Godfather, Meet The Godfather

The following is an article from Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader.

What happens when one of Hollywood's most famous movie mobsters meets up with the genuine article? Here's the story of one of the most unusual "sit-downs" in mob or movie history. Bada-bing!

CONNECTED

Even if you've never heard of Rocco Musacchia, if you're a fan of gangster films like Prizzi's Honor (1985), Donnie Brasco (1997), and Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), you're familiar with his work. Musacchia works as a "technical advisor" on mob films. He teaches Hollywood actors how to act like gangsters- "how a wise guy dresses, how he walks and talks and wears his hat," as he put it. He grew up around such real-life characters in Brooklyn and has maintained his contacts over the years.

In the summer of 1989, Musacchia was working on The Freshman, starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick. In the film, Brando parodies his role in The Godfather by playing a mobster named Carmine Sabatini, who just happens to look and even dress like The Godfather's Vito Corleone.  

LET'S EAT

One evening after filming a scene in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York, Brando and his co-stars went to a nearby Italian restaurant to eat dinner and watch the prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.

The evening got off to a bad start. Hearns was widely thought to have won the 12-round bout, but the judges scored it a draw, which drove fans like Brando crazy. Making matters worse, Brando was on a diet: He had to settle for a plate of broiled fish while everyone around him feasted on some of the best Italian food in the city. He was in a foul mood, but he perked up when word filtered into the restaurant that John Gotti, the infamous head of the Gambino crime family, had just walked into his headquarters, the Ravenite Social Club, right across the street.

AN OFFER HE COULDN'T REFUSE

What happened next depends on whose version of the story you believe. In his autobiography, Brando claimed that Gotti sent over one of his goons with an invitation to drop by the club. "That's nice," Brando claimed he said in reply. "I was curious, and with four or five other people from the picture, I went across the street."

Musacchia remembers the event differently. He knew Gotti and offered to introduce Brando to the Dapper Don. Brando, says Musacchia, could hardly contain his excitement: "His eyes lit up. Nothing else ever impressed him. He was the biggest movie star in the world and here he was, literally star struck."

Whichever version is true, Brando, Broderick, and a third actor, Bruno Kirby (who played the young Peter Clemenza in The Godfather II), were soon making their way across the street with Musacchia to meet John Gotti in his lair.

CLOSE ENCOUNTER

According to Gotti's daughter, Victoria, the visit went off without a hitch. "Brando was telling jokes all night and doing magic tricks." she said. "Dad was doing what he does best, telling stories. And they just enjoyed each other's company."

Brando paints a different picture in his memoirs: According to him, the meeting was not the fun-filled encounter that one might expect. When Brando entered the Ravenite Social Club- "a shabby store front …filled with Mafiosi," as he put it, Gotti and several of his cohorts were seated around a table playing cards. Gotti did not rise to meet Brando, though he did shake Brando's hand. Brando interpreted this to mean that Gotti did not want to lose face in front of his men by fawning over a Hollywood star, even if it was the guy who played Don Corleone. Gotti was not about to let down his guard.

The Dapper Don introduced Brando to his men, one of whom joked, "Will the real Godfather please stand up!" That got a laugh, but when Brando tried to add to the levity by joking that nobody made any money betting on the Leonard/Hearns fight, Gotti said nothing. Instead, he gestured toward the big sign on the wall that read,

THIS PLACE IS BUGGED. WHATEVER YOU SAY WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU.

THE CARD FATHER

Brando like to perform magic tricks and often carried a deck of card to use as an icebreaker around awestruck fans. This room was as tense as any he'd ever been in, so he took out his cards. Gotti must've though he wanted to play poker, because when he saw the cards, he snapped, "If you wanna play in here, you don't deal."

"Take a card," Brando told him. Gotti picked a card. Brando told him to put it back in the deck and shuffle the cards. Gotti complied. Then when Brando asked for a hanky to cover the deck of cards, every goon in the joint pulled theirs out in unison and waved it at Brando. "The place looked like a wash line on Monday morning," he remembered. Brando selected a hanky, used it to cover the deck of cards in his hand, and told Gotti to pull the hanky away. Gotti pulled, and when he did, the deck was gone -the only card Brando still held in  his hand was the one Gotti picked.

It was a clever trick and a nice little icebreaker, but then Brando sabotaged his own efforts by joking to Gotti, "You know, you could make a living this way."

And that's when the evening screeched to a halt. "I didn't say anything more," Brando remembered, "because suddenly the whole room had become as quiet as a tomb at midnight. Suddenly I realized what everyone was thinking: Had I tried to make a fool out of the boss in front of his crew?" As Gotti stared in silence, Brando decided one brush with death was enough. He and his party said their good-nights and beat it out of the Ravenite Social Club as fast as they could.

ART IMITATES LIFE



The evening wasn't a total loss. If you ever get a chance to watch The Freshman, you'll see that in several of his scenes with Brando, Matthew Broderick has a terrified look on his face -the look that someone might have if, say, they ever meet a real mobster in the flesh. According to Musacchia, that's exactly what it was. Broderick, he says, "has this totally astonished look on his face the whole time in front of Gotti, that he duplicated later, in the film." (Convicted of 13 murders and other crimes in 1992, Gotti was given a life sentence and died in prison in 2002.)

___________________

The article above was reprinted with permission from the Bathroom Institute's book Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute has published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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According to my sources (third hand, unfortunately), The Godfather, caused a sea change in Mob behavior. The public expected mobsters to talk like rude, Italian immigrants from the 1950's so they started talking that way.
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