Caan was the first choice…for Michael
Paramount

Caan’s turn as Sonny Corleone, the hot-tempered son of Vito, earned him an Oscar nomination. However, it was not the role he had at first. Originally Caan was cast as Michael, the role that went to Al Pacino. Coppola really wanted Pacino, who was not a famous name at the time, and Evans agreed as long as the role of Sonny went to Caan. An agreement was reached, and we’re all probably pretty happy with that.

 
6 of 20

“The Godfather” was a family affair

“The Godfather” was a family affair
Paramount

Coppola put family members all through the movie. His father, mother, wife, and his two sons all had cameos. So did his daughter Sofia, who plays Connie and Carlo’s baby. Then, of course, there’s his sister Talia Shire, who played Connie.

 
7 of 20

That was a real horse’s head

That was a real horse’s head
Paramount

Sorry if you don’t know this already. The horse’s head that is found in a bed in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes? That was an actual head of an actual horse. Grim though it may be, no animals were harmed in the making of that scene. Coppola had procured the horse head from a dog food company.

 
8 of 20

The film won three Oscars

The film won three Oscars
Paramount

Unsurprisingly, “The Godfather” got a lot of Oscars love, but maybe not as much as you might imagine. The film got seven nominations, which is a lot, but far from the record. It only won three of those Academy Awards, but they were all big ones. The film took home Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Picture.

 
9 of 20

Brando changed the way Oscars handle award speeches

Brando changed the way Oscars handle award speeches
Paramount

While Brando won for his turn as Vito Corleone, he actually refused to accept the award. When his name was announced, it was not Brando but Sacheen Littlefeather who took the stage. She gave a speech saying that Brando was declining the award in protest of the treatment of Native Americans in film and television. After this, the Academy Awards no longer allowed winners to send others in their place, outside of posthumous nominations.

 
10 of 20

They started working on the sequel before the first film was even finished

They started working on the sequel before the first film was even finished
Paramount

Despite concerns early on that Coppola wouldn’t be up to the task of directing “The Godfather,” obviously things changed. In fact, production on the sequel began while the first movie was still being filmed. Puzo started working on the script for the sequel in December of 1971, with “The Godfather” coming out in March of 1972.

 
11 of 20

Robert De Niro was almost in “The Godfather”

Robert De Niro was almost in “The Godfather”
Paramount

De Niro had originally been cast in the role of Paulie, but left the movie to take a role in the film “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” The reason there was an opening in that film? Pacino had left the movie to play Michael. De Niro would, of course, go on to play the young Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II,” for which he would win an Oscar.

 
12 of 20

De Niro barely speaks any English in the movie

De Niro barely speaks any English in the movie
Paramount

There are six actors who have won an Oscar for a role that is not primarily in English. Only De Niro and Benicio Del Toro are Americans, and Del Toro was born in Puerto Rico where Spanish is the primary language. Playing the young Vito, almost all of De Niro’s dialogue is in a Sicilian version of Italian. In fact, the actor only speaks 17 words of English in “The Godfather Part II.”

 
13 of 20

They had to create a new character due to a dispute with an actor from the first film

They had to create a new character due to a dispute with an actor from the first film
Paramount

Richard S. Castellano, who played Clemenza in “The Godfather,” was supposed to have a big role in the sequel. However, the actor had a disagreement about the production and declined to return for the movie. As a result, a new character was created: Frank Pentangeli. Yes, Frank’s arc was supposed to be Clemenza.

 
14 of 20

One of the most-memorable lines in “The Godfather” was an adlib

One of the most-memorable lines in “The Godfather” was an adlib
Paramount

Perhaps Castellano ended up disagreeing with the producers prior to “The Godfather Part II” because he believed he deserved a little more input on his character. After all, Castellano reported adlibbed the famous line “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

 
15 of 20

Roger Corman had a small role

Roger Corman had a small role
20th Century Fox

One of the senators at the hearing is played by Roger Corman, one of the most prolific and important producers and directors in film. A big reason for that is because he was always willing to take a chance on an inexperienced actor or director, providing they would work for cheap and work fast. Coppola was one of those people, and he was likely repaying Corman by giving him this role. He wouldn’t be the first, or last, director to do that.

 
16 of 20

Perhaps the most-famous acting teacher in the world is in the movie

Perhaps the most-famous acting teacher in the world is in the movie
Paramount

Mobster Hyman Roth is played by Lee Strasberg in the film. While his acting career wasn’t exceedingly acclaimed, he had as much of an impact on acting as anybody of his generation. Strasberg is considered the preeminent proponent of method acting in the United States. He taught acting to such luminaries as James Dean,  Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, and Jane Fonda. Oh, also a couple of guys named Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

 
17 of 20

The movie bested its predecessor at the Oscars

The movie bested its predecessor at the Oscars
Paramount

“The Godfather Part II” received nine Oscar nominations, and it doubled the number of wins of “The Godfather.” Coppola’s film took home six Academy Awards, including one for Best Director and one for Best Picture.

 
18 of 20

“The Godfather Part II” made history with its win

“The Godfather Part II” made history with its win
Paramount

When the movie won Best Picture, it became the first sequel ever to do so. It would remain the only sequel to take home that honor until “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” However, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” remain the only films from the same series to both win Best Picture.

 
19 of 20

Coppola had quite the 1974

Coppola had quite the 1974
Paramount

“The Godfather Part II” faced some stiff competition for Best Picture. One of the films it beat out? That would be “The Conversation,” which also was directed by Coppola. Yes, in the same year he had two films nominated for Best Picture.

 
20 of 20

John Cazale had an incredible (and tragically short) career

John Cazale had an incredible (and tragically short) career
Paramount

Sadly, Cazale, who played Fredo, died at the age of 42 from cancer. Before that, though, he had one of the most impressive careers ever. Cazale appeared in only five movies before passing. Every single one of them was nominated for Best Picture: The Godfather 1 &2, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation, and The Deer Hunter.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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