There’s no doubt that The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece of subtlety, will remain in the lexicon of cinema for hundreds of years to come. Marlon Brando’s role as Vito Corleone will likely last even longer.
The eccentric actor managed to encapsulate the menace and power of The Don in Coppola’s film so well that he won the Academy Award Winner for the role. An award he refused to turn up for amid a run of growing extraordinary behaviours from the actor. Coppola was determined to secure the star once more for The Godfather II.
The director had sized up Brando to take on the role of a young Vito Corleone for the next instalment of the saga. It was a role he felt could only be enacted by Brando but things between him and the Paramount executive Charles Bludhorn, Robert Evans and Frank Yablans had already been on the wane before his Oscar refusal, now it was at an all-time low.
It’s this obstruction that Coppola reveals in the letter he’s been trying to work on for Brando: “I’ve become a real behind-the-scenes monster playing Yablans and Evans and Bludhorn; trying to get them to do what I want,” he writes. “I tell Yablans that he’s the only one who can do it. Then I tell Evans the same thing.” It’s clear that Coppola had targeted Brando for the role and couldn’t see past it.
“But what it really comes down to is me,” added Coppola, “Marlon I respect you enormously; and if you told me that you did not want to do it under any circumstances, whatsoever…of course I would accept that, and never mention it again. And if you liked, I wouldn’t tell anyone else.”
He added: “I learned a lot from you…one thing being that it’s only a movie, and what’s that compared to everything else there is in the world.”
Brando may have been swayed by this personal outreach as he did eventually agree to join the production of the new film. However, he later failed to turn up for filming after relations between the groups once again deteriorated.
Luckily, Coppola had an actor by the name of Robert DeNiro ready to take over the role as the young Vito Corleone and once again deliver an award-winning portrayal of the Don.
See the original letter, below.
You can read the full transcript below:
“I heard you were back from the South Pacific; but I didn’t want to call you because I always feel stupid bringing up the matter of the Godfather. I know you return my calls on a personal and friendly basis, and so I can’t bring myself to misuse that and bring up what is bothering me.
“My problem is simply that I am stalling and stalling because I have the inkling that it may be possible that you will play the young Vito Corleone. I’ve seen in the past, that even a slight possibility may blossom into a fact, and so I’ve tried to kindle this as best I could. I’ve become a real behind-the-scenes monster playing Yablans and Evans and Bludhorn; trying to get them to do what I want. I tell Yablans that he’s the only one who can do it. Then I tell Evans the same thing.
“I tell them the movie cannot be made without you; I tell Yablans he has to apologize to you. Now Yablans says that he’s trying to do this, and get together on the money and stuff, but you don’t return his call.
“Evans wants to approach you; but Yablans is terrified that Evans might make it work, where he failed…so he keeps preventing that.
“But what it really comes down to is me. Marlon I respect you enormously; and if you told me that you did not want to do it under any circumstances, whatsoever…of course I would accept that, and never mention it again. And if you liked, I wouldn’t tell anyone else.
“I learned a lot from you…one thing being that it’s only a movie, and what’s that compared to everything else there is in the world.
“At times, I try really hard to imagine what you’re like in your thoughts. I realized that you’ve been in the strange state of adoration and exhibition for 25 years now, intensely…and I think that would have driven me crazy. And the fact that you’re really a good man, and warm, and love people is a tremendous achievement considering that you’ve been in a glass box for half your life.
“I always to tell you that,..although it has nothing to do with this letter.
“All I’m saying is that if you will be in this movie; I will do my very best to make it be good; and human, and express the notion that the Mafia is only a metaphor for America and capitalism, which will do anything to protect and perpetuate itself. (I will do this anyway, if you’re not in the film…but if you were in it, it would be better, and you would help me with your ideas as I work on the script.)
“If you will not be in it, I will love you no less. All I ask is to please tell me without the shadow of a doubt.
“I am very happy; having a terrific time up here. After this film I am quitting the movie business, and will do other things that I am excited about (that may involve film).
“My number is [redacted]
Source: Letters of Note