Peter Clemenza

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Peter Clemenza
Peter Clemenza
Richard S. Castellano portraying Peter Clemenza in The Godfather
First appearance The Godfather
Last appearance The Godfather: The Game
Created by Mario Puzo
Portrayed by Richard S. Castellano, Bruno Kirby (as a young man)
Nickname(s) Fat Clemenza, Pete
Gender Male
Title Capo
Family Corleone family
Spouse(s) Mrs.Clemenza
Relatives Ray Clemenza (son)
Don Domenic Clemenza (brother)

Peter Clemenza is a fictional character appearing in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and two of the three films based on it. He is played by Academy Award-nominee Richard Castellano[1][2] in Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of the novel, and by Bruno Kirby (as a young man) in The Godfather Part II.

The Godfather[edit]

Born near Trapani, Sicily, Clemenza starts off as one of Don Vito Corleone's caporegimes[3] and oldest friends, as well as the godfather of his eldest son, Sonny. He has a reputation as a superb judge of talent; his crew produced no fewer than five future capos—Sonny, Frank Pentangeli, Rocco Lampone, Al Neri, and Joey Zasa.

He is a supporting character in the story, but a few of his actions are important to the plot. For example, he is ordered by Don Corleone, via consigliere Tom Hagen, to handle the beating of two teenage boys who assaulted the daughter of undertaker Amerigo Bonasera, Mrs. Corleone's god-daughter, and escaped punishment for it. Clemenza then assigns his "button man" Paulie Gatto to the job, who then recruits two former professional boxers turned Corleone Family loan enforcers to assist. A deleted scene from the film depicts Gatto giving the beating.[citation needed]

When the family finds out that Gatto helped Virgil Sollozzo and the Tattaglia Family set up Vito to be assassinated, Sonny orders Clemenza to kill him. Clemenza considers Gatto's actions to be a personal insult, having personally groomed him, and is pleased by the prospect of his assassination. According to the novel, Sonny Corleone initially suspects Clemenza of being a part of the conspiracy, but Clemenza is eventually cleared. He decides to use Lampone, then an associate, on the hit to give him a chance to "make his bones." In order to lull Gatto into a false sense of security, Clemenza and Lampone drive around in a car with him for at least two days (backing out of the drive, Clemenza asks Gatto to "mind the kids"—it is not specified whether or not these are Clemenza's children) looking for good sites where Corleone men can hide out on mattresses in the imminent war. After Lampone kills Gatto, Clemenza—who has left the car to relieve himself—utters (to Lampone) his most famous line in the film: "Leave the gun. Take the cannolis."[4]

When Vito's youngest son, Michael, offers to kill both Sollozzo and Police Captain McCluskey, who is on Sollozzo's payroll, Clemenza teaches him how to use the gun and instructs him on how to act in order to allay Sollozzo's suspicions and what to do after the killing. The plan succeeds, and while Michael hides out in Sicily, Clemenza prepares for an all-out war against the remaining four families. The war ultimately claims Sonny's life, and Vito re-assumes leadership following the assassination. Upon his return to New York, Michael is appointed as operating head of the family, but Clemenza and fellow caporegime Salvatore Tessio, unsatisfied with the way things are going, request that they be given permission to break off from the Corleone family to start their own families in accordance with a promise Vito made several years earlier. Michael accepts, only after their business is over. When Michael is again targeted for assassination by Don Emilio Barzini, who was behind Sonny's murder, Clemenza is initially one of the two primary suspects of being the Corleone family traitor, but it is later revealed to be Tessio, who is killed for his treachery.

Clemenza, on Michael's orders, personally murders both Don Victor Stracci and Carlo Rizzi, Michael's brother-in-law, who conspired with Barzini to kill Sonny. He is last seen in the book greeting Michael as "Don Corleone" and kissing Michael's hand.

The Sicilian[edit]

Clemenza appears briefly in Puzo's second Godfather installment, The Sicilian. He meets with Michael during his exile in Sicily, at his brother Domenico Clemenza's home in Trapani. They discuss what the fate of Turi Giuliano is to be, following the orders of a recovering Vito Corleone. Clemenza tells Michael that he should report to him after a week, with or without Giuliano, and that Michael could return to America afterward. Clemenza then leaves on a boat to Tunis, telling Michael that he would be back the following day to bring him back to date with the Don's orders.

The Godfather Returns[edit]

Clemenza's gradual takeover of the Corleone empire in New York is briefly covered in The Godfather Returns, Mark Winegardner's sequel to Puzo's original novel. It also tells of Clemenza's involvement during Michael's return from exile and eventual, official initiation into the Corleone crime family. Most noteworthy, the novel depicts Clemenza's fatal heart attack (mentioned in The Godfather Part II), and the many conspiracy theories that he had actually been murdered by the Rosato Brothers, enemies of the Corleone Family.

The Godfather Part II[edit]

Clemenza does not appear in the present timeline of the film due to a disagreement between Castellano and Paramount Pictures; it is explained that he died some time ago and was replaced by his soldier, Frank Pentangeli, as head of the Corleone family's New York operations. The Pentangeli character was created to play the role intended for Clemenza.

Clemenza, however, appears in several flashbacks focusing on Vito Corleone's early days, played by Bruno Kirby. He first meets Vito when asking him to hide some guns for him from the police. Vito does so, and Clemenza repays the favor by stealing an expensive carpet (assisted by a surprised Vito) and giving it to the Corleones for their apartment. Around the same time, Vito and Clemenza befriend a young Tessio. One of their lines of business is selling stolen dresses door-to-door; a deleted scene depicts Clemenza charming his way into the apartment of a young housewife and emerging a little later having presumably had sex with her; it is not specified in the film whether Clemenza is himself married at the time.

Later on, the trio's partnership is discovered by the local blackhander, Don Fanucci, who attempts to extort them. Clemenza initially demands that they pay Fanucci to avoid any problems with him, but Vito talks him and Tessio into paying him less money. Shortly thereafter, Vito himself kills Fanucci and takes over the neighborhood--the beginnings of the future Corleone family.

Video game version[edit]

The video game title The Godfather: The Game depicts Clemenza as his movie counterpart; Castellano's estate gave permission for his likeness to be used in the game. However, due to Castellano's death in 1988, all of Clemenza's dialogue had to be recorded by Jason Schombing. In the game, he becomes partners and good friends with the protagonist, Aldo Trapani. He gives him several missions, such as killing members of rival families, particularly the Cuneo Family.


  1. ^ "The Godfather (1972)". Retrieved 2014-07-06. 
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Godfather". Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  3. ^ "Fact and Fiction in The Godfather". Retrieved 2014-06-24. 
  4. ^ Bona, Mary Jo (2010). By the Breath of Their Mouths: Narratives of Resistance in Italian America. State University of New York Press, Albany. p. 238. 

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