Vito Corleone

Vito Corleone
Vito Corleone
Godfather15 flip.jpg
Marlon Brando portraying Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
First appearance The Godfather
Created by Mario Puzo
Portrayed by Marlon Brando (age 53–63),
Robert De Niro (age 25–33),
Oreste Baldini (Vito as boy, age 9),
Bill Meilien (The Godfather: The Game) (took over for Brando in the game due to his death)
Nickname(s) Godfather
Aliases The Godfather, The Don, Don Vito, Don Corleone, Vito Andolini (birth name)
Gender Male
Occupation olive oil importer, Mafia boss
Title The Godfather, Don
Family Corleone family
Spouse(s) Carmela Corleone (1914-1955, his death)
Children Sonny Corleone,
Fredo Corleone,
Michael Corleone,
Connie Corleone,
Tom Hagen (adopted)
Johnny Fontane (godson)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Vito Andolini Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, as well as Francis Ford Coppola's trilogy of films based on it, where he was portrayed by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and by Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II. Premiere Magazine listed Vito Corleone as the greatest movie character in history.[1] He was also selected as the 10th greatest movie character by Empire Magazine.[2]


Character overview

In Puzo's novel, Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone crime family, the most powerful Mafia family in the New York City area. He is depicted as an ambitious Sicilian immigrant who moves to the Hell's Kitchen area of west-central Manhattan and builds a Mafia empire, yet retains (and strictly adheres to) his own personal code of honor. Upon his death at the end of the novel, his youngest son, Michael, becomes the Don. Vito Corleone has two other sons, Santino ("Sonny") and Frederico ("Fredo"), and a daughter, Constanza ("Connie"), all of whom play major roles in the story. He also informally adopts another son, Tom Hagen, who grows up to become the Family's consigliere.

In the novel


The novel explains that Vito was born in the small town of Corleone, Sicily. According to The Godfather Part II, he was born on December 7, 1891. His father, Antonio Andolini, is murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, because he refused to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swears revenge, but is himself murdered soon after. Eventually, Ciccio's henchmen come to the Andolini home to kill Vito. Desperate, Vito's mother takes her son to see the Mafia chieftain herself and begs him to spare Vito. Ciccio refuses, however, reasoning that Vito would also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Vito's mother puts a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape while she is killed. Later that night, he is smuggled away, fleeing Sicily to seek refuge in America on a cargo ship full of immigrants. In the novel, he deliberately changes his name to Corleone, after his hometown. The film, however, plays that he is renamed "Vito Corleone" because the immigration workers at Ellis Island mistake "Andolini" for his middle name and the name of his town for his last name. According to The Godfather Part II, he later adopts the middle name "Andolini" to acknowledge his heritage.

Vito is later adopted by the Abbandando family in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and he befriends their son, Genco, who becomes like a brother to him. Vito begins making an honest living at Abbandando's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but the elder Abbadando is forced to fire him when Don Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone, demands that the grocery hire his nephew.

A young Vito (played by Robert De Niro) kills Don Fanucci

He soon learns to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. During this time, he also befriends two other low-level hoods, Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio. In 1920, he commits his first murder, killing Fanucci, who had threatened to turn him, Clemenza and Tessio into the police unless he got a cut of their illegal profits. Vito chooses the day of a major Italian festival to spy on Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci goes home, and surprises him at the door to his apartment. He shoots Fanucci three times, as the din from the festival and the towel he had wrapped around the gun as a makeshift silencer drowns out the noise from the gunshots. Vito then takes over the neighborhood, treating it with far more respect than Fanucci had.

As a young man, Vito starts an olive oil importing business, Genco Pura (simply known as Genco Olive Oil in the films), with his friend Genco. Over the years he uses it as a legal front for his organized crime syndicate, while amassing a fortune with his illegal operations. However, despite its front status, Genco Pura is very real; by the end of the 1920s it is the largest olive-oil importer in the nation. In 1925, he returns to Sicily for the first time since leaving as a child. He and his partner, Don Tommasino, then set up a meeting with the aging Don Ciccio, where he kills him by carving his stomach open, thus avenging his murdered family. Vito and Tommasino narrowly escape getting killed themselves while escaping, though Tommasino is crippled by a bullet in the escape.

By the early 1930s, Vito Corleone has organized his illegal operations as the Corleone crime family. Abbandando becomes his consigliere, with Clemenza and Tessio as caporegimes. Later, his oldest son Santino (nicknamed "Sonny") becomes a capo as well, and eventually his underboss. Around 1939, he moves his base of operations to Long Beach, New York on Long Island. While he oversees a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, he is known as a generous man who lives by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. He is a staunch believer in family values. He often rebukes Sonny for having an affair, and was greatly displeased when Connie married Carlo Rizzi, a small-time hood. At the same time, he is known as a traditionalist who demands respect commensurate with his status. By the time of the novel and film, even his three closest friends — Abbadando, Clemenza and Tessio — never call him "Vito", but either "Godfather" or "Don Corleone." In both the book and the first scene of the first film, he chastises undertaker Amerigo Bonasera for not coming to him first after his daughter is sexually assaulted instead of going to the police. Although he has a reputation for ruthlessness, he disapproves of many of the vicious crimes carried out by gangs, and so seeks to control crime in New York by either consuming or eliminating rival gangs. He doesn't entirely forsake murder, however. For instance, when his godson, singer Johnny Fontane, wanted to get out of a contract with a bandleader, Vito told the bandleader that he would be killed unless he let Johnny go. Later, when movie mogul Jack Woltz refused to give Johnny a role in a blockbuster picture, Vito had one of Woltz' prize horses killed and the horse's severed head is placed in Woltz' bed --a rather explicit warning that Woltz would be next if he didn't relent.

Main character arc

When the novel opens (in 1945), Vito narrowly survives an assassination attempt when he refuses the request of Virgil Sollozzo to invest in a heroin operation and use his political contacts for the operation's protection. Vito believes that the politicians on his payroll would recoil at the prospect of providing cover for drug trafficking. At the meeting with Sollozzo, Sonny intimates that he is interested in the offer; after the meeting, Vito warns his son that he should never let anyone but the family in on his thinking. Vito is supposed to be driven home by his bodyguard, Paulie Gatto (a soldier in the Clemenza crew), along with his son Fredo. When the Don finds that Paulie is not there, Fredo tells him that Paulie has called in sick that day. The Don crosses the street to buy oranges from a street vendor when two of Sollozzo's hitmen come out from the shadows with guns drawn. Realizing the situation, Vito tries to sprint back to his Cadillac, but he is shot five times before he can get to safety.

Days later, Sollozzo finds out the Don survived, and makes a second attempt two days later. He has police Captain Mark McCluskey — who has been on his payroll for many years — throw the Don's bodyguards in jail, leaving the hospitalized Don unguarded. However, Vito's youngest son, Michael, comes to visit his father minutes before the attack is due to occur. Realizing that his father is in danger, Michael has a nurse help him move the Don to another room and pretends to stand guard outside the hospital.

Vito's injuries incapacitate him for the next three years, during which time Sonny serves as acting head of the family. Sonny learns that Gatto took money from Sollozzo in return for betraying the Don, and orders him killed. He also gets word that the rival Tattaglia crime family has killed Luca Brasi, the Don's personal assassin, and orders Tessio's men to kill the family's underboss, Bruno Tattaglia, when they refuse to turn him over. Michael persuades Sonny to allow him to avenge their father by killing Sollozzo and McCluskey himself, arguing that no one would suspect him due to his longtime non-involvement in Mafia business. He also notes that although the mob normally frowns upon the murder of police officers, McCluskey is fair game because he is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard. After killing both men, Michael flees to Sicily, where he is protected by Don Tommasino.

A year later, Sonny himself is assassinated in a plot involving Connie's abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi, forcing Vito to resume command of the family. The other families had taken advantage of Vito's incapacity by moving in on his business interests and union rackets, but are forced to reconsider their strategies when the Don returns.

After Sonny's funeral and other formalities, Vito orders Tom Hagen to contact Emilio Barzini, the second most powerful Mafia chieftain in the country, in order to arrange a meeting of heads of all the crime families in America. In that meeting, Vito renounces all vengeance regarding his son's death, and reluctantly agrees to the drug operations. However, he says he only accepts this for "selfish reasons" in order to bring Michael back from exile in Sicily. He then says that, should anything happen to his remaining children, he will exact indiscriminate vengeance upon all of the Dons. He deduces that both Sollozzo and Philip Tattaglia, the head of the Tattaglia family, are merely pawns in Barzini's plot to destroy the Corleone family.

After Michael's return from Sicily, Vito installs him in the family business. He'd actually hoped Michael would go into politics. However, with Sonny dead, Vito feels that Fredo is incapable of running the family business, leaving him to turn to his youngest son. Vito goes into semi-retirement after Michael marries his longtime girlfriend Kay Adams. Michael becomes operating head of the family, with Vito as an informal consigliere. He even supports Michael's long-term plans to remove the family from crime, though an early draft of the script suggests that it was actually Vito's idea.[3] Michael sends Hagen to Las Vegas to act as the family's lawyer there and lay the groundwork for a planned move of most operations there after Vito's death. Clemenza and Tessio request permission to break off and form their own families in New York after the move to Las Vegas; Michael's bodyguards Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are chosen to be the future caporegimes of the family.

At the end of the novel, Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony in his garden. His last words in the novel are, "Life is so beautiful." Vito's funeral is a grand affair, with all the other dons, capos and consiglieres in New York attending.

Some days before his death, Vito tells Michael that Barzini would set him up to be killed under cover of a meeting "to fix up things". Barzini would use a trusted member of the Corleone family as an intermediary, and that whoever came to Michael about the meeting with Barzini was a traitor. At the funeral, Tessio tells Michael that he had set up a meeting on his territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would presumably be safe. Michael concludes that Tessio is the traitor, and has him killed along with Barzini and Tattaglia (and the other New York Dons as well in the film). He also avenges Sonny's death by having Carlo murdered. In truth, Michael and Vito had begun planning this mass slaughter soon after Michael's return to the United States; in a last demonstration of Vito's cunning, they had deliberately allowed the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance to whittle away at their interests in order to lull them into inaction.


Vito marries Carmela, an Italian immigrant girl, in 1914. They have four children — Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie. While he loves all of his children, he is proudest of Michael. He had long hoped that Michael would have a life away from the "family business".

Portrayals and influences

In the first film, Don Vito Corleone was portrayed by Marlon Brando. He was portrayed as a younger man in The Godfather Part II by Robert De Niro. Both performances won Academy Awards — Best Actor for Brando, Best Supporting Actor for De Niro. Corleone is the only motion picture character played by two different actors, each of whom received an Oscar for his or her portrayal. Brando declined his Oscar, having Sacheen Littlefeather state his reasons.

Though composed of characteristics of many gangsters, the Vito Corleone character is based largely on Frank Costello, Joe Profaci, Lucky Luciano and Carlo Gambino.[citation needed] The character has also had a major influence on entertainment, most notably: the movie The Freshman, where Marlon Brando's character is almost a parody of Corleone; the Only Fools and Horses episode "Miami Twice", where the primary antagonist is Don Vincenzo "Vinny the Chain" Ochetti, another parody of Corleone; and the comic book mini-series, Batman: The Long Halloween, where the character Carmine Falcone is loosely based on Vito Corleone.

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Puzo, Mario and Coppola, Francis Ford. (1971, 29 March). The Godfather, The Internet Movie Script Database
    Don Corleone: What else do you believe in?
    (Michael doesn't answer.)
    Don Corleone: Believe in a family. Can you believe in your country? Those pezzonovante of the state who decide what we shall do with our lives? Who declare wars they wish us to fight in to protect what they own. Do you put your fate in the hands of men whose only talent is that they tricked a bloc of people to vote for them? Michael, in five years the Corleone family can be completely legitimate. Very difficult things have to happen to make that possible. I can't do them anymore, but you can, if you choose to.

External links

Preceded by
Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1920 - 1945
Succeeded by
Sonny Corleone (acting)
Preceded by
Sonny Corleone (acting)
Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1946 - 1955
Succeeded by
Michael Corleone

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