Vito Corleone

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Vito Andolini Corleone
Godfather15 flip.jpg
Vito Corleone, as portrayed by Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
First appearance
The Godfather
Created by Mario Puzo
Portrayed by Marlon Brando (age 53–63),
Robert De Niro (age 25–31),
Oreste Baldini (child)
Gender Male
Occupation Olive oil importer, Mafia boss
Title The Godfather, Don
Family Corleone family
Spouse(s) Carmela Corleone (1914–1955, his death)
Children Santino "Sonny" Corleone (deceased, 1916-1948),
Frederico "Fredo" Corleone (deceased, 1919-1959),
Michael Corleone (deceased, 1920-1997),
Constanzia "Connie" Corleone (1923-),
Thomas "Tom" Hagen (adopted, deceased, 1960s or 1970s)
Religion Roman Catholic
Father Antonio Andolini (deceased, 18??-1901)
Brother Paolo Andolini (deceased, 1887-1901)
Mother Signora Andolini (deceased, 18??-1901)

Vito Andolini Corleone (December 7, 1891 – July 29, 1955) (born Vito Andolini in Corleone, Province of Palermo, Sicily, Italy) is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and in Francis Ford Coppola's first two films, where he was portrayed by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and, as a young man, by Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II.

Premiere Magazine listed Vito Corleone as the greatest film character in history.[1] He was also selected as the 10th greatest film character by Empire.[2]

Character overview[edit]

Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone crime family – the most powerful Mafia family in New York City. He is depicted as an orphaned Sicilian immigrant boy who grows into an ambitious man, living in Manhatten's Lower East Side where he builds a Mafia empire. Upon his death at the end of the novel, his youngest son, Michael, succeeds him as the head of the Corleone family. Vito has two other sons, Santino ("Sonny") and Frederico ("Fredo" or "Freddie"), as well as a daughter, Connie, all of whom play major roles in the story. He also informally adopts Sonny's friend, Tom Hagen, who becomes a lawyer and later the Family's consigliere.

Vito oversees a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, but he is known as a generous man who lives by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. He is also known as a traditionalist who demands respect commensurate with his status; even his closest friends refer to him as "Godfather" or "Don Corleone" rather than "Vito".

Vito prides himself on being careful and reasonable, but he nevertheless employs violence when it is necessary. When his godson, singer Johnny Fontane, wanted to be released from his contract with a bandleader, Vito offered to buy it out. When rebuffed, Vito then threatened to kill the bandleader unless he released Fontane for a now token sum. Later, when movie mogul Jack Woltz refuses to cast Fontane in a coveted film role that could revitalize his waning career, Vito has Woltz's prize race horse killed and the horse's severed head placed in Woltz's bed.

It is also noted in the book that Vito rarely loses his temper. This characteristic is mostly a conscious restraint to avoid his father's fate, whose rashness and excitability contributed to his death by the Sicilian Mafia. When Vito learns that Sonny was involved in a minor crime, however, he curses at him at length in Sicilian dialect.

Early years[edit]

The novel establishes Vito's backstory, which is also portrayed (and expanded on slightly) in The Godfather Part II. Vito was born in the small town of Corleone, Sicily, on December 7, 1891. Antonio Andolini, his father, was murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, for refusing to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swore revenge, but he too was murdered soon afterwards. Eventually, Ciccio's henchmen come to the Andolini family's home to kill Vito. In desperation, Vito's mother takes her son to see Ciccio and begs him to spare Vito. Ciccio refuses, reasoning that Vito will also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Vito's mother puts a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape while she is killed. Later that night, he is smuggled away, fleeing from Sicily to seek refuge in America on a cargo ship full of immigrants. In the film, he is renamed "Vito Corleone" because the immigration officials at Ellis Island mistake "Andolini" for his middle name and his village for his surname. According to The Godfather Part II, he later adopts "Andolini" as his middle name to acknowledge his family heritage. In the book, he takes his village's name of Corleone to acknowledge his origins.

Vito is later adopted by the Abbandando family in Little Italy on the Lower East Side. Their son, Genco, becomes like a brother to him. Vito makes an honest living at the Abbandando family's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but the elder Abbandando is forced to fire him when Don Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone, demands that the grocery hire his nephew.

A young Vito (played by Robert De Niro) kills Don Fanucci

During this time, Vito befriends Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, who teach him to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. In 1920, he commits his first murder: killing Fanucci, who had threatened to turn him, Clemenza and Tessio over to the police unless he received a cut of their illegal profits. During a major Italian festival, Vito trails Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci goes home. He ambushes Fanucci at his apartment door, fatally shooting him. Vito then takes over the neighborhood, treating it with more respect than Fanucci.

As a young man, Vito starts an olive oil importing business, Genco Pura (simply known as Genco Olive Oil in the films), with his friend Genco. Over the years he uses it as a legal front for his growing organized crime syndicate. Nevertheless, Genco Pura is highly successful and grows to become the largest olive oil importing company in the nation. Between Genco Pura and his illegal operations, Vito becomes a very wealthy man. In 1923, he returns to Sicily for the first time since fleeing as a child. He and his partner Don Tommasino begin systematically eliminating all of Don Ciccio's men who had a hand in murdering his family. They set up a meeting with the aging Don Ciccio himself, during which Vito kills him by carving his stomach open, thus avenging his family.

By the early 1930s, Vito Corleone has organized his illegal operations into the Corleone crime family. Abbandando becomes his consigliere, with Clemenza and Tessio as caporegimes. It is soon reckoned as the most powerful crime family in the nation. Later, his oldest son Santino (nicknamed "Sonny") becomes a capo as well, and eventually Vito's underboss and heir apparent, though Vito harbors doubts about Sonny's abilities as a Don. Around 1939, he moves his base of operations to Long Beach, New York on Long Island.

Main character arc[edit]

In 1945, Vito declines Virgil Sollozzo's request to invest in his heroin operation, wanting his political influence and legal contacts for protection. Vito believes that the politicians on his payroll would recoil if he became involved in drug trafficking. During the meeting with Sollozzo, Sonny intimates expresses interested in the deal; after, Vito chastises his son for letting someone outside the family know what he was thinking. Around Christmas, as Vito crosses a street to buy oranges from a street vendor, two of Sollozzo's hitmen emerge with guns drawn. Vito tries to sprint back to his Cadillac, but is shot five times before he can get to safety. His son Fredo fumbles his gun and is unable to return fire as the assassins escape.

Sollozzo discovers Vito has survived, and makes a second attempt two weeks later at the hospial. Mark McCluskey — a corrupt police captain on Sollozzo's payroll — removes the Don's bodyguards in jail and withdraw all police protection, leaving him unguarded. However, Michael arrives minutes before the imminent attack. Realizing that his father is in danger, Michael and a nurse move Vito to another room, then imitates being a guard outside the hospital. Michael, who wanted nothing to do with the "family business", reaffirms his loyalty at Vito's bedside.

While Vito recuperates, Sonny serves as acting head of the family. Michael persuades Sonny to allow him to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, knowing his father is not safe as long as Sollozzo is alive. The plan goes through perfectly, and Michael is smuggled to Sicily, under Don Tomassino's protection. Sollozzo's and McCluskey's deaths ignite a war between the Corleone and the Tattaglia Families, with the other New York Families backing the latter. After Sonny is killed by the Tattaglias, Vito assumes personal control again and brokers a peace accord among the Families, confirming his suspicion in the process that Don Emilio Barzini was the brains behind Sollozzo and the Tattaglia Family all along.

Michael is able to return home in safety, and becomes Vito's heir apparent — a role he never wanted for his favorite son, who he hoped would pursue a non-criminal life. Vito goes into semi-retirement after Michael marries his longtime girlfriend Kay Adams. Michael is the operating head of the family, with Vito as an informal consigliere. He even supports Michael's long-term goal to remove the family from the Mafia (though an early draft of the script suggests that it was actually Vito's idea[citation needed]). Michael sends Hagen to Las Vegas to lay the groundwork for the planned move of most Corleone operations. Clemenza and Tessio request permission to break off and form their own families in New York after the move to Las Vegas; Michael's bodyguards Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are chosen to be the future caporegimes of the family.

Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony in his garden. His last words in the novel are, "Life is so beautiful." Vito's funeral is a grand affair, with all the other dons, capos and consiglieres in New York attending.

Shortly before his death, Vito warned Michael that Barzini would set him up to be killed under cover of a meeting. Barzini would use a trusted Corleone Family member as an intermediary; whoever came to Michael would be the traitor. At the funeral, Tessio tells Michael that Barzini wants a meeting and that he can set up it on his territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would presumably be safe. Michael concludes that Tessio is the traitor. A few days later, Michael orders the deaths of the other New York Dons, as well as Tessio. He also avenges Sonny's death by having Connie's abusive husband Carlo Rizzi murdered for his part in Sonny's murder. Michael and Vito started planning the mass slaughter soon after Michael's return to the United States; in a last demonstration of Vito's cunning, the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance were allowed to whittle away at the Corleone interests to make them appear weak.

Sequel novels[edit]

Vito is a supporting character in The Godfather Returns, Mark Winegardner's 2004 sequel to Puzo's novel, and a major one in The Family Corleone, a 2012 novel by Ed Falco. Both novels portray his rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as his early relationships with his wife and children.


Main article: Corleone family

Portrayals and influences[edit]

In The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone was portrayed by Marlon Brando. He was portrayed as a younger man in The Godfather Part II by Robert De Niro. Both performances won Academy AwardsBest Actor for Brando, Best Supporting Actor for De Niro. Vito Corleone is the only motion picture character played by two different actors, to be awarded an Oscar for the portrayals. Brando declined his Oscar, having Sacheen Littlefeather state his reasons during the awards show.

The character has also had a major influence on entertainment, most notably: the movie The Freshman, where Marlon Brando's character is almost a parody of Corleone; the Only Fools and Horses episode "Miami Twice", where the primary antagonist is Don Vincenzo "Vinny the Chain" Ochetti, another parody of Corleone; and the comic book mini-series, Batman: Year One and Batman: The Long Halloween, where the character Carmine Falcone is loosely based on Vito Corleone. In Goodfeathers, which was a segment of the TV show Animaniacs, there was a character called the Godpigeon, who was an animated parody of Vito (especially in terms of his voice). The segment also parodied, as the title suggests, Goodfellas. Vito Corleone is based on a composite of mid-20th century New York Mafia figures, chief among them Frank Costello. Brando apparently used tapes of Costello from the Kefauver hearings as the basis for the character's accent.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time". Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  2. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters| 10. Vito Corleone | Empire". www. 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
Preceded by

Seized control of NYC crime family after murder of Don Fanucci

Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1920–1945
Succeeded by
Sonny Corleone (acting)
Preceded by
Sonny Corleone (acting)
Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1946–1955
Succeeded by
Michael Corleone