The Godfather film, the first installment of the Godfather trilogy, was released in 1972 and almost instantly became a cult classic.
Nowadays, it is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, however, during the filming of the movie, things were not going as smooth as Francis Ford Coppola had expected because the real mobsters threatened the movie’s production.
The Italian-American Civil Rights League was a political group in New York City that was active in the early 1970’s. The group’s stated goal was to combat pejorative stereotypes about Italian-Americans. Some of the members of the group were quite influential, like the famous singer Frank Sinatra and Joe Colombo, the leader of the notorious Colombo crime family, one of the five families of the Cosa Nostra in New York.
The Italian-American Civil Rights League strongly opposed the filming of the Godfather and was forcing Coppola and producer Al Ruddy to stop working on the movie. However, Ruddy was eventually able to make a deal with the group and it was agreed that the word “mafia” would be cut from the script to satisfy the demands of Joe Colombo. The word “mafia”, therefore, never appears in the first installment of the trilogy.
Due to the Italian-American Civil Rights League being involved in the production of the movie, many real mobsters were present on the set. This actually proved beneficial for the movie as Lenny Montana, who was cast in the role of the sadistic mob enforcer Luca Brasi, wandered the set while guarding a senior member of the Colombo crime family.
He met Francis Ford Coppola and Al Ruddy, who, amazed by his height and intimidating physical appearance, gave him the role of Luca Brasi almost on the spot. This was his first movie appearance; the script had to be re-written because he frequently suffered nervous attacks while appearing next to Marlon Brando.
Montana had been involved with the Combo crime family since the 1960’s. Since he was tall and exceptionally heavily built, his talents were mostly as an enforcer and arsonist.
Once, he allegedly tied a tampon to the tail of a mouse, dipped it in kerosene, lit it up and let the mouse run through a building to set it on fire.
His appearance in the movie probably saved some lives, since he exchanged his life of crime for a life of on-screen crime instead and continued to star in movies until his death in 1992.