The Offer, a new series about the making of the 1972 classic The Godfather, has proven to be a story nearly as compelling as the Corleone saga. Chronicling producer Al Ruddy’s efforts to get Mario Puzo’s novel adapted for the screen, the series frequently pits Hollywood against real-life mafia figures who are concerned their clandestine criminal activities will be exposed.
In one episode, Ruddy (Miles Teller) appears to promise that he will remove any mention of mafia from the script in an effort to appease mob boss Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi). It seems like a huge capitulation, but it’s exactly what happened.
In 1971, The New York Times reported that Ruddy removed the words mafia and la cosa nostra from the film’s script, which was written by Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola. The news came at a press conference, allegedly sprung on Ruddy by Colombo, that was ostensibly to placate the Italian-American Civil Rights League, a pro-Italian-American organization said to be concerned over how the film might stereotype Italian-Americans as criminals. The League was largely a front for the mob to exert influence over how it was depicted in popular culture.
The film instead uses terminology like “the five families” to reference organized crime.
Colombo would later be the victim of an assassination attempt during a public rally while the film was shooting just blocks away in New York City. (He spent seven years in a coma before dying in 1978; his assailant was shot and killed on the spot.)
Mafia appeared throughout Puzo’s book, of course. To keep the film on track without being disrupted, Ruddy made what he believed to be a minor concession. As a result, the most famous film of all time about the mafia never actually uses the term, though you can hear Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) utter it (with some disdain) during his Senate testimony in 1974's The Godfather Part II.