©2022 By Burt Kearns

The wildest story to emerge on the 50th anniversary of the great movie, The Godfather, comes from the man who played the singer whose plight led to the classic “horse’s head” scene – the one in which a Hollywood producer awakens to find he’s sharing his bed with the bloody, severed head of his prize racehorse. Al Martino played crooner (and wedding singer) Johnny Fontane. It was a role that Frank Sinatra tried to rub out. Frank believed the character in Mario Puzo’s novel was based on him, but it was a role Martino knew was his. A popular Italian-American balladeer in the early 1950s, he’d been forced to move to Great Britain after he defied the mobsters who’d bought his management contract. Martino returned to America and fought his way back onto the charts and success in the 1960s.

In 1991, Rafael Abramovitz and I sat for hours with Al Martino, extracting his life story with plans to turn it into a motion picture. The script didn’t sell. Martino died in 2009; Rafael in 2020. In June 2022, the interview transcripts were uncovered and converted for the first time in more than thirty years. In this Legsville.com exclusive, Al Martino tells a real-life Godfather saga: how he grabbed the Johnny Fontane role, and when they tried to take it away, made the producers, director, studio — and Frank Sinatra — offers they would not dare refuse.


So how did you come across The Godfather book?

AL MARTINO: I get a telephone call one day from Phyllis McGuire. [1] It all started that way. She says, “Al, they just wrote a book and there’s a part in that book that you could play when they make this movie.” She says, “You need to pick up that book and read it.” It was just climbing up the charts. It wasn’t a big hit yet. I say, “All right, Phyllis, I’ll pick it up. I’ll call you back.” I couldn’t find the goddamn book anywhere! Phyllis mailed it to me. She mailed me the book. I read it. I say, “You’re right, Phyllis. There is a good part in here. Johnny Fontane.” She says, “Al, that’s your life. That’s you! You could play it to the hilt!” I say, “But look, Phyllis, I don’t know who to call. I don’t know who the producer is.” She says, “Well, I think it’s a man by the name of Al Ruddy.” [2] I say, “All right, Phyllis, I’ll pursue it.” I called up Ruddy’s office and I couldn’t get anywhere.

Why did she think it was a part for you?

’Cause she read the book. She thought it was my life. She says, “This is you. This is you, Al. You could play this part.” It was similar to some of the things that I went through, you know. And so I called up Al Ruddy. I couldn’t get through to his office. But everybody, everybody was calling him who wanted to be in it. Everybody wanted to be in this movie. Was only the tip of the iceberg. They just announced they were going to make a movie, see. Figure it out. And they were making it a year later. Imagine the people calling him. They couldn’t get through. And I had an engagement at the Desert Inn that I had to go and do.

“You got the part”

The engagement at the Desert Inn would be a week later. So one day, Judi [3] and I went to Westwood to catch a movie. I was crossing the street and I ran into a girl that I knew from way back. Her name was the same name as a city in Sicily. Not Palermo but another name. Starts with a “c,” her last name. And I was shocked as shit. Right in the middle of the street. I was shocked to see her. I said, “What are you doing here in L.A.?” She told me that she had a job here, working for a producer. I said, “Gee, that’s marvelous.” I said, “Where is the company?” She said, “Paramount.” I said, “Who are you working for?” She says, “Al Ruddy.” I said, “Oh, my God.” So we got across the street, I told her, I said, “Boy, I’m glad to hear that because I want you to help me with something.” She says, “What?” “I’ve been trying to see Al Ruddy for the past two weeks. I can’t get through to him.” She says, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll fix an appointment for you.” She says, “Where are you going?” I say, “I’m going to Vegas to play my dates.” She says. “I’ll call you there.” I go to the Desert Inn, she calls me and says. “Al says, can you get here Wednesday?” “Sure I can.” So I left the Desert Inn in the morning. Went there, walked into his office and before I left, he says, “You got the part.”

Tell as much of that as you remember.

Well, he’s in the office. He had a lot of people in the office and we had a cup of coffee together at the coffee shop next door. I told him that I read the book and that I’d be good for the part. And, you know, not much. You know these guys don’t talk too much. You’re pursuing them. They’re not pursuing you. So he didn’t say too much except that, “You’re perfect for the part.” So I assumed I had it. Okay. I go back to Vegas. Worked at the Desert Inn. There was another hotel. The Sands. The Sands Hotel. Or the Frontier. Either one of those. I played the Desert Inn when we were making the film. But it was either the Frontier or the Sands. [4]

Now I’m socializing with Al Ruddy for a long time. He’s a frustrated cook and so am I. We go to his house, we go to my house, and we cook, you know, to each other. He’s got a nice wife by the name of Françoise. [5]

What kind of stuff are you cooking?

Oh, I was cooking Italian food and he was cooking other things too, some of his recipes. We would compare recipes and things like that. And remember, I’m going in and out of town. I’m leaving town, calling him on the telephone, he’s calling me on the telephone. In the meantime, this picture’s rolling now. They haven’t got a director yet, but he’s behind the gun. Things are happening during this time. For instance, I go to Germany a lot to do a television show, okay? Before I go to Germany, Al Ruddy tells me, “Hey, if you go to Italy, do me a favor. Talk to Anthony Quinn. Tell Anthony Quinn that he could get this part here, the Don’s part. Find out how much money he wants. Find out what I can get him for.” I say, “All right. I’ll relay the message for you.”

“Nein, nein, nein!”

So I go to Germany. And my wife Judi is now three months pregnant. We go to the Hilton hotel in Berlin. While I’m doing the rehearsing for the television show, I get a telephone call from the bell boy saying that, “Your wife is hemorrhaging. She’s at the hospital and they’re going to abort the baby.” And you know me, right? Like hell they are! I say, “You speak English pretty well? You wait there at the hotel — No, no, better yet, you get a cab right now and pick me up at this address. We’re both gonna go to the hospital and you’re gonna translate!”

When we get to the hospital, you think I said hello to the receptionist? No, no. I had to look for the operating room. I said, “Where’s the operating room? where are they preparing someone to be operated on?” So they gave me some bullshit. I just kept walking down the corridors, then I looked up, opened up every fuckin’ door I saw, you know? Finally, some woman who didn’t know what I was doing, I said, “You tell her that my wife’s being operated on and it’s an emergency and I got to see her right away.” And she says, “Oh, yah, yah, yah, yah, yah, we go this way, that way.” I went this way, and before you know it, I open up the door and there she is, the big nurse, preparing her for this abortion.

I say to my wife. “Put your clothes on, we’re getting out of here.” “What?” the nurse was going, “What are you? Crazy? Nein! Nein! Nein!” I said, “Listen, this is my wife. I’ll take full responsibility. but you’re not gonna abort that kid.” “No! She’s going to die! You have no idea! She’s hemorrhaging!” I said, “You stop the hemorrhage. But she’s leaving. Now! There’ll be no operation!”

So I took a pretty good chance. Got her back to the hotel. She’s still bleeding a little bit, but not much. Not flowing. Bleeding a little bit.

So I called up Anthony Quinn. I’m gonna see him anyway. I said, “Tony,” I said, “this is Al Martino. I got a problem. Can you get me a doctor in Rome right away? My wife is in bad shape.” “Yeah, sure.” I said, “We’re coming right away.” So I cancelled the TV show and took the first plane to Rome. They met me at the airport, both of them, Tony and his wife. Took me to a doctor. Italian doctor. He diagnosed it. In the meantime, we’re calling California to her doctor back and forth to see what he’s got to say. This doctor in Germany said she can’t be moved. She cannot go on an airplane ride from here to California. She’ll bleed to death, you know. So that’s why Rome was the next best step, right? So that’s no problem. Take a couple of pills and she’ll be all right. So I made the right decision, didn’t I? Saved the kid’s life, right? One hour later, the kid wouldn’t of been born.

We’re out to dinner. “Anthony, I say, “I’m here to give you a message. Al Ruddy says that he thought that you could play that part pretty good. The Don’s part. Now, let me warn you that there’s another guy on the sidelines by the name of Marlon Brando.” Al wanted to know how much money. He says, “I couldn’t do it for less than a million dollars.” I said, “Well, Mr. Quinn,” I says, “a million, I don’t think they can pay it. Marlon’s
gonna do it for nothing.” For free. “Free” means nothing in front, but —

A piece of the action.

Right. Only expense money in front. Hotel bill. It’s exactly what I got. He says, “I know Brando very well. I worked with him in New York City. Not less than a million dollars.” I said, “All right. You want me to tell that to Mr. Ruddy?” He says, “Yes, you tell him that. I have three homes. I have one in Los Angeles, one in Paris and one here. I need a million dollars.” “All right, Mr. Quinn.” So we had dinner. He took me back to my hotel and I left as soon as Judi was okay. I don’t believe I saw him again after that because he lives in Marina, Italy, which is a good ways from Rome, and I didn’t have the transportation to get out there.

Fifty grand

Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Evans and Al Ruddy

One day, Al Ruddy calls me on the telephone. He says, “Al, I got a problem, maybe you can help me with.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I want to come over the house.” He said, “Gray Frederickson is my assistant producer. His father owns oil wells in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He sold me a well. Now I can’t pay the commitment. I need you to take this commitment off my hands.” I said, “Well, how much is it?” He says, “Fifty thousand dollars.” I said, “Why don’t I just loan you the money? Pay me back later on.” He said, “You gotta have this commitment. You gotta take this commitment off my hands.”

So I called up my accountant and I said, “Joe, do me a favor. Would you check out a certain oil well? Now, if it’s a fraud, you can’t deduct that, correct?” I said, “but if it’s a well that doesn’t come in, would I be able to deduct it?” “If it’s not a fraud,” he says, “Oh, yeah. You can deduct all of it.” I say, “Okay. Please be sure that there is such a company existing. If I buy something that doesn’t exist, I can’t deduct it.” “He says, “Okay.” So, it turns out to be that it was a legit company. So I wrote out a check for fifty thousand dollars. Joe Melvin had called Al Ruddy’s accountant and took care of it. “And take care of it,” I said, “on the basis that he will buy it back later on when he’s got the money.” He says, “Okay.” Now I’ve figured that I’m pretty well cemented in. Right? Okay? [6]

I would think so.

Wouldn’t you think so, right? Got the part. I got a script in my hand. Yeah, I got a draft.

Now, there’re two drafts out. Brando’s got one and I got one. I remember those scripts were like under lock and key. No agent. No other producer. No director has got it. This was completely a secret. No one should know the plot of that Godfather film. No one. He gave it to me because he trusted me — and of course he told me not to show it to anybody, and I didn’t. Kept it here at the house.

One day, Ruddy comes to me at my house. He says to my wife, “I’d like to have that script that Al’s got. And Judi says, “Well, I think it’s around here somewhere — and by the way, what do you want it for?” He says, “Well, you know, Judi, in this business you really don’t know what’s going to happen and people get hurt. I hate to tell you this, I hate to tell Al this, but I don’t think he’s in the movie anymore.” So Judi said to Al, “If I were you Al, I wouldn’t do that. Think it over. The only advice I could give you. Think it over.”

Al didn’t know what she meant by that, and he says, “Well, I’m sorry, but we have a director now. Francis Coppola. He’s got other ideas.” So Judi gave him the script.

Okay. I came home. And I said, “Judi, what happened? Is something wrong?”
She said, “Yeah. I got some bad news for you. Al Ruddy came over. He’s grabbed the script and says you’re not in the movie anymore.” And my mother happened to be here visiting me, so she heard all this, too. I say, “Well, no problem.”

Picked up the telephone, I called up Al Ruddy, I say, “Hey, Al. I heard the bad news.” He says, “Yeah, I’m sorry, Al.” I said, “No problem.” I said, “Today is Tuesday. By Thursday morning, you have fifty thousand dollars here.” He said, “I don’t have fifty thousand dollars.” I said, “You didn’t hear what I said, Al. I said you only have two days to get fifty thousand dollars. Don’t give me no bullshit. Just bring fifty grand over. And I’m gonna tell you something, Al — bring it over. It’s all I can tell you. All right?”

He says, “Well, maybe I can get it from Francis Coppola.” I say, “I don’t give a fuck who you get it from! You want to get it from that fat pig? You get it. Okay? But get it here.”

And he went to Francis Coppola to borrow fifty grand. And Francis said, “I don’t have fifty thousand dollars. I don’t have fifty cents. I don’t have any fuckin’ money. I can’t give it. What the fuck do I want to give this guy fifty thousand dollars for? You crazy? I’ll talk to him.”

So he calls me on the phone. “Listen, you’re not in this picture, and I don’t have fifty thousand dollars to give you.” I said, “Hold on, Francis Coppola.” I said, “You just got in this fuckin’ movie,” I said. “I been on the ground floor a year now. And knowing that for a year,” I says, “I gave up a year’s work to be in this film, I’m owed now fifty thousand dollars. And I’m gonna tell you something, Francis Coppola. You’re the guy that came in and just fucked with this whole fuckin’ thing, so you’re responsible. Now you come up with fifty thousand dollars. Now get off my fuckin’ phone and don’t call me anymore and that’s final.” That’s exactly what I said. I really tore into him, boy.

The Big Guns

Now I decided to call my people in. Picked up the telephone. Called up the big guns in Chicago, New York. Russ Bufalino. [7] And I said, “That’s my problem.” You know what he said to me? “He ain’t makin’ this picture in New York City. Fuck ’em.” So, well, the message got back to Bob Evans. [8] He called Ford Coppola. “Hey, if you don’t give this guy the money, you ain’t gonna make this picture in New York.” And Coppola said, “Well, we’ll make it in St. Louis, then.” “Goddamn! St. Louis? Are you out of your fuckin’ head? What do you mean St. Louis? This picture’s got to be made in New York! Give him the money or give him the part! Either one.”

So I get a call from Bob Evans. “Al, will you come to my office?” I went to his office. And meantime, Rona Barrett [9] picked up the story. She picked it up and she put a fuckin’ article in the paper about what happened. About the fifty thousand. The whole thing. She picked it up. The story. Called me in. He says, “Al. Come in, let’s talk. You know, this is not Paramount’s obligation, the fifty thousand dollars,” he says, “but I’ll tell you what. You got the part. I’m the chief. You got it. But let me warn you about one thing. Francis Coppola doesn’t like it. And he’s gonna ostracize you in New York.” I says, “Let me handle that.”

So, okay. So we spoke for about a half an hour about Eddie Fisher. [10] You know, we used to pal around with each other. Bob and I and Eddie used to pal with each other back in the late forties. So we talked. We talked about old things too, as well as the picture. We talked about Eddie for thirty minutes, about how Eddie stole Bob’s girlfriend away from him. This girl was living with Bob and then she moved out of his apartment, moved in with Eddie. Well, they haven’t talked to each other since.

Bob says, “You report to Staten Island immediately.” I was now, at that time, I was workin’ at the Desert Inn. So I had to call Bernie Rothkopf, who was the manager of the Desert Inn, to let me out of the contract because of this movie. Normally, they don’t let anybody out, but he figured it was a big break for me and, “Okay, Al, go ahead.” Reluctantly, he did it. He didn’t like it at all. So I went to New York. And he gave me a tough time. Francis.

Tell me what he did.

Well, first thing he’d do, he came up to see me at the Plaza Hotel, because they have to talk to you, you know. And before that, nobody was talking to me. Neither Jimmy Caan, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton — none of them. I was completely taboo on that film. Only one person spoke to me. That was Marlon Brando. And nobody could tell Marlon Brando what to do, correct? I’m on the set, watching everybody shooting their parts, and finally Francis came to the Plaza Hotel and wanted to talk to me about it. “Look, Francis. You and I don’t get along. But you know you gotta make this work. So make it work. It’s no use comin’ here tellin’ me how to do my part. I know how to do it. Just go back and let’s shoot the film.” And that’s the end of it. And that’s what I did.


Following morning, they’re going to shoot Johnny Fontane. [11] Now, there’s one scene where James Caan and Marlon Brando are in an office. As you know, the screens on the sets are very thin. So they’re shooting somebody behind one screen and I’m behind the other screen. So they’re finished. Marlon says, “Well, who’re we gonna shoot now?” Coppola said, “We’re gonna shoot Johnny Fontane.” “Well, who’s doing it?” “We got Al Martino doing it.” And then I hear Marlon Brando say, “Al Martino? He’s not an actor.” So Coppola says, “We gotta make it work. This one, we gotta make it work.” So, Marlon understood that, and Marlon says, “Well, you better get him drunk, then.”

I heard that. So I decided to accommodate him.

I left the premises, went to the liquor shop right around the corner. I had the luck to find one. I brought a bottle of Scotch back, right? Coppola stops me, he says, “Where the hell were you? We tried to reach you.” You know, still on the warpath, like he was looking for an excuse. He’s probably hoping I wouldn’t show up, right? You know what I mean? He’s doing everything in the world to keep me from making that picture. And he was shooting the back of my head, too, most of the time.

He says, “Marlon Brando’s waitin’ for you.” So I put the bottle of Scotch on the table. I said, “Mr. Brando, you take the first drink.” He immediately wanted to know if I had heard him, right? So he took it. Nine o’clock in the morning. He took a drink, and I took a drink, and I tell you, boy, I was flyin’ all day with that one drink. I’m not a drinker. I don’t know how the fuck I did it. But maybe it helped. Who the hell knows, right? It could of been, but I did the take in one take. Marlon grabbed me. He said, “Boy, you were really wingin’ it.” I said, “Thank you very much.” Maybe to kind of made up for what he said. You know what I mean? Possible. But I accepted his apology, anyway. It was an apology in a different way. Indirectly. Right?

Marlon Brando came home one weekend to California, and so did I. Marlon Brando picked me up on the weekend in his helicopter, Staten Island, to fly me to the airport. And then we would go commercial to California, and then I would fly back commercial Monday morning. So I would do that almost, well, until the picture was made. And that was my scene. That was all my scenes in The Godfather. Now, of course, there was no rapport with Francis Coppola during all that time. None at all.

And why was Francis Coppola so against you doing this?

It’s very simple. He didn’t want a non-actor in this film. He had somebody else in mind. Whoever. I don’t give a shit who it was, but he wanted that person to be in the film. He didn’t believe in me, and yet I was perfect for it. Which means people can be wrong.

You left out a whole section in there. Where is Frank Sinatra in all of this? ‘Cause you skipped over that.

I sure did, didn’t I? Very, very important part, too.


During the part where I was wining and dining Al Ruddy. I gave him the fifty grand, even after that. We had a party at Chasen’s [12] with Julie Chester. It was his birthday and he invited us to this affair. It was me, my wife, Julie Chester, his wife, Mario Puzo, and Mario Puzo’s secretary and Al Ruddy. Went to Chasen’s. I couldn’t make it that evening ’cause I had to go to Windsor, Ontario, [13] but I told my wife that she should go to the party, and represent me, and just act natural. I said, “Call me when the party’s over.” So, there’s three hours difference, you know. And during that time, a guy by the name of Cokey… Hoagy… Hoagy is his name, who owned a little club next to La Famiglia, where Joan Rivers used to do her schtick there, goes over to our table, to Mario Puzo, and says, “Someone wants to meet you. I want you to meet them”— No, he says, “Someone you should meet.”

Mario Puzo leaves the table, gets about halfway, finally realizes that he’s going to see Frank Sinatra. That, he didn’t like, but it’s too late to go back. He was halfway there and they’ve already met eyes together. He knows he shouldn’t of gone in there. He told me that later. Frank is lookin’ down like this. He looks up to him, he says, “I should break your legs, you know that, don’t you?” Mario Puzo’s a pretty tough guy himself. He decided, “This is Frank Sinatra, he’s a pretty great singer” and all that shit, so he didn’t do anything. He just left. Ran out of the restaurant, got into his car, back to the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Frank ran out! Grabbed his hat and told the waiter, “Give me wheels!” Chased Mario back to the Beverly Hills Hotel. Meantime, my wife goes to a telephone, which is in the lobby. Calls me in Windsor. Says all hell broke loose. I said, “Tell me about it.” She says, “Well, this guy came over, grabbed Mario, brought him over to Frank Sinatra’s table. Frank Sinatra threatened him. Mario went back to the hotel.” I said, “Look, tell me all. I want to know everything.” She tells me everything. “Anything more?” “That’s about all I could tell you. There’s nothing else to say.” So I say, “Okay, I’ll call you back. I’m gonna call the Beverly Hills Hotel now.

“Hello, Mario.” I got him on the phone. “Mario, it’s Al Martino. My wife just called me. Tell me what happened.” First thing he said to me was, “Do these guys carry guns?” I decided to say, “Look, Mario. I want to give you a guarantee right now. You’re not gonna get hurt. They don’t carry guns. And I’ll take care of it. But promise me, you’ll not cut this part out, ’cause that’s what he wants to do. Frank wants you to cut it out.”

In the meantime, Mario got a little frightened, too. So he must have called Al Ruddy and Al Ruddy decided they should minimize the role. Okay? Because there’s also gonna be lawsuits, too. Mickey Rudin, [14] also the next day, called up and said that they were gonna threaten to sue Paramount, Al Ruddy — sue everybody, right? Now, you can’t pull this role out, because the horse’s head is important. If you take the Fontane role out, you gotta take the horse’s head out, right? Without the horse’s head, you got no fuckin’ movie. [15] It all was needed. So they must have made deal. Mickey Rudin made a deal, said, “Okay, we’ll be happy with what you got, whatever role goes in there.” In the meantime, I made up my mind that nobody’s gonna chase me out of the movie. In other words, he’s chasing everybody out. I understand that Vic Damone called and they said to vacate. Get out. Don’t take this part if it was offered to you.

Who’s calling?

Frank is calling Vic and whoever is up for the Fontane role. See, nobody knows that I got the role. Nobody knows that I got it cemented in and no son of a bitch was gonna get me out. It’s as simple as that. Nobody had the right to call me on the telephone and say that. But now I was pissed– fuckin’ pissed. So I call up Jim Mahoney. You know who Jim Mahoney is? Jim Mahoney is Frank’s press agent. Called him from Canada right after I hung up from Mario Puzo. He was also my press agent.

I said, “Jim, it’s Al Martino. I want you to get a message to Frank, now!” He said, “I’m not gonna give a message to him.” I said, “Now look, Jimmy. You pick up that telephone and you call Frank up and you tell Frank just this. You say that Al Martino called me – you — and said that I should tell you that I’m playing this part in this big movie and to get off my back. Now I’m gonna hang up the telephone. You decide whether you want to call Frank and tell him that. I suggest you do that. After all, I’m still paying you, Jim.”

May never know if he called Frank or not. I think he did, because maybe he was afraid I would fire him if he didn’t. There’s something else. I said, “Phyllis, [16] I want you to get a hold of Sam Giancana for me, and I want you to tell Sam that I’d like to see him. I’ll come to Mexico if I have to.” ’Cause he was all the way down in Mexico — he had to leave the country. She said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “Frank’s on my ass. All I want to do is make this movie, and that’s it. Will you tell him to leave me alone?” She says, “Al, I will take care of it for you. I will call Sam myself.” And I wasn’t bothered anymore.

The only problem I had, that I didn’t know about, was the money now, and the part that Francis wasn’t gonna use me anymore. That came later, right? Well, down in Francis Coppola’s office at Paramount, this was during the time I was pursuing the fifty thousand dollars, I would leave one office, go in another office and I went into Francis Coppola’s office to tell him that I wasn’t gonna stop until I got that money. A call came in. Francis picked it up. It was Frank Sinatra, and he asked Francis Coppola if he would cast him as the Don in The Godfather. Godfather One. Whooo! I said, “My god!” I said. The person who did did everything he could to stop the film, stop me, minimize the role, have a big rally at Madison Square Garden. And now he’s changed his mind? He wants to play the Don in the movie? That doesn’t sound right. But it was him, and he did ask to play the part. But Francis turned him down, said, “I already have a guy. Marlon Brando’s playing the part.”

Hard to figure out why he did that. I think I figured it out. He had a picture called Dingus Magee out at the time. [17] And Dingus Magee bombed. Really bombed badly. Mickey Rudin or somebody said, “Hey, Frank. If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em. It’s a great property. See if you can get into the film.” I would say that’s the reason he called.

This guy in The Godfather

Now, why were you campaigning so hard for this role?

Because I wanted it badly.

What did you think was going to come out of it?

Hey, listen, I came to Beverly Hills to be in the movies. What a project this was! This was the biggest project in the history of show business outside of Gone with the Wind. Why wouldn’t I campaign for it? Why wouldn’t I?

After all the trouble, you finally do get it, right?


Does it pay off?

Not a hundred percent. I got a lot of press out of it. I’m still getting press out of it. They recognize me in The Godfather. You know, it’s all an image to have, right? For the rest of my life they associated me with The Godfather.

In actual dollars and cents, do you get —

I don’t get shit. I lost all that money, but then I made all up. I played all those dates back again for a few more thousand dollars, but my agents never really got me the money that I should have gotten. But for the rest of my life, I always had that image, this guy in The Godfather.


The interviews with Al Martino took place at his home in Beverly Hills, in spring of 1991, a few months after the premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s film, The Godfather Part III, in which Al Martino reprised his role as Johnny Fontane.


[1] Phyllis McGuire was one of the McGuire Sisters singing trio of the 1950s and on-off girlfriend of Sam “Momo” Giancana, head of the Chicago Mob, close friend of Frank Sinatra, and suspect in the JFK assassination.

[2] Ruddy’s experiences producing The Godfather (for which he won an Academy Award), were the basis for the tremendously entertaining miniseries, The Offer, which premiered on Paramount+ on April 29, 2022.

[3] Judi Stilwell, a model and American Airlines flight attendant, was Martino’s third wife. The couple were married in 1969, were parents to future Hollywood historian Alison Martino and together until his death in 2009.

[4] Martino opened a one-week stand at the Frontier Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip on September 24, 1970.

[5] Ruddy and first wife Françoise Glazer would divorce, and she would later change her name to Ma Prem Hasya as part of the Rajneeshpuram Commune in Central Oregon.

[6] Gray Frederickson, who would win an Academy Award as producer of The Godfather Part II, says Martino’s oil well account is “kinda,” but “not entirely” accurate.

[7] Mobster Russell Bufalino ran the Bufalino crime family in Northeastern Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1989. He was portrayed by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s film, The Irishman.

[8] Bob Evans was vice president of Paramount Pictures, and as Head of Production oversaw the production of The Godfather.

[10] Rona Barrett was a magazine and television gossip reporter.

[10] Eddie Fisher was one of the most popular singers of the 1950s, selling millions of records and hosting his own TV show. He was married to Debbie Reynolds (their daughter was Carrie Fisher), left her for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor, and after his divorce from Taylor, married Connie Stevens.

[11] The outdoor wedding scene, in which Martino sings, was filmed at a mansion at 110 Longfellow Avenue, Emerson Hill, Staten Island. Martino’s scene with Brando, in Don Corleone’s home office, was filmed at Filmways Studios, 246 East 127th Street in East Harlem.

[12] Chasen’s, at 9039 Beverly Boulevard on the border of Beverly Hills, was a celeb-heavy eatery, famous for its chili and for many years the site of the Academy Awards party. Sinatra was one of the stars who had “his own booth.” The place opened in 1936 and closed for good in 1995.

[13] Martino performed at the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario in late August 1970. Duane Eddy played guitar with the sixteen-piece band.

[14] Milton A. “Mickey” Rudin was described in his Variety obit in 1999 as “a showbiz attorney who repped Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe in 52 years of bare-knuckled practice.”

[15] An iconic scene in The Godfather: Hollywood producer Jack Woltz, who’d refused the Corleones’ request to cast Johnny Fontane in a big motion picture, wakes up with the severed head of his prize racehorse in his bed. He gives Johnny the role.

[16] Phyllis McGuire.

[17] Dirty Dingus Magee has been called “the worst movie of Sinatra’s career. When it opened in November 1970, Roger Greenspun of the New York Times called it “a dreadful parody Western.” The Los Angeles Times’s Kevin Thomas used words like “embarrassment,” “crude,” “cringe” and “disgusting.”


©2022 By Burt Kearns produces nonfiction television and documentary films and is the author of three books, including Lawrence Tierney: Hollywood’s Real-Life Tough Guy (available for pre-sale on Amazon.com). In 2005, he wrote and produced, with two-time Academy Award winner Albert S. Ruddy, the 20th Century Fox movie comedy, Cloud 9, starring Burt Reynolds.