Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather engaged the public fascination with the Mafia. The novel, which eventually sold more than twenty-one million copies, created both a brutally realistic and a sympathetic portrayal of organized crime in the United States. It was later adapted into two successful and critically acclaimed feature films, as well as a third film that was less well received.

Summary of Event

The son of Italian immigrants, Mario Puzo was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood of New York City that, at the time, consisted primarily of poor Italian and Irish families. He was one of seven children, all of whom were raised by their mother, Maria LeConti, after their father, Antonio Puzo, abandoned the family when Puzo was in his early teens. It was also during his teenage years that Puzo discovered both his love and his aptitude for writing. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and marrying Erika Lina Broske, Puzo attended the New School for Social Research and Columbia University (both in New York) on the GI Bill. Following graduation, he wrote short stories for several men’s magazines. In 1955, Puzo published his first novel, The Dark Arena, and in 1964, he published his second novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim. In 1965, the Putnam Publishing Group commissioned Puzo and paid him a $5,000 advance to write a story about the Mafia. The result was the publication of The Godfather in 1969. Godfather, The (Puzo) Crime literature [kw]Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in The Godfather (1969) [kw]Crime in The Godfather, Puzo Chronicles Organized (1969) [kw]Godfather, Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in The (1969) Godfather, The (Puzo) Crime literature [g]North America;1969: Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in The Godfather[10130] [g]United States;1969: Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in The Godfather[10130] [c]Literature;1969: Puzo Chronicles Organized Crime in The Godfather[10130] Puzo, Mario Coppola, Francis Ford Brando, Marlon Pacino, Al

The novel, set during the 1940’s, followed the life of New York City crime boss Don Vito Corleone, his family, and his struggle to transfer control of his empire to one of his sons. Powerfully written, the story immediately became a New York Times best seller, remaining on the newpaper’s best-seller list for sixty-seven weeks. Around the world, in countries such as Germany, England, and France, the book became just as popular. The novel almost immediately became an American classic and a commercial success for the author, with total sales of the book exceeding twenty-one million copies. Described by many critics as an immigrant saga of Italian Americans, the book unwittingly redefined how people viewed organized crime in the United States.

Through the Corleones, Puzo created a crime family that readers could relate to and with whom they could sympathize. Within this fictitious family, readers could relate to the same family struggles and events that most families experience, the only difference being that the Corleones earned their living through the illegal and violent world of organized crime. The impact of this interpretation of organized crime irrevocably changed how society viewed the Mafia. The Godfather not only provided readers with an understanding of what it meant to be in the Mafia but also glamorized organized crime. Because The Godfather had such a strong, believable, story line, many readers speculated that Puzo had firsthand knowledge of organized crime. Puzo, to the contrary, consistently maintained that the story was based solely on research. In fact, Puzo claimed that the personality of Vito Corleone was modeled after his mother.


The enormous success of The Godfather led to the production of three feature films, Motion-picture adaptations[Motion picture adaptations];The Godfather[Godfather] two of which were critically acclaimed and have become American movie classics. Puzo cowrote the screenplays with Francis Ford Coppola, and the films were produced by Paramount Pictures. The first film, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (Coppolla)[Mario Puzos The Godfather] (1972), starred Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael, the son who inherited control of the family business. It closely followed the original story line of the book.

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: Part 2 Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: Part 2 (Coppola)[Mario Puzos The Godfather Part 2] (1974) was both a prequel and a sequel to the first movie, telling both the story of Vito Corleone’s upbringing and early career and that of Michael Corleone’s management of the family business. Together, the two films garnered nine Academy Awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Picture. The sequel is particularly noteworthy as one of the few Hollywood sequels almost universally agreed to be a worthy follow-up to its predessor. The third movie, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: Part III (1990) continued the story of an aging Don Michael Corleone in the 1970’s.

Another offshoot of The Godfather was Puzo’s later novel, The Sicilian Sicilian, The (Puzo) (1984). Based on actual events, the story opened with Michael Corleone, in exile in Sicily, being ordered by his father to bring back to the United States Sicilian outlaw Salvatore Giuliano. This fictionalized account of the life of Giuliano traced the growth of the Sicilian Mafia.

The literary success of The Godfather made both the novel and its author an important part of twentieth century American popular culture. It is estimated that the revenues from the book exceeded 160 million dollars. Estimates place revenues from the three movies above 650 million dollars. Through his storytelling, Puzo successfully created a sympathetic image of the Mafia. Because readers of the book found the Corleones to be similar to other immigrant families trying to survive in America, their criminal behavior became somewhat excusable or justifiable. The power and strength of Puzo’s characters created a stereotypical image of organized crime in the United States. Not only did the novel glamorize the Mafia, but it also set a new standard of how they were portrayed.

The stereotypes first popularized by The Godfather continue to exist today and can be seen in other films, such as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), as well as the HBO television series The Sopranos. The Godfather also helped define how society viewed the real Mafia. Many people attached the same sympathies and celebrity status to real-life gangsters. One such example was the American public’s interest in John Gotti, a New York City crime boss in the 1980’s, who captured the media’s attention. Even the characters on The Sopranos periodically refer to or discuss Puzo’s novel. These references are meant as a tacit admission of the fact that an Italian American crime family in New Jersey in the early twenty-first century that never mentioned the book or the films would be considered unrealistic, so pervasive has been Puzo’s influence on popular images of such families. Many of the assumptions Americans make about organized crime can still be traced back to The Godfather. Godfather, The (Puzo) Crime literature

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gardaphe, Fred L. Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996. This critical study explores the history and impact of Italian American literature in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Green, Rose B. The Italian-American Novel: A Document of the Interaction Between Two Cultures. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1974. Offers a critical and chronological analysis of novels written by Italian Americans and how these works of fiction document the assimilation over time of Italian immigrants into American society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kibler, James E., Jr., ed. American Novelists Since World War II. Vol. 6 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. 2d series. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1980. A biographical essay on Mario Puzo’s life and published works.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Messinger, Christian K.“The Godfather” and American Culture: How the Corleones Became “Our Gang.” New York: State University of New York Press, 2002. Offers readers a comprehensive study of the novel and its impact on American popular culture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Puzo, Mario.“The Godfather Papers” and Other Confessions. New York: Putnam, 1972. An autobiographical account of Mario Puzo’s life and his writings, with particular attention paid to The Godfather.

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