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Vito "Godfather" Andolini Corleone (b. Antonio Vito Andolini), is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, as well as Francis Ford Coppola's trilogy of films based on it, where he was portrayed by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and by Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II.

Character overview

In Puzo's novel, Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone crime family, the most powerful Mafia family in the New York Citymarker area. He is depicted as an ambitious Italianmarker immigrant who moves to Hell's Kitchenmarker and builds a Mafia empire, yet retains (and strictly adheres to) his own personal code of honor. Upon his death at the end of the novel, his youngest son, Michael Corleone, becomes the Don. Vito Corleone has two other sons, Santino and Frederico , and a daughter, Constanzia , all of whom play major roles in the story. He also informally adopts another son, Tom Hagen, who grows up to become the Family's consigliere.

In the novel

Backstory

The novel (and Godfather Part II) explains that Vito was born in the small Sicilian town of Corleonemarker in 1887. The film implies the date of birth 6 June 1887, though the tombstone seen in The Godfather shows an earlier date, and the reference to Pearl Harbormarker made in The Godfather Part II could indicate Vito's date of birth to be December 7th. His father, Antonio Andolini, is murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, because he refused to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swears revenge, but is himself murdered soon after. Eventually, Ciccio's henchmen come to the residence of the Andolinis to take Vito away and have him killed. Desperate, Signora Andolini takes her son to see the mafia chieftain herself.

When Vito's mother goes to see Don Ciccio, she begs him to spare Vito. However, Ciccio refuses, reasoning that Vito would also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Signora Andolini puts a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape, but is then shot dead by Ciccio's guards. (In the novel, she survives being shot and later reunites with her son in Sicily many years later.) Later that night, he is smuggled away, fleeing Sicily to seek refuge in Americamarker on a cargo ship full of immigrants. In the novel, he deliberately changes his name to Corleone, after his home town. The film, however, plays that he is renamed "Vito Corleone" because the immigration workers at Ellis Islandmarker mistake "Andolini" for his middle name and the name of his town for his last name. According to The Godfather Part II, he later adopts the middle name "Andolini" to acknowledge his heritage.

Corleone is later adopted by the Abbandando family in Manhattanmarker's Hell's Kitchenmarker neighborhood, and he befriends their son, Genco, who becomes like a brother to him. Corleone begins making an honest living at Abbandando's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but loses the job, as an intimidated Abbandando is forced to fire Vito to make room for the nephew of Don Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone.



Corleone soon learns to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. During this time, he also befriends two other low-level hoods, Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio. In 1921, he commits his first murder, killing Fanucci, who had tried to extort money from him. Corleone chooses the day of a major festival to spy on Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci goes home, and surprises him at the door to his apartment. He shoots Fanucci three times, as the din from the festival and the towel he had wrapped around the gun as a makeshift silencer drowns out the noise from the gunshots.

As a young man, Corleone starts an olive oil business, Genco Pura (known as simply Genco Olive Oil in the films) with his friend Genco Abbandando. The company eventually becomes the biggest olive oil importer in the nation. Over the years he uses it as a legal front for his organized crime syndicate, while amassing a fortune with his illegal operations. In 1925, he returns to Sicily for the first time since leaving 24 years earlier. He and his partner, Don Tommasino then set up a meeting with the aging Don Ciccio, where he kills him by carving his stomach open—thus avenging his murdered father, mother and brother.

By the early 1930s, Vito Corleone has organized his illegal operations as the Corleone crime family. Genco Abbandando becomes his consigliere, or advisor, with Clemenza and Tessio as caporegimes. Later, his son Sonny becomes a capo as well, and eventually his underboss. Around 1939, he moves his base of operations to Long Beachmarker, on Long Islandmarker.

While he oversees a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, he is known as a kind, generous man who lives by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. At the same time, he is known as a traditionalist who demands respect commensurate with his status. By the time of the novel and film, even his three closest friends—Genco, Pete and Sal—never call him "Vito," but either "Godfather" or "Don Corleone." In both the book and the first scene of the first Godfather, he chastises his old friend, undertaker Bonasera, for not coming to him first after his daughter is beaten up instead of going to the police. Although he has a reputation for ruthlessness, he disagrees with many of the vicious crimes carried out by gangs and so seeks to control crime in New York by either consuming or eliminating rival gangs.

Main character arc

In 1945, Corleone is nearly assassinated when he refuses the request of Virgil Sollozzo to invest in a heroin operation and use his political contacts for the operation's protection. At the meeting for the request, Sonny asked a question that suggested that unlike his father, he was interested in the offer; after the meeting, Corleone warns his son that he should never let anyone but the family in on his thinking. Corleone is supposed to be driven home by his bodyguard, Paulie Gatto (a soldier in the Clemenza regime), along with his son Fredo. When the Don finds that Paulie is not there, Fredo tells him that Paulie has called in sick that day due to a cold. The Don crosses the street to buy oranges (oranges normally signify an upcoming death in the film trilogy) and other fruits from a street vendor. At that time, two of Sollozzo's hitmen come out from the shadows with guns drawn. Realizing the situation, the Don tries to sprint back to his Cadillac but he is shot five times. Fredo tries to help his father, but fumbles with his gun and can't get to him in time.

Certain that the Don is dead, Sollozzo kidnaps Hagen and tells him to get Sonny to accept the drug deal. Hagen agrees, but warns Sollozzo that the Don's fanatically loyal hitman, Luca Brasi, will likely come after Sollozzo. Sollozzo tells Hagen he will handle Brasi, not telling him that he already killed Brasi hours earlier.

Just as Hagen is released, Sollozzo finds out the Don survived. Enraged, he makes a second attempt two days later. The Don is at the French Hospital being guarded by men from Tessio's regime. However, Sollozzo has police Captain Mark McCluskey — who has been on the take for many years — throw Tessio's men in jail, leaving the Don unguarded. Unfortunately for Sollozzo and McCluskey, Michael comes to visit his father just minutes before the attack is due. Realizing that his father is in danger, Michael has a nurse help him move the Don to another room and pretends to stand guard outside the hospital with Enzo the baker, a man who had come to visit the Don in gratitude for his earlier assistance.

Injuries from the attack put the Don out of action for the next three years, during which Sonny serves as acting head of the family. Sonny determines that Paulie took money from Sollozzo in return for betraying the Don, and orders him killed. He also gets word the Tattaglias had killed Luca Brasi, and orders Tessio's men to kill the family's underboss, Bruno Tattaglia, when the Tattaglias refused to turn him over. Michael persuades Sonny to allow him to avenge their father by killing Sollozzo and McCluskey himself, noting that as a longtime non-combatant he would be little suspected and that the otherwise off-limits action of killing a police captain was justified by the fact that McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard. Also, Michael points out, the family's media contacts can spread word of McCluskey's corruption.

Sonny is himself assassinated, forcing Vito to resume command. He ordered that no inquiries be made, and also ordered that no vengeance shall be sought. With the Don incapacitated, the other families had moved in on his business interests, as well as his labor rackets. With the Don's return, rival families now started reconsidering their moves.

After Sonny's funeral and other formalities, Vito orders Hagen to contact Emilio Barzini, the second most powerful Mafia chieftain in the country, in order to arrange a meeting of heads of all the families in America except the Chicago Outfit (considered the "black sheep" of the underworld). The meeting takes place in the board room of a Manhattanmarker bank whose president was a close friend of the Corleones.

In that meeting, Vito renounces all vengeance regarding his son's death. He also reluctantly agrees to the drug operations. However, he says he only accepts this for "selfish reasons" in order to bring back Michael from exile in Sicily. He then says that, should anything happen to his remaining children, he will exact indiscriminate vengeance upon all of the Dons.

After Michael's return from Sicily, Vito installs him in the family business. After Michael's marriage to girlfriend Kay Adams, Vito goes into semi-retirement. Michael becomes operating head of the family, with Vito as an informal consigliere. Michael sends Hagen to Las Vegasmarker to act as the family's lawyer there and lay the groundwork for a planned move of most operations there after Vito's death. Clemenza and Tessio request permission to break off and form their own families after the move to Las Vegas. Michael's bodyguards Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are chosen to be the future caporegimes of the family.

At the end of the novel and in the movie, Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony in his garden. His last words in the novel are, "Life is so beautiful." Vito's funeral is a grand affair, with all the other dons, capos and consiglieres in New York attending.

Vito tells Michael some days before his death that Barzini would set Michael up to be killed under cover of a meeting "to fix up things." Barzini would use a trusted member of the Corleone family as an intermediary. At the funeral, Tessio tells Michael that he had set up a meeting on his territory in Brooklynmarker, where Michael would presumably be safe. However, Michael had anticipated this and has Tessio killed. Michael then orders his men to kill Dons Barzini and Tattaglia (and in the film, Dons Cuneo and Stracci as well), thus avenging his father and brother.

Family

Vito married Carmella, an Italian immigrant girl, in 1910 and had four children — Sonny, Fredo, Connie and Michael. While he loves all of them, he is most proud of Michael, a college student who had to drop out due to his decision to join the Marines and wishes for him a life away from the "family business."



Portrayals and influences

In the first film, Don Vito Corleone was portrayed by Marlon Brando. He was portrayed as a younger man in The Godfather Part II by Robert De Niro. Both performances won Academy Awards (while neither of the winners were present at their respective ceremonies), making the Don the only person, real or imaginary, to be the subject of two Oscar-winning performances.

Though composed of characteristics of many gangsters, the Vito Corleone character is based largely on those of Frank Costello (who was well-connected with judges and politicians, was opposed to heroin, and was shot in a failed assassination), Joe Bonanno (who wanted to pass he family business to his son), and Joe Profaci (who ran an olive oil business as a cover). The character has also had a major influence on entertainment, most notably: the movie The Freshman, where Marlon Brando's character is almost a parody of Corleone; the Only Fools and Horses episode Miami Twice, where the primary antagonist is Don Vincenzo "Vinny the Chain" Ochetti, another parody of Corleone; the comic book mini-series, Batman: The Long Halloween, where the character Carmine Falcone is loosely based on Vito Corleone.

Notes


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