Mario Puzo’s book, ‘The Godfather’ was released in 1969 to universally positive reviews. It was later made into a feature film of the same title and went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. While pretty much everyone seemed to love the book and the movie, Frank Sinatra, the legendary singer, didn’t feel the same way. This was because it was widely believed that Johnny Fontane’s character was based on him. Paramount+’s ‘The Offer’ is a dramatic retelling of how the movie was made and features a confrontation between Mario and Frank. So, if you’re curious to find out more, we’ve got you covered.
Was Johnny Fontane Based on Frank Sinatra?
In Mario’s ‘The Godfather,’ Johnny Fontane is an alcoholic singer who is the godson of Don Vito Corleone. Johnny entertains the guests at Vito’s daughter’s wedding and later asks for his help with a role in a movie. This leads to the famous horse head scene in the film, where Vito’s enforcers threaten the film’s producer into letting Johnny play the role. Johnny’s character was also similar to another singer, Al Martino, who went on to star as Johnny in the film.
At the time, there were rumors about Frank having mob connections that allowed him to make certain moves in his career. It was also alleged that Frank got out of a contract with Tommy Dorsey, his bandleader, in 1951, through the threat of violence by the mob. This was similar to how Johnny’s career was helped by his connections to the mob. Furthermore, just like Frank, Johnny stars in a movie in his later career. So, Frank was convinced that the character was modeled after him, leading to quite the controversy later on. Francis Ford Coppola, the director, later stated that Johnny was “inspired by a kind of Frank Sinatra character.”
Was Frank Sinatra Really Not Happy With The Character?
For a while, Frank had made his displeasure regarding the character known. This led to a confrontation between him and Mario at an eatery in Los Angeles, California, in 1970. According to Mario, he and Al Ruddy were at the restaurant when someone wanted to introduce Mario to Frank. Mario was naturally looking forward to it as a massive fan of his, but it didn’t go well.
Ruddy later stated that Mario wanted to ask for an autograph, but Frank was furious and reportedly said, “I ought to break your legs. Did the F.B.I. help you with your book?” Mario later said that Frank called him a “pimp” and threatened to beat him. Mario added, “What hurt was that here he was, a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian, with physical violence. This was roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone. It just wasn’t done.”
It was also reported that Frank’s lawyers demanded to see Mario’s manuscript even before the book was published. Later, it was alleged that Frank tried to interfere with Johnny’s casting; Al Martino claimed that he was discouraged from taking the part. Ultimately, the meeting between Frank and Mario turned sour, with Mario adding, “Finally, I walked away and out of the restaurant. My humiliation must have showed because he yelled after me, ‘Choke. Go ahead and choke.'”