Lenny Montana

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Lenny Montana
Lenny Montana, 1955 (crop).jpg
Birth nameLeonardo Passafaro
Born(1926-03-13)March 13, 1926[1]
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.[1]
DiedMay 12, 1992(1992-05-12) (aged 66)[1]
Lindenhurst, New York, U.S.
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Lenny Montana
Lenny Passaforo
Len Crosby[1]
Len Montana
Chief Chewacki[1]
The Zebra Kid[1]
Billed height6 ft 6 in (198 cm)[1]
Billed weight235 lb (107 kg)
Billed fromSan Francisco, California

Lenny Montana (born Leonardo Passafaro; March 13, 1926 – May 12, 1992) was an American actor who played the role of feared hitman Luca Brasi in The Godfather. Prior to becoming an actor, he had a successful career as a professional wrestler[2] and worked as an enforcer for the Colombo family.[3]


Early life and early wrestling career[edit]

Montana was born in Brooklyn, New York City on March 13, 1926. He was of Italian-American heritage. He was fluent in both English and Italian. His wrestling career began in neighboring New Jersey in 1953. He wrestled under the Zebra Kid gimmick, and was billed at the height of 6 foot 6 inches. It wasn't long before Montana found success. Along with Golden Terror, he won the New Jersey Tag Team titles on April 4, 1953.[1] Montana began to travel, wrestling in the Midwest. He soon won the NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship, defeating Dave Sims on October 1, 1953 in Kansas City. However he lost the title on December 11, 1953 to Sonny Myers,[4] who had previously held the title three times before defeating the Zebra Kid. Montana's final success of the 1950s came in 1956, winning the NWA Texas Tag Team Championship with Gene Kiniski, defeating Herb Freeman and Ray Gunkel on September 18 in Dallas under the alias Len Crosby.[1] He also worked as a bouncer during this time to earn extra money.

Later wrestling career[edit]

By the late 1950s, Montana was on the road with the Carnival Circuit as a wrestler. As a popular wrestler on the circuit, Montana met the then unknown Eddie Sharkey in 1960.[5] The two struck up a friendship. After seeing what Sharkey could do, Montana recommended that he try his hand at professional wrestling. Montana also clued in Sharkey on the then-unacknowledged truth about professional wrestling--that all the outcomes are predetermined. Later that year, Montana won the NWA Texas World Tag Team titles with Joe Christie, under the Len Crosby name. Then with Hard Boiled Haggerty, he won the AWA World Tag Team Championship on October 4, 1960, defeating Stan Kowalski and Tiny Mills (wrestling as Murder Inc.) in Minneapolis.[6] But in a match against Verne Gagne, Montana suffered a broken leg, forcing Haggerty to choose a new partner.[7] After recovering from his injury, in 1961 Montana began to wrestle in Florida. He came to the Tampa Bay area and began to wrestle under The Zebra Kid alias.[8] At his great size, he would often pin his opponents in under one minute.[8] The Zebra Kid had a notable feud with Eddie Graham; their battles sold out Fort Homer Hesterly Armory many Tuesday nights in 1961. Things came to a head when Montana defeated Eddie Graham in a NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Georgia version) title match on May 1, 1962.[9] On November 23, 1962, he won the NWA (Georgia) Southern Tag Team Titles with his partner Gypsy Joe, defeating 'Grizzly' Jake Smith and Luke Brown. Montana then went on to form a powerful partnership with Tarzan Tyler, in which they would win three titles. First, the NWA International Tag Team Titles on April 9, 1963[10] defeating Ted Evans and Chief Little Eagle, then again winning the NWA International Tag Team Titles later in June 1963, defeating billed champions Chief Little Eagle and Dick Steinborn. Finally, the duo won the NWA World Tag Team Championship in Georgia, during October 1963, they defeated Karl Von Brauner and Kurt Von Brauner. Montana was due to be Gorilla Monsoon's tag team partner in 1964, but at the last minute Monsoon took on The African Savage as his partner instead. Montana had been interested in acting and was meeting with casting agents in Los Angeles at the same time he was due to team up with Bison.[11] Montana began to wrestle less and less, and went into semi-retirement; however he appeared in matches up until his acting career took off in the early 1970s.

Working for the Colombo crime family[edit]

Montana became involved with the Colombo crime family in the late 1960s.[3] Tall and very heavily built, his talents were mostly as an enforcer and an arsonist. He would tie a tampon to the tail of a mouse, dip it in kerosene, light it, and let the mouse run through a building, or he would put a lit candle in front of a cuckoo clock so that when the clock's bird would pop out the candle would be knocked over and start a fire.[12] Eventually, Montana was jailed at Riker's Island.[13] Upon being released, Montana acted as a bodyguard for many senior members of the Colombo Family.

Work on The Godfather[edit]

The filming of The Godfather faced strong opposition from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, with disputes headed by Joe Colombo and Frank Sinatra threatening its whole production. Producer Al Ruddy eventually made a deal with the league and Joe Colombo to cut the word Mafia from the script, and the league would back the production of the film. This meant many mobsters would be present on the set of The Godfather. It was in 1971, when Montana was acting as a bodyguard for a senior Colombo Family member,[14] that he met Francis Ford Coppola and Al Ruddy. After being introduced to the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Montana, they quickly cast him for the role of Luca Brasi. When Bettye McCartt, Al Ruddy's assistant, broke her watch, Montana offered to get her a new one. A week later, Montana returned with a "gift from the boys" – an antique diamond watch.[12] He was picked for the part after the original actor playing the character died of a stroke.[15] This would be his first film appearance. His role was that of mob enforcer Luca Brasi, a hitman used by Don Corleone (Marlon Brando). Montana was very nervous about appearing opposite Brando. Director Coppola incorporated this real-life tension into several scenes, showing Brasi repeatedly practicing (and later fumbling) his congratulations to Corleone.[16] Montana had little screen time in the film, but his notable height and physique caught the eye of producers, and he appeared in several movies and television programs after appearing in The Godfather.

Film and TV career[edit]

One of the first of these roles was the Italian spoof film The Funny Face of the Godfather in 1973. Montana had the role of Saro, and an artist's rendition of Montana appeared on the film's poster.[17] He established himself as an efficient character actor and appeared in Patty (1976), Fingers (1978) as the pizzeria owner Luchino, Matilda (1978), They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way[18] (1978), The Jerk (1979), Seven (1979), Below the Belt (1980), Defiance (1980), Battle Creek Brawl (1980) alongside Jackie Chan, Evilspeak (1981), ...All the Marbles (1981), Pandemonium (1982) and Blood Song (1982). He also acted on television as well as the big screen, appearing in Search (1973), Strike Force (1975), which starred a young Richard Gere,[19] Contract on Cherry Street[20] (1977), which featured Frank Sinatra, Kojak (1978), and Magnum, P.I.[21] (1982). Montana was usually cast as "muscle" for hire or an intimidating mobster.

Retirement and later life[edit]

Montana retired from acting after appearing in the B movie Blood Song (1982), which he also co-wrote.[22] He died May 12, 1992 of a heart attack in Lindenhurst, New York. He was 66 years old.


Year Title Role Notes
1969 Change of Habit Grocer Uncredited
1972 The Godfather Luca Brasi (Enforcer)
1973 The Funny Face of the Godfather Saro
1976 Patty The Racketeer
1978 Fingers Luchino
1978 Matilda Hood #1
1978 They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way Brick
1979 Seven The Kahuna
1979 The Jerk Con Man
1980 Defiance Whacko
1980 The Big Brawl John
1980 Below the Belt
1981 Evilspeak Jake
1981 ...All the Marbles Jerome, Eddie's Bodyguard
1982 Pandemonium Coach
1982 Blood Song Skipper (final film role)

Championships and accomplishments[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Lenny Montana". Online World of Wrestling.
  2. ^ "Lenny Montana". Obsessed with Wrestling. Archived from the original on 2008-12-02.
  3. ^ a b Cassie, Ron (2008-10-02). "What's it like From mob to God". The Frederick News-Post. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
  4. ^ "Sonny Myers". Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  5. ^ "Tom Zenk - first trainer - Eddie Sharkey part 2". 2009-10-28. Archived from the original on October 28, 2009. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  6. ^ "Lenny Montana | Johnny O's Wrestling Website". Wrestling.johnny-o.net. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  7. ^ "A.W.A. World Tag Team | Johnny O's Wrestling Website". Wrestling.johnny-o.net. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  8. ^ a b "Wrestling Hall Of Fame". Teddwebb.com. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  9. ^ "Wrestling News and Results, WWE News, TNA News, ROH News". Wrestleview.com. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  10. ^ "Wrestling News and Results, WWE News, TNA News, ROH News". Wrestleview.com. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  11. ^ "WELCOME TO THE WEBSITE OF BUDDY BISON aka EXECUTIONER #2 aka HURRICANE CHANDLER". Buddybison.com. 2012-08-14. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  12. ^ a b Seal, Mark. "The Godfather Wars". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  13. ^ "Why the gangsters still love The Godfather of all movies". Irish Independent. April 13, 2001.
  14. ^ "'Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli,' and Other Godfather Stories". Filmschoolrejects.com. 2009-02-08. Archived from the original on 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  15. ^ Casperstartribune.net Archived June 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Nerve.com Archived 2008-11-22 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "i210.photobucket.com".
  18. ^ "They Went That-a-Way & That-a-Way (1978) - Overview". TCM.com. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  19. ^ "Strike Force". 12 April 1975 – via www.imdb.com.
  20. ^ "Contract on Cherry Street". 19 November 1977 – via www.imdb.com.
  21. ^ "Episode Guide - Italian Ice". Magnum Mania!. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  22. ^ "Blood Song (1982)" – via www.imdb.com.
  23. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Tag Team Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 275–276. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  24. ^ "NWA Texas Tag Team Title [E. Texas]". wrestling-titles.com. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  25. ^ "Pro wrestling history (9/18): Flair pins Dusty, Triple H defeats CM Punk in No DQ". Wrestling Observer Newsletter. September 18, 2015. Retrieved January 25, 2020.

External links[edit]