The Godfather of Mob Cinema: Francis Ford Coppola


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By Rob Bailot Jr. Foreword By Gunner A. Lindbloom. Title By David Breakspear.

Featuring Scott M. Burnstein, Seth Ferranti, Ryan Leone, Gunner A. Lindbloom, David Breakspear, Craig Timmins, Casey Robert McBride, Michael Maffucci, Vincent Arpa, Nev Morgan, Ian Barr, James Ramirez, Peter Tracanna, Michael Gourdine, Christian W. Cipollini, Larry Henry & Ori Spado


The Man Who Made The Mafia A Household Name, Francis Ford Coppola, is widely known for his successful films, but when we hear his name we immediately think of The Godfather. And naturally so. The trilogy was his cinematic opus. Yet very little is known about Coppola the man, his personal life. One would assume he was from New York, when in fact he was born on April 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan, the birthplace of one of the most successful Mafia Families in the country, the Detroit Combination. Coppola’s beginnings were so deeply rooted in Detroit that he received his middle name in honor of Henry Ford. Partly because he was born in the Henry Ford Hospital, and also for his father’s association with the automobile manufacturer.

The creative artistic gene runs deep in the Coppola family. Essentially everyone in the family worked in the arts. Coppola’s father, Carmine, was a flautist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and also arranger and assistant orchestra director for The Ford Sunday Evening Hour, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Francis was two when his father was named principal flautist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and moved the family to Queens, New York, where Francis, his older brother, and younger sister, spent the remainder of their childhood. A few years after setting in New York, the 8 year old Coppola contracted Polio, leaving him paralyzed and bedridden for a year. The time allowed him to indulge his imagination with homemade puppet theater productions.

The Coppola family matriarch, was Italia, an actress and author of “Mama Coppola’s Pasta Book“, which lead her to becoming the face of the Mammarella Pasta and Sauce line, named after her and made by her famous son. Italia also appeared in three of her son’s films, One from the Heart, The Godfather I and The Godfather III. The family patriarch Carmine also contributed to the Godfather films, providing the music performed in the wedding scene. Carmine also provided music for The Godfather Part II, earning him an Oscar for best film score. Carmine also composed the score for The Godfather Part III, and made cameo appearances in all three. Sadly, less than four months after Part III premiered, Carmine would pass away in April 1991. His wife Italia would join him in 2004.

The talent did not stop there. Coppola’s brother August, was an author, and filmmaker in his own right, He once served as Dean of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University. A little-known fact is that August is the father of Nicolas Coppola, better known as Nicolas Cage, who changed his name in order to separate himself from his famous family. The name Cage was a tribute to comic-book superhero Luke Cage.

Coppola's brother August

Coppola’s brother August is the father of Nicolas Coppola, better known as Nicolas Cage. Photo by By Nicolas Genin.

One of the most memorable characters in The Godfather films, was Connie Corleone, played by actress Talia Shire. Talia is better known for her role playing Sylvester Stallone’s wife Adrian Balboa in the Rocky films for which Talia was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, and nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Drama for her role in Rocky. What you may not know, Talia is the sister of Francis.

A mediocre student, Coppola was interested in engineering and technology, earning him the nickname “Science”. Initially he wanted a career in music, like his mother, father, and grandfather. Coppola played the tuba and received a music scholarship to the New York Military Academy, the same school, Gambino Boss John Gotti’s son, John Jr. attended. Coppola would attend 23 other schools. After graduating from Great Neck High School, the inspiring film maker enrolled at Hofstra University in 1955, and graduated with a B.A. in theatre arts, in 1959. After Hofstra. For graduate work in film, he enrolled in UCLA. In 1962, Coppola’s student screenplay Pilma Pilma won the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award at UCLA, after which he began his professional career training as an assistant to Roger Colman. Coppola was a sound-man, dialogue director, associate producer, eventually directing his first feature film Dementia 13. On set of the horror film, Francis would meet Eleanor Jessie Neil, his future wife. In 1963, the couple married in Las Vegas. They would go on to have three children, Gian-Carlo, Roman and Sofia Coppola. All of which would go into film.

The Coppola Family

The Coppola Family

During the next few years, Coppola was involved in a variety of script collaborations He first found directorial success with Finian’s Rainbow in 1968. He gained critical attention for his screenwriting talents, with 1970’s Patton. Cappola was a central figure in the New Hollywood filmmaking movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1972, he would release the movie that made him a Legend in film, The Godfather. The now 80 year old, will go down in history as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

The Godfather was one of the closest portrayals of the mafia we have ever seen in Film. It gave the public it’s first real look inside the secret society known as La Cosa Nostra. –Rob Bailot Jr.

The Godfather is more than just your typical Hollywood fluff. It had Mario Puzo’s imagination behind, which gave it an incredible sense of realism, even if it was fiction. Yet there are indeed some Mafia families that very much mirror the Corleone’s. Mob Family  dynasties, so to speak. Detroit, for example, is one of them, where the power is always kept within the confines of blood relatives. So the power struggles that occur in The Godfather COULD have been real. The young Don Corleone’s come up in Little Italy. The battle with the Turk over drugs. Michael’s battle to find balance with his wife. Connie’s dysfunction with her abusing husband. The casinos in Vegas. Machiavellian deception from friends and allies. It all could have been reality, which is why it resonates with fans. The story is realistic and plausible. The characters are relatable, likable, even lovable. Who wasn’t heartbroken when Sonny died, or when the Don passed away in his beloved tomato garden? Connecting to an audience on an emotional level is the hallmark of a great story, be it book, movie, or TV. In The Godfather, Coppola finds a way to do just that. Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised, in the family I was raised in, but I’ve always felt a strong connection to the story. But I imagine it’s the same for people who who didn’t grow up in a family like mine. The movie is just that good, and changed the very fabric of movie-making. Forty years after its release, it’s still considered the greatest film of all time. Definitely my favorite movie and one of my top three books. Thank you Mario Puzo! Now someone needs to make a new mafia epic that defines THIS generation. And It just so happens I know guy. -Gunner A. Lindbloom

The Godfather is a gangster flick for the ages. An epic journey into the heart of an Italian family that runs the criminal underworld. Entrenched in Mafia-dom and all that comes with it, the movie romanticized the mafia in popular culture, creating mythical figures of the Corleone’s, who in a lot of ways mirrored their real life counterparts on the streets. When people think of gangsters now Don Corleone is one of the first that come to mind because of the movies popularity. This fictional character holds rank in the chronicles of gangster lore with such luminaries as Pablo Escobar, John Gotti, Whitey Bulger, and Freeway Ricky Ross, even though he wasn’t real. Talk about an impact. -Seth Ferranti

The Godfather was a total game changer in so many ways. Its transcendent impact cannot be overstated, in terms of film, pop culture and for me personally. Coppola, Puzo and Evans made the perfect movie. -Scott M. Burnstein

The Godfather was a seminal piece of American cinema for a number of reasons; namely, it started our insatiable blood-thirst for violent and atmospheric gangster opuses. -Ryan Leone

As a child growing up in the UK, the Richardson family, Charlie Richardson in particular had a profound effect on my life and the catalyst for my interest in a somewhat limited world. It wasn’t until the early 90s that I saw the Godfather movies. This began what I call my interest yet the missus calls an obsession in the America Mafia and of course the land of the birth of La Cosa Nostra. Although family was an important aspect, it also showed you didn’t need to be blood to belong to a family. -David Breakspear

Francis Ford Coppola’s excellent trilogy about the Corleone family grabbing its share of the American dream are unmatched classics. The first Godfather movie missed the top spot on IMDB’s top 250 by 1/10th of a point. Part two is on a respectable 4th spot. The Corleone family cashing in on the American dream like mobbed up Vanderbilts earned these movies everlasting fame. The cocktail of fiction blended with true events make them irresistible to movie fans. There are so many great Mafia stories, that’s why it’s a shame that so few directors managed to make outstanding Mafia movies. Coppola did it, so did Scorsese and Leone. It’s sad that the best Mafia movies are already made, but at least they’re timeless gems who will last for many generations to come. -Vincent Arpa

There have been gangster movies going back decades with actors such as George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and others. Very good movies but The Godfather changed the game. First off it was a big budget movie, the others were not. Also, the book and movies brought more depth to the characters. You got drawn in to who the characters were and their was familiarity to people with close knit families. Forgetting the mob stuff, the Corleone’s could have been any Italian-American family. This all being said, the subsequent mob movies could not go back to the old style. They had to ramp up their game with either realism or action or both. -Michael Maffucci.

The Godfather is one of those classic movies that has, and will continue, to stand the test of time. The film allowed viewers to gain insight into the life and inner workings of a crime family and stimulated this inconceivable interest in the mob that would snowball. The fact that James Caan was hanging around with Colombo Crime Family mobsters off set, the fact that Al Ruddy who was one of the producers had to seek approval and get the blessing from Joe Colombo who asked for the removal of words such as ‘Mafia’ and ‘Cosa Nostra’, all played its part in making the film what it was. If that wasn’t enough, the tensions that sparked between the real New York Mafia families because of the film was fascinating to watch unfold, and would eventually lead to Joe Colombo being gunned down in 1971 during filming, which in-turn ignited many conspiracy theories! – Craig Timmins

From as early as the 1930s, the public has been fascinated with gangster movies. The romantic notion of being a part of that life, the shootouts, car chases and the broads has created a fascinating sub-culture. But it wasn’t until Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather“ trilogy, did we actually find out how the American Mafia operate. The importance of protecting the criminal activities, loyalty, business, family, bloody violence, double crossing, deceit and betrayal are all true parts of a society that was well hidden in the shadows for decades. The Godfather trilogy changed the way Mob movies are made. -Nev Morgan

I love the Godfather part I and II. With part I being one of my favorite movies of all time. It details a confusing and complex world of assimilation, and a families desperate attempt to hold on to traditional values in a new world. The Family and “CRIME FAMILY” also has to assimilate to NEW crimes. In all of this confusion and drama the bottom line is the acceptance of “HEROIN” which had a special place and meaning in my life as well. The movie also displays how the Mafia operates with a lot of talk amongst the brains of crime and in the end it shows you how the Mafia operates when it comes time for action, NO TALK just the removal of the Families enemies, by the silent people. The REAL Goodfellas of the entity. The final scene is the most gripping when the door closes in Kates face. They weren’t just shutting her out, but us as the viewers out as well, like we were allowed to see all that they were willing to allow. -Michael Gourdine

Very few films, of any genre, proved such an endearing and lasting quality, one that even the hardcore historians (myself among them) are able to shove aside, if only for a few hours, and simply just enjoy the view, time and time again.  We never get tired of it. Then again, though loosely based on ‘real’ events and people, The Godfather was never touted as a biopic or ‘literal account’ of the world’s most infamous and elusive criminal subculture. It’s a movie, and one that just happens to encompass all the romanticized bravado a ravenous pop culture society adores indulging in. -Christian W. Cippolini

Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather, raised the bar, not just for movies about the mafia, but for film making in general. A perfect blend of reality and fiction, it’s one of those rare films that has made the jump from the silver screen, to being woven into our everyday culture. A masterpiece which all other films in the genre will be compared to for as long as there are films about the mob. -Casey Robert McBride

If there was one film that optimized the real life strangle hold that the American Mafia had on society it is non other then Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather. From it’s depiction of how much family means in that world, all the way to how gruesomely violent the life truly is ‘The Godfather hit on all of it and has since been dubbed not only the best Mob movie of all time but simply one of the best stories and films of all time. -Ian Barr

Francis Ford Coppola was a visionary. The film has the ability to make you empathize with Murder, and Extortion due to the close bond you feel with the characters, and “The Family.” Wise guys have been heard using lines from this Epic Saga. -Peter Tracanna

Francis Ford Coppola layed the foundation of Gangster movies, to making these masterpieces, The Godfather is one of the best movies to have ever been produced. From the story lines in the first one, to the second one with Vito rising up to power. I call it the American Dream. -James Ramirez

A lot of things make The Godfather successful: great acting, great writing, suspense, action. Its themes of family loyalty and honor also make it appealing. In addition to that, people like crime stories, and that’s what this is: a movie about criminals — romanticized criminals, but criminals nonetheless. –Larry Henry

The Godfather was outstanding. I read the book first. I’ll never forget it, I was flying home to New York from Hawaii and read it all the way. I enjoyed Godfather II the most. -Ori Spado

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