Luciano the Inspiration for The Godfather?

Charlie Lucky was the inspiration for The Godfather?


Small World News Service is running a review of a book about Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, "Lucky Luciano: Mafia Murderer and Secret Agent," by Tim Newark (though the title seems to have been changed to "Lucky Luciano: The Real and the Fake Gangster," which at least sounds less silly than the first title, though it is still pretty damn silly nevertheless).

The book describes him as being "heralded ... as the model for legendary mafia boss Don Vito Corleone," from The Godfather, novel by Mario Puzo, and the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay by both men [as well as the screenplays for the two sequels].

"He was widely credited for running New York’s notorious underworld, and linked to multimillion dollar extortion rackets, revenge beatings and gangland murders," the review adds, quoting the book or a release about the book.


"But according to new research, his ‘legend’ was largely false and was fabricated by the U.S. Government to justify the expense and manpower of tracking him down." And, heaven's to Betsy, he wasn't the inspiration for Don Vito Corleone.

Who ever said Luciano was the model for The Godfather?

Though many true-life mob bosses were named as Mario Puzo's  inspiration (the character was likely a composite of several Mafia figures plus someone near and dear to Puzo's heart), I for one have never heard the claim that Luciano was. Have you?

I have heard that Vito Genovese was often considered to be the basis for the character, or that Don Vito, which Marlon Brando breathed such incredible life into with his spectacular award-winning performance, was based on a composite of several underworld characters.

No, the fact is -- and Puzo, the writer himself, has admitted it -- Vito Corleone's character was based on Puzo's mother! Not Lucky Luciano -- that is just plain stupid to say.
Don Vito Genovese, whose cime family
still bears his name.
IMDB.com expands on the inspiration (though I don't know how accurate the synopses on this site are): "Mario Puzo modeled the character of Don Vito Corleone on New York mob bosses Joe Profaci and Vito Genovese (who tried to take over the Commission by assassinating other bosses. I don't really see much of a connection between Vito C. and Vito G. Anyone out there know?). Many of the events of the novel are said to be based on actual incidents that occurred in the lives of "The Olive Oil King" Profaci (his daughter's marriage to a Bonanno, for example, is considered the inspiration for the superb opening wedding scene), Genovese and their families. Puzo based Don Vito's personality on his own mother's."

Additionally, Brando based the don's gravely iconic voice on the voice of mobster Frank Costello, the "Prime Minister of the Underworld," who retired into comfortable obscurity after a young Vincent "The Chin" Gigante creased his head with a bullet, a message from Genovese. (Genovese was probably the most treacherous of the old-time mob bosses, after Carlo Gambino, Boss of Bosses, of course. I would consider Gambino to be an influence on Puzo, more so than I would Genovese.) Genovese actually caused an obscure soldier of his to flip for the government -- the first mob informant. His name was Joe Valachi, and he "turned" after he realized Genovese had set him up for murder in the prison in which they were both incarcerated at the time.)

Gambino, despite dedicating his whole life to crime and murder, interestingly served only 22 months in prison (1938–39) before dying at the age of 74 of a heart attack in bed, "In a state of grace", according to a priest who had given him the Last Rites of the Catholic Church.

Newark said, according to the article, the book will shock American biographers who, until now, have always painted Lucky as the seminal gangster. Well, that's because Luciano was the seminal gangster -- he is widely considered the father of the modern Mafia, and I don't believe a word of what Newark has written about the wily mobster, who was railroaded by Dewey. Among a dozen other books, I have read Selwyn Raab's excellent Five Families; Raab is a respected journalist for the New York Times, and I will put my trust in his work more than anyone else's. Newark is a Brit and a bit of a contrarion judging by some other books he has written, including Myth-Busting: Hitler was a Left-Winger, in which it proclaims on the author's site: "It is always assumed Adolf Hitler was a right-wing dictator. But who says so? [Well, no one, they were all shot in the head!] Most of the main characteristics of his regime were left-wing in nature." So Hitler was a liberal, aye? Just because left-wingers were around him? Maybe, but he had them all killed pretty early in his reign.

Continuing, "So what makes me think Hitler is a left-winger? Well, the big clue is in the title of his party—National Socialist. When Hitler was in his early 30s and wanted to get into politics, he joined the German Workers Party. A year later, in 1920, he changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and that’s the way it stayed throughout the 1930s and 40s. Towards the end of his life, he was still proud of the socialist beginnings of his party." (Let me knock this out quickly: Hitler renamed the party to attract the widest audience possible, so he tried to create a name that would do just that.)

Newark, ever hear of the Night of the Long Knives? That is when Hitler "took out," in the Luciano sense of the term, the leadership of the SA (and Goring and Himmler used the occasion to rid themselves of lots of other "enemies of the state" for various reasons), who were planning a revolution against the regime for ... not being true to the socialist roots of the Nazi party. Hitler even had Ernst Rohm, a violent homosexual brute who ran the SA and helped get Hitler and the Nazi party off the ground, shot for political differences, shall we say.

Here is what the site says about Luciano: "(Newark's Luciano book, published August 31, 2010) revealed an astonishing conspiracy involving the legendary gangster. For the first 25 years of his criminal career, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano was a vicious mobster who rose to become the multimillionaire king of the New York underworld. For the next 25 years of his life, Luciano was a legend—but a fake master criminal without real power, his evil reputation manipulated and maintained by the government agents who had put him behind bars. Drawing on secret government documents from archives in America and Europe, Newark tells the real story of the legendary gangster from his early days as a top hit man for the mob to his exploits running sex and narcotics empires."

If Luciano is in prison, how can he help what the government did with his name? Also, the Mafia duped the government: Albert Anastasia created this whole notion of saboteurs hitting ships on the NYC waterfront during the hysteria of World War II. How did he do it? By sinking a ship himself! Then he went to the Feds and offered Mafia protection of the docks, which, he said, required Luciano's authorization. He helped get his friend out of prison -- it is widely believed today that Dewey unfairly railroaded Luciano into a draconian prison sentence  -- but then Luciano was deported and went on to other things, like trying to make a new home base in Cuba, which didn't work out, so he flooded the U.S. with Sicilian heroin. Sorry, Newark, if his deportation interrupted his flourishing career in the U.S. mafia.

I am not spending the money to buy Newark's book, I think he is a crank and a sensationalist who confuses opinion with fact. Luciano was the model for Vito Corleone? Get outta hee!!!!

POSTCRIPT: In one review I found this quote from the book:

"Until now, historians believed his power and control over the American underworld continued during his imprisonment and long after his exile. He was credited with organising international multi-million dollar drug smuggling operations between France, Sicily and America while behind bars.

"But 49-year-old Mr Newark's research suggests that Lucky had little influence on the criminal world after leaving America."

I don't know what historians he is talking about, but it was widely known Lucky was in financial trouble and was not a "player" in the New York Mafia once he was deported. And once Castro took over Cuba and Luciano lost his hoped-for home base in Havana, among the mob-owned casinos, which were soon taken over and the bosses thrown out, Luciano's downfall continued.

John H. Davis, in Mafia Dynasty, a widely read book, but apparently not in the U.K., reports Luciano suffered several heart attacks in Italy and relied on envelopes of cash from his friends back home to get by. Genovese had sent hit men after him -- Genovese always had his eyes on taking over Luciano's family, which he did after engineering the assassination of Luciano crony Albert Anastasia. Luciano was also on trial in Italy and was supporting a busload of prostitutes (to each his own).

To get money, Luciano had even written a book and sold his life's story to a filmmaker, Martin Gosch. Dean Martin was to have played Lucky, Davis reports. Of course Lucky got word from back home telling him he'd better forget making any films. Or else. Does this sound like Lucky had major influence over the criminal world after leaving America?

Luciano, his life almost over, took over the heroin trade, his next move. He would control heroin from its suppliers in Europe and Sicily -- and have to get a slice of the pie he was no longer getting in the increasingly thinner monthly envelope. Now Genovese wasn't the only one who wanted Luciano dead. 

"Lucky" finally died, having lived his last days in seclusion, of heart ailments, after trying to get the original screenplay back from Gosch to placate his cronies in the U.S. -- they'd lift some of the heat if Luciano could ensure the film would never be made by destroying the script. Luciano's end is a tragic one, and nothing Newark reports is going to change anyone's view of what happened to the man who organized organized crime.

After ridding themselves of Genovese, who wanted to wipe them all out, in a drug scam that led to his lifelong imprisonment, Carlo Gambino took over the Commission, which Lucky himself had set up after he turned down the role offered to him by the bosses he created, that of Capo di tutti Capi. Boss of All Bosses.

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