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)
Relatives Antonio Andolini (father, died 1901)
Signora Andolini (mother, died 1901)
Paolo Andolini (brother, 1887-1901)
Religion Roman Catholic

Vito Andolini Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and in Francis Ford Coppola's film series based on the novel, 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 53rd greatest film character by Empire.[2]

Character overview[edit]

The original mafia don of the Corleone crime family is Vito Corleone. He is depicted as an orphaned Sicilian immigrant who 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 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 does not completely forsake violence. When his godson, singer Johnny Fontane, wants to be released from his contract with a bandleader, Vito offers to buy him out, but the bandleader refuses. Vito then threatens to kill the bandleader unless he releases Fontane for a much smaller sum. Later, when movie mogul Jack Woltz refuses to cast Fontane in a film role that could revitalize his waning career, Vito has Woltz's champion race horse killed and the horse's severed head placed in Woltz's bed as a warning.

Early years[edit]

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

The novel establishes Vito's backstory, which is partially portrayed in The Godfather Part II. Vito Andolini was born in Corleone, Sicily December 7, 1891. In the novel, Vito is sent to the United States by his mother for his safety after his father is killed in retaliation for insulting the local Mafia boss. In the film, his father, Antonio, is murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, for refusing to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swears revenge, but is also murdered. Vito's mother goes to Ciccio and begs him to spare Vito. Ciccio refuses, reasoning that the boy will seek revenge as a grown man. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Vito's mother holds a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape while she is killed. Family friends smuggle Vito out of Sicily, putting him on a ship with immigrants traveling to America. In the film, Ellis Island immigration officials rename him "Vito Corleone", using his village for his surname. This was often the case on Ellis Island during the time period in which the scene takes place. He later adopts "Andolini" as his middle name to acknowledge his family heritage.

Vito is taken in by the Abbandando family, who are distant relations of his, in Little Italy on New York's Lower East Side. Vito grows very close to the Abbadandos, particularly their son, Genco, who is like a brother to him. Vito earns an honest living at the Abbandandos' grocery store, 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.

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

Vito and Genco start an olive oil importing business, Genco Pura (simply known as Genco Olive Oil in the films). It eventually becomes the main legal front for Vito's growing organized crime syndicate. Despite--or because of--its status as a front company, Genco Pura becomes the nation's largest olive oil importing company. Between Genco Pura and his illegal operations, Vito becomes a wealthy man. In 1923, he returns to Sicily for the first time since fleeing as a child. He and his partner Don Tommasino systematically eliminate Don Ciccio's men who were involved in murdering Vito's family, and arrange a meeting with Ciccio himself. Vito carves open the elderly Don's stomach, thus avenging his family. Tommasino takes over the town, and is the family's staunchest ally in the old country for over half a century.

By the early 1930s, Vito has organized his criminal operations as the Corleone crime family, the most powerful in the nation. Abbandando is the consigliere, and Clemenza and Tessio are caporegimes. Later, Vito's oldest son Sonny becomes a capo, and eventually Vito's heir apparent and de facto underboss. He has a more difficult relationship with youngest son, Michael, who wants nothing to do with the family business. Around 1939, Vito moves his home and base of operations to Long Beach, New York on Long Island.

Main character arc[edit]

In 1945, heroin trafficker Virgil Sollozzo asks Vito to invest in his operation. Sollozzo is backed by the rival Tattaglia family, and wants Vito's political influence and legal protection. Vito declines, believing the politicians and judges on his payroll would object to him engaging in drug trafficking. During the meeting, Sonny expresses interest in the deal. After the meeting, Vito reprimands his son for letting an outsider know what he was thinking. Around Christmas, as Vito crosses a street to buy oranges from a vendor, Sollozzo's hitmen emerge with guns drawn. Vito bounds for his Cadillac, but is shot five times. His son, Fredo, drops his gun and is unable to return fire as the assassins escape.

Vito survives, and Sollozzo makes a second assassination attempt at the hospital. Mark McCluskey — a corrupt police captain on Sollozzo's payroll — has removed Vito's bodyguards, leaving him unprotected. However, Michael arrives just minutes before the imminent attack. Realizing his father is in danger, Michael and a nurse move Vito to another room. Then he and Enzo, the baker, pose as guards outside the hospital. Michael, who had not wanted to join the family business, affirms his loyalty at Vito's bedside.

While Vito recuperates, Sonny serves as acting head of the family. Michael, knowing his father will never be safe while Sollozzo lives, convinces Sonny that he can murder Sollozzo and McCluskey. Michael kills both men and is smuggled to Sicily under Don Tomassino's protection. The deaths of Sollozzo and McCluskey ignite a war between the Corleone and the Tattaglia families, with the other New York families backing the latter. After Sonny is killed by Barzini's men, Vito resumes control and brokers a peace accord among the families, during which he realizes that Barzini masterminded the attempt on his life and Sonny's murder.

Michael safely returns home, and becomes Vito's heir apparent. Michael marries his longtime girlfriend Kay Adams, and Vito semi-retires, making Michael the operating head of the family - something Vito had never wanted for his favorite son. Vito becomes his informal consigliere, displacing Hagen. Michael persuades Vito that it is time to remove the family from the Mafia. At the same time, Michael and Vito secretly make plans to eliminate the other New York dons, while allowing the Barzinis and Tattaglias to whittle away the Corleone interests to lull them into inaction.

Vito warns Michael that Barzini will set Michael up to be killed under the guise of a meeting; Barzini will use one of the Corleone Family's most trusted members as an intermediary. Shortly afterward, on July 29, 1955, Vito dies of a heart attack in his garden while playing with his grandson, Michael's son Anthony. In the novel, his last words are, "Life is so beautiful."

At Vito's funeral, Tessio inadvertently reveals that he is the traitor when he tells Michael that Barzini wants a meeting and that he can set it up on his territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would be safe. Days later, Michael carries out Vito's plan to eliminate the other New York dons. Tessio and Connie's abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi, are also murdered for conspiring with Barzini. In one stroke, the Corleone family regains its status as the most powerful criminal organization in the country.

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; the Disney animated film Zootopia, where the character of Mr. Big, an anthropomorphic arctic shrew, is a crime boss who shares mannerisms with 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. Goodfeathers, a segment of the cartoon show Animaniacs, features a character called "The Godpigeon", a parody of Vito Corleone.

Vito Corleone is based on a composite of mid-20th century New York Mafia figures Carlo Gambino, Frank Costello, and Joe Profaci. Like Gambino, Vito Corleone is nicknamed "The Godfather" and is greatly respected as the leading Mafia boss of his time. Like Costello, Vito Corleone has a raspy voice, political connections, and disapproves of the drug trade. Brando apparently used tapes of Costello from the Kefauver hearings as the basis for the character's accent. Like Profaci, Vito Corleone owns an olive oil importing business to conceal his criminal activities from the public and law enforcement.

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