The Godfather and Frank Sinatra’s Real History with the Mafia

Puzo maintained the character of Johnny Fontane wasn’t based on Sinatra, even though he admits in his book The Godfather Papers that he wouldn’t show the working manuscripts to the famous singer’s lawyers while it was being written. The similarities between Fontane and Sinatra appeared so conspicuous, the singer was infuriated.

The author said Johnny Fontane was a composite of a few real-life singers, including Al Martino, who plays the role in the film The Godfather. The novel was informed by a story Puzo heard about Martino getting beaten to a pulp and run out of town for trying to get a better deal for his appearances by him in a mob-run nightclub.

Family Ties and Associations

In Puzo’s novel, Johnny Fontane was born and raised in Little Italy, and was a childhood friend to the Corleone children. He was encouraged to sing by his music teacher, Sister Immaculata, and his godfather Vito had friends who owned venues to perform. By contrast, Francis Albert Sinatra was born on Dec. 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey, where wise guys were commonplace and crime was a realistic career option.

Frank’s father was Sicilian-born Antonino Sinatra, a bantamweight boxer who fought under the name Marty O’Brien. His mother of him was Natalina Garaventa, an Italian-born midwife rumored to perform illegal abortions which got her the nickname “Hatpin Dolly.” Frank’s uncle, Bob Garavante, was part of the Genovese Family. The Sinatras ran a local speakeasy during Prohibition. Frank was given a ukulele for his 15th birthday, and began singing locally.

Throughout his career, Sinatra denied any professional connections to the mob, outside of playing venues they owned, even as he was regularly photographed with known gangsters in those casinos and nightclubs. He also openly attended and performed at social functions.

Puzo and Coppola both cited Salvatore Bonanno’s marriage to Rosalie Profaci as the inspiration for the opening sequence of Connie Corleone’s (Talia Shire) wedding in the classic film. He was apparent to the Bonanno crime family, she was the daughter of the head of the Profaci Family, now known as the Colombo Family. The ceremony was attended by Tony Bennett.

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