When The Godfather premiered 50 years ago, people knew it was sensational, controversial, precedent-shattering, a masterpiece even. But they couldn’t know what we know now: It was a bridge between old Hollywood and new. Ruddy had received threats of boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations.
As a member of the Jewish faith, Ruddy knew all about racial bigotry and needed no further convincing. He accepted the suggestions without any arguments. The three men walked out of La Scala with smiles on their faces and their belief in America intact.
It was business, not personal. It was also the most popular novel across Europe and a movie version seemed a real probability. However, no Hollywood film had ever surpassed the extraordinary success of a blockbuster novel.
It’s impossible today to imagine any other actor playing Don Vito Corleone but Marlon Brando.
Other names floating around to play the Godfather ranged from Charles Bronson to Burt Lancaster to Orson Welles, who tried to convince Mario Puzo he was perfect for the role. “The author of The Godfather had written a letter to Brando saying, ‘You’re the only actor who could play this role with the quiet intensity that it deserves or requires,'”
Like Brando, Al Pacino also faced resistance from the studio. The young actor had just filmed “Panic in Needle Park,” and had won an Obie Award for “The Indian Wants the Bronx.” It was his Tony Award-winning performance in “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” which convinced Coppola that he was right for the part of Michael Corleone, although his screen tests left the top brass cool. His brooding persona wasn’t a big enough sell.