To be in the Mafia, you must be one hundred percent Italian, and your bloodlines have to relate straight back to the old country, to Italy, to Sicily, for you to even be a made man.
Joe Ferrante, Mafia weapons expert.
Both in reality and fiction the small Sicilian town of Corleone, 37 miles from Palermo, has gained notoriety over the years as a Mafia stronghold. Most people have heard about the town of Corleone, thanks to Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Godfather trilogy.
Some of the most notorious real-life mafia bosses, including Bernardo Provenzano, Jack Dragna, and Luciano Leggio, have come from Corleone.
But its most famous citizen is the fictional character of Vito Corleone, portrayed by Marlon Brando in the film many consider a masterpiece: The Godfather, and Robert De Niro as a young man in Godfather II.
However, what most people don’t know is that Al Pacino, who portrayed Michael Corleone, the youngest son of Don Vito Corleone in Coppola’s classic, has a real-life link to the town of Corleone , making him a true Sicilian.
Just like Michael Corleone’s father, Vito Corleone, in the film, Pacino’s real-life maternal grandparents, John Gerardi and his wife Kate, came to New York City from a small town in Sicily known as Corleone. Little did Pacino’s grandparents know that their birth town would be immortalized as the setting for Mario Puzo’s novel.
Unlike the fictional character of Vito Corleone, who became the head of the most powerful Mafia family in New York after immigrating from Italy, Pacino’s grandfather, John Gerardi, faced some difficult times upon arriving in New York City, often struggling to make ends meet.
Pacino’s father, Salvatore Pacino, is also from Sicily, to be more precise from San Fratello, in the province of Messina, which completes the Sicilian background of Al Pacino. The legendary actor was once quoted as saying: “In America, most everybody who’s Italian is half Italian. Except me. I’m all Italian. I’m mostly Sicilian, and I have a little bit of Neapolitan in me. You get your full dose with me.”
In an interview with Herby Moreau, Pacino stated that he came from a poor background and a broken home. Pacino’s parents divorced when he was just two years old and he was raised in the home of his maternal grandparents in the Bronx. He dropped out of school at age 17 and worked as a janitor, messenger, clerk, and busboy. At times in the 1960s he was homeless. His break came in 1968, when he played a street punk in the play The Indian Wants the Bronx.
Pacino’s mother and grandfather always encouraged him to pursue an acting career and their support played a key role in fulfilling his dream. As a child, he spent hours watching movies with his mother and he acted out scenes from the movies.
Fame found Pacino after The Godfather came to the big screen. Actors such as Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, and Warren Beatty were also considered for the part, but Coppola decided to go with the relatively unknown actor. Pacino has said in interviews that he feared while filming the movie that the studio executives would insist that he be fired.
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Sadly, his mother and grandfather, who always supported him, did not live to see what would become of Pacino’s career. He lost his mother when he was only 22 and his grandfather died a year later.