The Chicago Syndicate: Pasquale Eboli
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Showing posts with label Pasquale Eboli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pasquale Eboli. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How the Cast of The Godfather was Trained by The Real Mafia

The real Mafia played a significant—if hidden—role in the creation of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather, and Mark Seal’s story in the 2009 Hollywood Issue (“The Godfather Wars”) detailed most of it. But one of the most remarkable anecdotes came to light only after the magazine was published, when the daughter of a reputed mobster told V.F. how her family befriended, tutored, and overfed the Corleones.

You always lament the ones that get away. In “The Godfather Wars,” my article in the March 2009 issue of Vanity Fair about how the actual Mafia interacted with the Hollywood cast and crew in the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film, I wrote briefly about Al Lettieri, the brooding actor who breathed fire into the part of Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, the drug-dealing gangster who sets up the hit on Don Corleone. “Lettieri hadn’t had to study the Mob to get into his part,” the article stated. “One of his relatives was a member.” As I learned from the actor’s ex-wife, Lettieri brought Marlon Brando to dinner at this relative’s house in New Jersey so that Brando, in preparation for his role as Don Corleone, could “get the flavor.”

I spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down Lettieri’s Mob-connected kin, but I was unsuccessful—until, that is, the day the magazine hit newsstands nationwide, when a woman called the offices of Vanity Fair and said that through a good friend she knew all about the dinner in New Jersey. That friend, Giovannina Bellino, whom she called “a real-life Meadow Soprano,” was the daughter of Lettieri’s relative and wanted to tell the story of how, on one incredible night in 1971, her family and the Corleones bonded over eggplant parmigiana and gallons of good red wine. Before I knew it, I had her on the phone.

“I was 15, going on 16,” said Giovannina, who goes by Gio. Her father, Pasquale “Patsy Ryan” Eboli—“a reputed capo in the Genovese crime family,” according to The New York Times—got a call from his brother-in-law Al Lettieri. “How about if I bring some of the cast over for a nice dinner?,” Lettieri asked. Eboli said sure; after all, his brother, Thomas “Tommy Ryan” Eboli, the head of the Genovese family, had granted permission for Lettieri to get involved with the film in the first place. So Gio’s mother, Jean (Lettieri’s sister), prepared some of her Italian specialties, set the table, and put on some music.

The doorbell rang at seven p.m. at the family house in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. “I opened the front door and there was Marlon Brando, James Caan, Morgana King [who played Don Corleone’s wife], Gianni Russo [who played Don Corleone’s son-in-law, Carlo], Al Ruddy [the film’s producer], and my uncle Al [Lettieri],” recalls Gio. “We all went downstairs into the family room, where the table was set and where we had the pool table and the bar.”

Gio was shuttling between the kitchen and the family room, serving food and wine as the cast became acquainted with the family. “Marlon Brando loved my mom’s eggplant parmigiana,” Gio says. “I remember sitting with him on the basement steps and watching this little drip of olive oil going down his chin and him telling my mother, ‘Jean, this is the best eggplant I’ve ever eaten!’ [See the food page of Gio’s Web site,, for the recipe.] It was a wonderful, relaxed, and casual evening—I danced with James Caan all night.” She laughs. “I’m sure the Fed who was parked up the block­—this guy that was always tailing my father—got a big kick out of it.”

A few weeks later, Gio’s mother made linguine with clam sauce for another special guest: the impoverished young actor Al Pacino. “I remember he was very quiet, and we had to pay his cab fare,” says Gio. The role of Michael Corleone required the New York–born Pacino to speak Italian in several scenes, and he had come to the Eboli house with Lettieri to work on his Italian for the famous sequence in which Michael guns down the double-crossing Sollozzo and the crooked police captain, McCluskey, played by Sterling Hayden. “My dad and Uncle Al spoke Italian fluently,” Gio says. “They drank plenty of wine that night. My brother joked at the time, ‘How’s this kid going to get the lines down after they go through six bottles?’”

That brother, Pat Eboli, was on the set later for the pivotal scene. “Pacino was definitely struggling with the Italian,” says Pat. “I remember Hayden saying, ‘If I have to eat any more of this spaghetti, I’m going to explode.’ Eventually, they decided to rework the scene.” Michael looks over at the cop—who’s busy with his spaghetti and obviously not paying attention—before turning to Sollozzo and breaking into English to tell him: “What I want, what’s most important to me, is that I have a guarantee: no more attempts on my father’s life.”

As movie audiences all across America thrilled to the saga of the Corleone family, a real-life drama unfolded in the Eboli family. At one a.m. on July 16, 1972, four months after the premiere of The Godfather, Gio’s uncle Tommy Eboli was found dead on a Brooklyn street, having been struck by five bullets to the head and neck. The police said that he had probably been shot in or near his car and that he had staggered to the sidewalk before collapsing. “When I heard about it, I pictured the scene in The Godfather when Don Corleone got shot,” Gio says. As for her father, Patsy Eboli, he disappeared in 1976 and was never heard from again. The only trace he left behind was “a bill for long-term parking at Kennedy Airport,” where his Cadillac was found abandoned with the keys in the glove compartment. In addition to losing her father and her Uncle Tommy in the 1970s, Gio also lost her Uncle Al. The actor died of a heart attack in 1975, at age 47. Like so many of his co-stars, he contributed to the greatness of The Godfather not only with his performance but also with his connections.

Thanks to Mark Seal


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