Francis Ford Coppola’s epic The Godfather has been captivating audiences for more than 50 years. Now, Paramount+ has turned the behind-the-scenes making of the mafia movie into the limited series The Offer, starring Miles Teller, Matthew Goode, Dan Fogel, Juno Temple, and Justin Chambers. The series takes the viewer on quite a journey from producer Al Ruddy’s (Miles Teller) job as an engineer at the Rand Corporation to him improvising a pitch for a television series to a room full of executives. That pitch became Hogan’s Heroes.
When Paramount acquired the rights to Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel The Godfather, the head of production, the legendary Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), gives the project to the relatively inexperienced Ruddy, thinking he could bring it in on time and under budget. That’s not exactly what happened, but with the commercial, critical, and cultural impact the film has had, no one is complaining about that these days.
The series was written by Michael Tolkin, best known for adapting his own novel, The Player, which skewered the Hollywood studio system with biting satire in a great Robert Altman movie. He brings seriously colorful characters to life in The Offer and gives viewers an inside look at filmmaking in the 1970s and. More specifically, he ‘offers’ well-developed insight into the determined and spunky group of people who believed in The Godfather and ensured the public got the film it needed to see, the film still loved for more than five decades and counting.
Who is Real and Who is Fiction in The Offer?
Most of the characters in The Offer are based on the real life people involved in the making of The Godfather. This includes producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller), Paramount head of production Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), Ruddy’s secretary Bettye McCartt (a great Juno Temple performance), Chief of Gulf Western Charles Bludhorn (Burn Gorman), author Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), singer Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes), mobsters Joseph Colombo Sr. (Giovanni Ribisi), Joe Gallo (Joseph Russo), and Lenny Montana (Lou Ferrigno), director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler), actors Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito), James Caan (Damien Conrad-Davis), and Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers), etc.
One character that didn’t exist is accountant Barry Lepidus, played by Colin Hanks, who was a royal pain in the butt for Evans, Ruddy, and Coppola during the making of The Godfather. Lepidus is a compendium of several people involved in the making of the film.
Did the Mob Really Protest the Making of The Godfather?
The Godfather is largely considered to be one of the best films of all time. However, it almost didn’t even get made. Mobster Joseph Colombo, Sr. declared war on The Godfather, fearing that the movie would show the mafia and their families and associates in a bad light. In short, they were tired of being perceived as thugs and raised $500,000 through the Italian-American Civil Rights League and approached Paramount about shutting the film down. In the movie, the Italian-American Civil Rights League is presented as an altruistic organization. In real life, it was used to fight back against the police and FBI.
In The Offer, Ruddy and Bettye are shot at while driving in his car. In real life, the windows of his car were smashed out to attempt to frighten him into abandoning The Godfather. Robert Evans received threatening phone calls. Francis Ford Coppola was not allowed to shoot in certain New York City neighborhoods. Expensive equipment was stolen and the production offices had to be evacuated repeatedly to sweep for bombs. Ultimately, as depicted in The Offer, Ruddy met with Colombo and decided upon just one request that would pacify the League — that the term mafia not be in the movie. It was only in the script one time, so this was an easy request to fulfill.
Who Was Joseph Colombo Sr. From The Offer?
Joseph Anthony Colombo, Sr. was the boss of the Colombo crime family, one of the five mafia families in New York City. The first Colombo War started in 1961 when Joe Gallo kidnaped four high-ranking members of the Profaci family. Gallo was sent to prison in 1962 and after the leader of the Profaci family died in 1963, two rival crime bosses planned to kill rivals on The Commission. Colombo revealed the assassination plan to its targets, which earned him the trust of those bosses and elevated him to head of the Colombo crime family.
Colombo founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League in 1970. Gallo was released from prison in 1971 and Colombo attempted to make peace with him via a check for $1,000. Gallo refused and this started the Second Colombo War. All of this is depicted in The Offer, including the shooting of Colombo at a 1971 Italian Unity Day rally. Colombo was shot in the head and spent the rest of his life paralyzed until he died in 1978. He never got to see the film he eventually became a big champion of.
Was Frank Sinatra as Rude to Mario Puzo in Real Life as He is in The Offer?
In The Offer, the author of The Godfather, Mario Puzo, accompanies producer Al Ruddy to the swanky Hollywood hot spot Chasen’s; Frank Sinatra happened to be there. As the legend goes, after Puzo’s novel became a huge bestseller, Sinatra became convinced that the character of Johnny Fontaine was based on him, and he was not happy about it, as Billboard revealed.
In 1972, Puzo wrote an essay called The Making of the Godfather, about encountering Sinatra in a Los Angeles restaurant and being berated by him for basing Johnny Fontaine on himself. Puzo wrote that he was taking a break from writing the screenplay for The Godfather and while dining at Chasen’s the legendary singer told him, “Choke. Go ahead and choke.” Puzo wrote, “What hurt was [that] here he was, a Northern Italian, threatening me, a Southern Italian, with physical violence.” He went on to say that the incident was “roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone.”
Sinatra’s beef with Puzo and The Godfather goes back to even before the movie rights were acquired. When Puzo was writing the novel, Sinatra’s attorneys sent a demand to his publisher to see the manuscript before it was published. His publishers declined the request.
Did Robert Evans Not Want to Cast Al Pacino Because of His Height?
In The Offer, Robert Evans is depicted as being dead set against casting a young Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. He goes as far as to call him a shrimp. Evans also said, “A runt will not play Michael,” according to Vanity Fair. In The Offer, Evans nearly had a coronary when he finds out Ruddy went behind his back to his boss Charles Bludhorn at Gulf Western to get Pacino on board.
In the early 1970s, Pacino was a respected actor, but he didn’t have a lot of credits to his name yet. Director Francis Ford Coppola was obsessed with casting Pacino as Michael Corleone. In fact, at least as The Offer portrayed, he was convinced his film would not work without Pacino in the lead.
It turns out, it wasn’t just Pacino’s height that gave Evans reservations. As an experienced producer, Evans had an eye and an instinct for what would and would not work in films. He was simply not impressed with Pacino’s screen tests for The Godfather and that was his main opposition to casting him. Additionally, Paramount was struggling and needed The Godfather to be a hit. Evans was convinced a big-name A-list actor was the key to making the film a hit. Of course, time went on to prove that in this case, Evans’ instincts were way off base.
Did Puzo Really Get Marlon Brando to Star in The Godfather?
The Offer shows Mario Puzo sending Marlon Brando a copy of his book and a letter asking the legendary actor if he would consider playing Don Corleone. Puzo knew it was unlikely to work, but at the same time, it couldn’t hurt to ask. That letter actually does exist and was sold in an auction of Brando’s possessions in 2005. It said, “I wrote a book called The Godfather. I think you’re the only actor who can play the part with that quiet force and irony (the book is an ironical comment on American society) the part requires.”
At the time, Brando’s career was pretty much DOA. The studio considered him a big financial risk. So when it turned out Brando was interested in the role, he had to be convinced to work for no money up front, and he had to put up a bond to offset any financial issues his behavior may cause. Paramount also wanted a screen test from Brando, which The Offer recreated precisely. In the scene, Ruddy, Coppola, and McCartt go to Brando’s estate and watch as the actor transforms into Don Corleone via some black shoe polish and a few pieces of Kleenex.
Marlon Brando went on to win the Academy Award for his performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather.
Was Bettye as Spunky in Real Life as She is in The Offer?
In The Offer, Al Ruddy’s secretary Bettye McCartt is played by Ted Lasso‘s Juno Temple and is portrayed as an outgoing, strong-willed, spunky woman with opinions she’s not afraid to share. She quickly becomes Ruddy’s indispensable right-hand woman, and in the ninth episode of The Offer, Bettye tells Ruddy that she’d like to become an agent because she likes actors and loves to talk.
In real life, McCartt did go on to represent actors as an agent and later manager. Her 2013 obituary in The Hollywood Reporter revealed that she was the owner of Agency for Artists and a partner in the talent agency McCartt, Oreck, & Barrett. She was Tom Selleck’s agent from 1975 until her death. She also represented Anthony Quinn, George Clooney, Brian Austin Green, and many others.
McCartt moved to Los Angeles from Oklahoma in the 1960s and worked as a publicist for 20th Century Fox before landing her job with Ruddy on The Godfather. In the series, Temple’s character says that she doesn’t want to be put into the tiny boxes men want to put her in. In real life, McCartt lived as she saw fit and made her dreams come true.
Was Al Ruddy Fired During Production of The Godfather?
In short, yes, Al Ruddy was fired, but not as dramatically as The Offer depicts it. He was fired for appearing in a photo with Joe Colombo on the front page of The New York Times, but it was before production on The Godfather began. A publicly traded company like Gulf and Western cannot be associated with the mafia. In the series, Ruddy is blindsided by the press conference Colombo is holding — he’s just told to show up for a meeting with him. In real life, Ruddy knew about the press conference, but he didn’t think national media would be covering it. As soon as it was over, he went to Charles Bludhorn’s office to explain and do damage control, but he was fired on the spot by Bludhorn, who was irate.
In The Offer, Bettye visits Colombo and explains the situation, and Colombo makes it clear that the mafia’s agreement to let the film proceed was with Ruddy, not Paramount; Ruddy is quickly reinstated. In real life, Bludhorn went to the set to tell Coppola and Evans a new producer must be found. Coppola effectively pitched a fit and insisted the film would only be made with Ruddy, forcing Bludhorn to rehire him.
With all the drama surrounding The Godfather, it’s understandable that Ruddy once said, “Every day of making The Godfather was the worst day in my life.” The Offer turns that “worst day” into some incisive, entertaining television.