Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When The Godfather played to an empty room

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge godfather.jpg

This week's column involves Mark One Electric Co. and its questionable eligibility for affirmative-action programs. Carl "Red" Privitera incorporated the business 1974, which is run today by his daughter, Rosana Privitera Biondo.

Searching for background information on Mark One, I came across a Kansas City Star story by Robert Butler on the 25th anniversary of the release of The Godfather. Butler marked the occasion by recalling the film's 1972 premiere in Kansas City.

As my colleague Charles Ferruzza also noted in a recent review of Blackhand Strawman, The Godfather played to an empty house inside the Empire Theater; the tickets had been purchased by a group protesting the movie's portrayal of Italian-Americans. "We strongly oppose a kind of prejudice the picture can cause," Thomas Gialde, the vice president of the Italian-American Unification Council of Greater Kansas City, explained to reporters in the theater lobby.

Butler referred to Carl Privitera as the president of the council in his original 1972 account. "The stereotyping -- it hasn't stopped. It's terrible," Privitera said when Butler caught up with him 25 years later.

A recent story in Vanity Fair describes in terrific detail how objections to The Godfather were also informed by the Mob's desire to avoid scrutiny.

In the VF piece, writer Mark Seal tells how Joe Colombo, who headed one of the Five Families in New York, helped to create the Italian-American Civil Rights League. The group initially targeted the FBI, calling the pursuit of La Cosa Nostra a form of persecution. Seal reports that tens of thousands showed up at the league's inaugural rally in order to put the feds on notice.

Hollywood was next.

The film The Godfather quickly became the league's No. 1 enemy. "A book like The Godfather leaves one with a sickening feeling," read a form letter the league addressed to Paramount and many elected officials, following a rally in Madison Square Garden that raised $500,000 to stop production.

In time, organized crime and the movie makers reached a working relationship.

One of the film's producers, Al Ruddy, eventually met with Colombo. After Ruddy agreed to drop the word "Mafia" from one sentence of dialogue, Little Italy opened its arms to the production. Mafia figures even got a private screening around the time of the film's release.

The Godfather
went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture and show 31,762 times on AMC.

Privitera, apparently, stayed grumpy.

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