Happy Birthday Mario Puzo, Deceased Godfather Author

We started writing this on the 15th, his true birthday, but finished after midnight.

Puzo was the Godfather of the popular novel for a long time.

Mario Puzo, the Italian-American novelist who created the Godfather saga, was born on this day, Oct. 15, in 1920. Sadly, he died in 1999 at age 78. The man who once called himself "a romantic writer with sympathy for evil" ended a classic collaboration with a great filmmaker who put Puzo's Shakespearean epic of the American Mafia on the big screen, and added the celebrated scribe's name to the title.

Born in humble conditions to immigrant parents from Avellino, Naples on October 15, 1920, he was raised in New York's Hell’s Kitchen.

He resettled in the Bronx, where his mother decided to move with her seven children once Puzo's father deserted them.

His mother, who had a domineering impact on the growing Puzo, had wanted him to find employment as a railroad clerk, but Puzo’s fate, he decided, would be tied up in literary pursuits. He started down this path spending his hours in the local library racing through as many books as he could.

He graduated from Commerce High School and in a move that probably made his mother's heart glow, did work for a spell as a railroad switchboard attendant to help support his six siblings.

During WWII, he enlisted in the US Air Force, which stationed him in Germany and East India. He also served as a civilian public relations man for the Air Force in Germany after the war.

When he returned to the US, he studied literature and obtained enrollment in the New School for Social Research and Columbia University where he practiced creative writing. In 1946, he married Erika Lina Broske, a beautiful woman he'd met back in Germany.

Two daughters and three sons eventually completed the family. Then, around thirty years later in 1978, Erika died from a prolonged illness.

Carol Guna, a nurse Puzo had hired to look after his wife toward the end of her life, became the author's companion.

Puzo began writing stories in high school. His first novel The Last Christmas, written while he was still in the service, was published by the American Vanguard in 1950. Then Dark Arena, his second novel, was published in 1955.

Nine years later he published The Fortunate Pilgrim.

While his books garnered critical praise, they failed to improve his finances.

He took up freelance writing (a profession on its last legs today unless $20 for writing a front-page newspaper story is worth your time) and in 1960 a high-profile author named Bruce Jay Friedman hired Puzo as an assistant editor of Men’s magazine, where Puzo wrote action stories.

Puzo was obsessed with writing a bestseller that would provide him with good money. Perhaps fueling his drive were the awesome gambling debts hanging over his head in those years.

He achieved success even beyond his wildest imagination when, in 1969, his first bestseller, The Godfather, was published. He earned a fortune (though he could've earned more, which I will get into in another story) and in the pantheon of popular authors his names was firmly etched.

The Godfather remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for 67 weeks. Puzo was considered one of the greatest writers in the world. He earned greater praise when he co-write with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola the script to the film. Then, the duo put together a sequel based on some material from Puzo's acclaimed Mafia novel. The third film is not considered as iconic as the first two, but is still a decent piece of filmmaking.
Puzo said he wrote his masterpiece completely
from research, a claim we wonder about...

A proposed fourth film, about the early years of the Corleone family when patriarch Vito was on the rise in New York, was kaboshed, likely forever, once Puzo died.

Yet those future successes on the big screen likely never topped Puzo's excitement upon hearing that the paperback rights to his first Godfather book had been sold for $410,000. He phoned his mother immediately and had to keep repeating the amount as she kept mishearing him.

Once she realized what he was saying, she promptly warned him: “Don't tell nobody."

Puzo bagged two Academy Awards for his work on the Godfather films. He also went on to wrote additional screenplays, including Earthquake, Superman, Superman II and The Cotton Club.

In 1978 he wrote Fools Die; the novel was based on gambling in Las Vegas and also was quite successful.

Puzo also continued writing popular fiction inspired by his Godfather formula.

The Sicilian and Last Don were commercially successful. The latter was filmed as a six-hour television miniseries.

Puzo probably earned more money off the mob than most mobsters do in the life.

He once said, ''I'm ashamed to admit that I wrote The Godfather entirely from research. I never met a real honest-to-God gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that's all.''

In his personal life, Puzo was known to be a thorough gentleman. He was extremely modest. In an interview with the Times in 1997, Puzo said, “I fancy myself an Italian peasant who's living comfortably on his little farm."

When he died on July 2, 1999 in West Bay Shore, New York, he left behind one last gift to his adoring fans -- his last book, titled Omerta.

Puzo was survived by five children, all of whom live on Long Island.

Next we will examine The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions -- and the Mafia's reaction to the classic novel/films, which along with the Valachi Papers, were the first of what grew into a flood of Mafia-related fiction and supposedly nonfiction books.


  1. That's what you call "The American Dream".Thanks Ed nice story.

  2. The mob doesn't kill innocent civilians; once you enter their orbit, though, all bets are off. She was directly involved, as well, they saw her driving. I saw the film, it's much more fictional and stylized than I'd hoped. Anyone else see it?


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