Hollywood Godfather is Gianni Russo's over-the-top memoir of a real-life mobster-turned-actor who helped make The Godfather a reality, and his story of life on the edge between danger and glamour.
Gianni Russo was a handsome 25-year-old mobster with no acting experience when he walked onto the set of The Godfather and entered Hollywood history. He played Carlo Rizzi, the husband of Connie Corleone, who set her brother Sonny—played by James Caan—up for a hit. Russo didn't have to act—he knew the mob inside and out: from his childhood in Little Italy, where Mafia legend Frank Costello took him under his wing, to acting as a messenger for New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello during the Kennedy assassination, to having to go on the lam after shooting and killing a member of the Colombian drug cartel in his Vegas club.
Along the way, Russo befriended Frank Sinatra, who became his son's godfather, and Marlon Brando, who mentored his career as an actor after trying to get Francis Ford Coppola to fire him from The Godfather. Russo had passionate affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minelli, and scores of other celebrities. He went on to become a producer and starred in The Godfather: Parts I and II, Seabiscuit, Any Given Sunday and Rush Hour 2, among many other films.
Hollywood Godfather is a no-holds-barred account of a life filled with violence, glamour, sex—and fun.
In this robust, fast-paced memoir, Russo describes his life going from being a real-life mobster to landing a role playing one in The Godfather. Born in New York City's Little Italy in 1943, Russo had polio as a boy, left home at 12, and slept on flour sacks in a bakery. Selling pens on the street, his brassiness got him hired as errand boy for mob boss Frank Costello. In a short time, he was fetching skimmed cash from Las Vegas casinos and having sex with Marilyn Monroe, whom he met while washing hair in a New York City beauty salon ("We wound up in bed for the entire weekend, climbing out only when needed"). In 1971, he talked his way into the role of Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather, eventually playing other mobsters in dozens of movies. In a tone that sometimes rings of false modesty, he writes of befriending Frank Sinatra, drinking with Marlon Brando, having a food fight with Liza Minnelli, shooting up a hotel room with Elvis Presley, and managing singer Dionne Warwick. Stretching credulity, he claims inside knowledge of both the JFK assassination and the Mafia Vatican Bank money laundering scandal, and tells of meeting Pablo Escobar in 1988 after shooting dead one of the cartel chief's men. Russo's exhilarating memoir packs a punch.