12 Surprising Facts About The Godfather Part II

Al Pacino stars in The Godfather Part II (1974).
Al Pacino stars in The Godfather Part II (1974).
Paramount Pictures

Until 2012, the decennial Sight & Sound list of the best movies ever made treated The Godfather and The Godfather Part II as a single entry in order to leave room for other masterpieces in its coveted top 10. Maybe it seems unfair that a single franchise would gobble up so much of the list, but both are deeply beloved by critics and filmmakers alike.

Yet Part II almost didn't happen at all. Beleaguered by the first film's shoot, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola was not interested in diving back into the studio-led chaos with sparring partner and uber-producer Robert Evans. Fortunately, Paramount changed Coppola's mind and gave him the artistic freedom to create an enduring classic about organized crime, family loyalty, and the American Dream.

To celebrate the 45th anniversary of what is arguably the greatest movie sequel ever made, here are 12 facts about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer.

1. Francis Ford Coppola suggested that Martin Scorsese direct The Godfather Part II, but the studio wasn't interested.

John Cazale and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather Part II' (1974)
Paramount Pictures

After The Godfather's tumultuous production, Francis Ford Coppola wasn't excited about diving back into the world of the Corleone family, but the studio wanted a sequel. So Coppola suggested they hire up-and-comer Martin Scorsese, who was fresh off of Mean Streets, to direct the sequel. "I knew this was a really smart idea. He was such a natural," Coppola later said of his pick.

Paramount disagreed, and eventually got Coppola to direct the sequel by letting him tell parallel stories that featured flashbacks into Vito Corleone's early life—and by agreeing to pay the director the (then) outrageous sum of $1 million (or just over $5 million in today's dollars), which Coppola had asked for as a bluff.

2. Robert De Niro had auditioned to play sonny corleone in The Godfather.

Rober De Niro made an indelible impact playing a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, but he almost played a far different role in the first film: Sonny Corleone. His audition is a far cry from how James Caan ended up playing the character in The Godfather, but it's still an amazing bit of acting bravado distilled into a markedly short amount of time. Producer Robert Evans was set on Caan getting the role, Coppola was set on Pacino playing Michael, and both castings became a compromise, leaving that De Niro kid out of the (original) picture.

3. Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only actors to win Oscars for playing the same character.

In 1975, Robert De Niro won his first Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor. Coppola accepted the statuette on De Niro's behalf, calling it a "richly deserved award," without recognizing publicly that history had just been made. It's a record that remains. Actors like John Wayne and Jeff Bridges have been nominated for playing the same character (Rooster Cogburn between two versions of True Grit), but Brando and De Niro are the only ones to ever win for portraying the same figure.

4. An actor pulled a gun on Francis Ford coppola during an audition for The Godfather Part II .

After turning down the role of Luca Brasi in the first film, oddball actor Timothy Carey auditioned at Paramount Pictures where he pulled a gun out of a pastry box and shot Coppola (with blanks). The director reportedly loved it, but Carey didn't end up getting the part.

5. Robert De Niro only speaks eight words of english in The Godfather Part II.

Robert De Niro in 'The Godfather Part II (1974)
Paramount Pictures

De Niro spent months studying the Sicilian dialect in order to play the role of Vito, since the character almost exclusively speaks in it. He also visited Sicily for research, saying, " Sicilians have a way of watching without watching; they'll scrutinize you thoroughly and you won't even know it."

6. An extra had the guts to improvise an important moment in The Godfather Part II.

During a scene in which Vito talks with Signor Roberto while walking down the street, a neighbor jumps in to greet Vito. The actor was Carmelo Russo, who was an extra and who was not supposed to talk. Coppola wasn't happy. It stayed in because De Niro found it endearing, a moment that showed the locals respected Vito and gave the scene an added texture.

7. The Ship that carried vito to America in The Godfather Part II is now a restaurant in philadelphia.

The Moshulu was built in Scotland in 1904, used to haul all sorts of goods all over the world, and was even taken over by Nazi pirates who used it to store weapons and ammunition. It eventually made its way into movies like Rocky and The Godfather Part II, where it can be seen porting Vito from Sicily to Ellis Island. Now it's a dining destination on the Delaware River.

8. The men who played the senators in The Godfather Part II were famous filmmakers and writers.

Coppola populated his senate committee investigating the Corleone family with an eclectic crew of Hollywood names making winking cameos. Low-budget pop master Roger Corman, Wild Bunch producer Phil Feldman, Oscar-nominated Western writer William Bowers, and sci-fi legend Richard Matheson all play unnamed senators.

9. The play within The Godfather Part II was written by coppola's grandfather.

It's well known that The Godfather trilogy is a family affair, featuring his sister Talia Shire, daughter Sofia Coppola, and music from his father Carmine Coppola. What's less well known is that Coppola honored his grandfather Francesco Pennino by including a musical play he'd written, "Senza Mamma," in the film. The musical is about a young man who travels to America for love, but has to leave his mother behind to do so. It was Pennino's connections to Paramount that got Coppola his entry into Hollywood.

10. The Godfather Part II was the last Technicolor film.

Technicolor started releasing films using its monochrome imbibition printing dye-transfer process in 1928, using a process first patented in 1880. The Godfather Part II is the last major release to use the process and, although there was a slight resurgence of interest in using it in the 1990s, Eastman Kodak stopped manufacturing the tools necessary for it in 1994.

11. James Cagney turned down a role in The Godfather Part II .

Coppola, with an eye toward cinema history, offered legendary gangster actor James Cagney a role in the sequel. It's easy to imagine his performance lending even more gravitas to the film, anchoring it immediately into a successive line of Hollywood crime films, but the reclusive Cagney refused to come out of retirement for it.

12. Francis Ford Coppola wanted Marlon Brando to reprise his role as the younger version of himself in The Godfather Part II.

Marlon Brando and Salvatore Corsitto in 'The Godfather' (1972)
Paramount Pictures

If Coppola had gotten his way, The Godfather: Part II would have seen Brando back as Vito, somehow playing a far younger man. Coppola reached out to the actor with a letter, where he asked Brando to join the production and explained that he'd told Paramount, "the movie cannot be made without you." Thankfully, the 49-year-old Brando refused the offer to play the 29-year-old Vito, and we got De Niro's powerful, star-making performance.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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