In The Offer, the new series streaming on Paramount+, viewers are getting a closer look at the tumultuous production of 1972’s The Godfather. Widely considered a classic, it was a challenging effort for director Francis Ford Coppola, producer Al Ruddy, and novelist Mario Puzo, in part because the very real mafia protested its depiction of Italian-Americans.
The (real) Sinatra and Puzo ran into one another when Puzo was in Los Angeles toiling on the screenplay for the movie, which had yet to commence production. Puzo had already incited controversy, however, with his 1969 novel drawing much of the same criticisms as the film would.
Sinatra was one of those critics. An iconic singer who allegedly had friends in the mafia, he disliked how The Godfather portrayed Italian-Americans. It was also widely believed that the character of Johnny Fontane, a singer and actor whose career was facilitated by organized crime, was based on Sinatra. Coppola later admitted as much on a DVD commentary, saying Fontane was “based on a kind of Frank Sinatra character.”
Paramount, which produced the film, was uneasy about the Fontane character, fearing Sinatra could sue. Sinatra had previously demanded to see an early manuscript of the novel. He also reportedly cautioned actor and singer Al Martino that if he played Fontane in the movie, he would be banned from performing in Las Vegas. (Martino took the part and, despite the threat, continued to perform there.)
All of this was apparently on Sinatra’s mind when Puzo spotted him at popular L.A. restaurant Chasen’s chatting with John Wayne. Puzo agreed to meet Sinatra, perhaps not knowing how strongly he felt about the novel. He soon found out, with Sinatra initially rebuffing a mutual friend’s attempt to introduce the two.
“I don’t think so,” Sinatra said. “I don’t want to meet him.” Sinatra then began screaming and threatening Puzo, though his exact words don’t appear to have been recorded for posterity.
“Listen, it wasn’t my idea,” Puzo said, though it’s not clear whether Sinatra took that to mean the greeting or the Fontane character. Sinatra added that he would beat the hell out of Puzo were it not for the fact the latter was older.
According to Ruddy, who was also there, Puzo had to be restrained and ushered out of the restaurant. He later told Ruddy he was disheartened Sinatra, one of his idols, was so upset with him.
The scene in The Offer is, naturally, exaggerated for dramatic effect. Sinatra uses profanity—Puzo once recalled Sinatra refrained from expletives during their altercation—and the onscreen Puzo defended himself with a fork. No weapons, cutlery or otherwise, were involved.
[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]