Abe Vigoda portraying Salvatore Tessio
|First appearance||The Godfather|
|Last appearance||The Godfather Returns|
|Created by||Mario Puzo|
|Portrayed by||Abe Vigoda, John Aprea|
Salvatore "Sal" Tessio is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and the film based on it. In the film, Tessio was portrayed by Abe Vigoda. In the sequel, Vigoda reprised the role in a flashback, set in late 1941, at the end of the film. Actor John Aprea portrayed the younger Tessio in The Godfather Part II. Tessio's given name is not mentioned in the original novel.
In the novel and film
Tessio starts out with his friends Peter Clemenza and Vito Corleone as low-level hoodlums in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. As Corleone rises to prominence in the Mafia underworld, he makes Tessio and Clemenza his main caporegimes. Tessio owns the Embassy Club in Brooklyn and makes it his base of operations. From there, he manages his Mafia soldiers and is very well-connected throughout the borough. Most federal investigators consider Tessio the smarter, savvier and more ruthless of the two capos. However, according to the book, he mellows considerably over the decade of peace between New York's Mafia families.
He is the more trusted of the two capos during the war with the Five Families and is issued the task of assassinating Bruno Tattaglia. In the original novel, he never really trusts Michael Corleone after he takes over the family, and is frustrated that Michael won't allow him to take vengeance against Emilio Barzini when his family starts chipping away at his balliwick in Brooklyn. He does, however, think more of the young Don than do Clemenza and Tom Hagen. Ultimately, Tessio arranges for Michael's assassination at a peace summit set up by Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. In return, Tessio would inherit the Corleone family upon Michael's death.
At Vito's funeral, Tessio tells Michael that he set up the peace summit, to be held on his territory in Brooklyn. However, Michael had anticipated the plot by way of a warning from his father, who intimated that the person who approached him about the peace summit would be the family traitor. Tessio's betrayal comes as a surprise to Hagen, who thought Clemenza would betray Michael. However, Michael is not surprised, saying, "It's the smart move; Tessio was always smarter."
A few days later, Tessio is ready to head for Brooklyn with Hagen when Willi Cicci tells him that Michael is going in a separate car. Tessio is frustrated, saying that this interferes with his "arrangements." At that point, Hagen tells Tessio he cannot go either, and several button men surround Tessio. Realizing that Michael has found him out, Tessio asks Hagen to tell Michael that his betrayal was not personal, but simply business; Hagen replies that Michael understands that. Tessio also asks Hagen if he could get him off the hook, "for old time's sake," but Hagen refuses. He is then taken away to be killed.
In sequel novels
The original novel implies Tessio's death, but Mark Winegardner's sequel novel The Godfather Returns explains that he is executed with a gunshot at point blank range by his enforcer Nick Geraci. In this novel, Geraci is chosen and intended to succeed him as capo, but in the original novel, Al Neri takes over the old Tessio regime.
In Godfather: The Game
In the video game adaptation, Tessio is the main hit contractor for the first half of the game's story. Later, after he is confronted by Tom Hagen and Cicci, Tessio is escorted to the place where he was to betray Michael by the game's protagonist, Aldo Trapani. He subsequently flees, but is hunted down and shot by Trapani. In the game, Tessio's death takes place before the baptism executions, unlike in the film.