Photographer Steve Schapiro needs a hook to sell his $700 special edition book about the Godfather movie. The behind-the-scenes pictures (including James Caan wired up with explosive squibs, left), 1,000-copy print run and author signatures might not be enough, and lord knows the economy isn't going to help matters. So he struck a deal to excerpt Mario Puzo's 1972 book on the making of the film. This excerpt was, in turn, excerpted in the Daily Mail this weekend, and the part where the late crooner Frank Sinatra screams at Puzo in a restaurant is the talk of the blogs, 35 years after it surfaced in Time. It's a worthy tale.
Puzo wrote into the Godfather a character named Johnny Fontane, whose career is assisted by the mob several times, most infamously in a scene where a Hollywood shot-caller awakens to find the head of his beloved horse in bed with him. Fontane was widely believed to be a stand-in for Sinatra.
Sinatra was not happy, and Puzo knew it: At Elaine's, the proprietress asks Sinatra is he would like an introduction to the author. He objects, as Puzo anticipated.
But the author was eventually dragged into an introduction, literally, by an apparently drunk millionaire buddy of the singer's who ignored Puzo's objections
On the way out the millionaire started leading me toward a table. His right-hand man took me by the other hand...
‘I'd like you to meet my good friend, Mario Puzo,' said the millionaire.
‘I don't think so,' Sinatra said...
I was trying to get past the right-hand man and get the hell out of there... The millionaire was actually in tears.
‘Frank, I'm sorry, God, Frank, I didn't know, Frank, I'm sorry…'
I always run away from an argument and I have rarely in my life been disgusted by anything human beings do, but after that I said to Sinatra, ‘Listen, it wasn't my idea.'
...He said, and his voice was almost kind, ‘Who told you to put that in the book, your publisher?'
...Finally I said, ‘I mean about being introduced to you.' Time has mercifully dimmed the humiliation of what followed. Sinatra started to shout abuse. I remember that, contrary to his reputation, he did not use foul language at all. The worst thing he called me was a pimp. I do remember him saying that if it wasn't that I was so much older than he, he would beat the hell out of me. What hurt was that here he was, a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian, with physical violence. This was roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone. It just wasn't done.
Sinatra kept up his abuse and I kept staring at him. He kept staring down at his plate. Yelling. He never looked up. Finally, I walked away and out of the restaurant.
My humiliation must have showed because he yelled after me, ‘Choke. Go ahead and choke.'
That last quote sounds exactly like what one would expect Sinatra to yell after someone he's just told off, actually. It's kind of perfect! Writers may not get the respect of singers or filmmakers (Sinatra was actually nice to Francis Ford Coppola, even though the Godfather film included the Fontane character), but they do tend to get the last word.