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 and friends Peter Clemenza and Vito Corleone begin their criminal careers as low-level hoodlums in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. As Corleone rises to power and prominence in the Mafia underworld, Tessio and Clemenza become his trusted caporegimes. Tessio, well-connected throughout the borough, owns the Embassy Club in Brooklyn, his base of operations for his Mafia soldiers. Most federal investigators consider Tessio the smarter, savvier, and more ruthless of the Corleone capos. However, according to the book, he mellows considerably over the decade of peace between New York's Mafia families.
He is the Corleone Family's most trusted capo during the war with the Five Families and is issued the task of assassinating Bruno Tattaglia. In the novel, Tessio is depicted as thinking more highly of Michael Corleone than do Clemenza and Tom Hagen. However, he never completely trusts Michael, and is frustrated when Michael prevents him retaliating against Emilio Barzini as the Barzini family chips away at his balliwick in Brooklyn. Ultimately, Tessio betrays Michael by helping arrange his assassination at a peace summit with Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. The summit will be held on Tessio's fiefdom in Brooklyn, where Michael will presumably be safe. In return, Tessio was to inherit the Corleone family upon Michael's death.
In the novel, Tessio helps broker the summit shortly after Vito's death. In the film, Tessio approaches Michael about setting up the peace summit at Vito's funeral. Michael already anticipated the plot via his father's warning: whoever approached Michael about the peace summit would be the family traitor. Tessio's betrayal surprised Hagen, who thought Clemenza would betray Michael. Michael tells him, "It's the smart move; Tessio was always smarter."
A few days later, Tessio is ready to escort Michael and Hagen to Brooklyn for the meeting when Willi Cicci informs Tessio that Michael is going separately. A frustrated Tessio says it interferes with his "arrangements." Hagen says he cannot go either, and several button men surround Tessio. Immediately understanding his situation, Tessio wants Hagen to tell Michael that his betrayal was not personal, but simply business. Tessio also asks Hagen to get him off the hook, but Hagen refuses. He is taken away to be executed.
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.