Year
1972

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather opens

On this day in 1972, The Godfather–a three-hour epic chronicling the lives of the Corleones, an Italian-American crime family led by the powerful Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando)–is released in theaters.

The Godfather was adapted from the best-selling book of the same name by Mario Puzo, a novelist who grew up in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and got his start writing pulp stories for men’s magazines. Controversy surrounded the film from the beginning: Soon after Paramount Pictures announced its production, the Italian-American Civil Rights League held a rally in Madison Square Garden, claiming the film would amount to a slur against Italian Americans. The uproar only increased publicity for the movie, which Paramount was counting to become a big-money hit after the success of Puzo’s novel.

The studio’s production chief, Robert Evans, approached several directors–including Sergio Leone and Costa Gavras–about The Godfather before hiring the relatively unknown Francis Ford Coppola, who was only 31 years old at the time. As an Italian American himself, Coppola strove to make the film an authentic representation of the time period and the culture, and to do justice to the complex relationships within the Corleone family, instead of focusing primarily on the violent crime aspect of the story. He worked with Puzo on the screenplay and persuaded Paramount to increase the budget of the film, which the studio had envisioned as a relatively meager $2.5 million.

Perhaps most importantly, Coppola and Puzo fought to cast Marlon Brando in the coveted role of Vito Corleone. At the time, Brando’s career had been in decline for a decade, and he had become notorious for his moody on-set behavior, most notably during the filming of 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty. When Paramount insisted that Brando do a screen test, the legendary actor complied because he wanted the role so badly. Reading his lines from hidden cue cards, Brando turned in a phenomenal, intuitive performance as the Godfather, winning an Academy Award for Best Actor (which he declined to accept). Combined with Coppola’s meticulous direction and memorable performances by the rest of the film’s cast, including Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, Brando’s star turn propelled the film to record-breaking box-office success, as well as three Academy Awards, for Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Godfather has remained a perennial choice on critics’ lists of the all-time best films in history. In 2007, it ranked second on the American Film Institute (AFI)’s list of the greatest movies of all time, behind Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). Its sequel, The Godfather: Part II, was released in 1974 and won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. A third installment, The Godfather: Part III (1990), received some positive reviews but was generally considered to be the weakest of the three films.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” hits #1

The business minds behind American Idol are not the first to try their hand at manufacturing pop stars. In fact, the process of corporate idol-making is nearly as old as rock and roll itself. The first man-made idols were launched in the late 1950s from Philadelphia, where a ...read more

The Ides of March

Gaius Julius Caesar, dictator of Rome, is stabbed to death in the Roman Senate house by 60 conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.Caesar, born into the Julii, an ancient but not particularly distinguished Roman aristocratic family, began his political ...read more

Maine enters the Union

As part of the Missouri Compromise between the North and the South, Maine is admitted into the Union as the 23rd state. Administered as a province of Massachusetts since 1647, the entrance of Maine as a free state was agreed to by Southern senators in exchange for the entrance of ...read more

Czar Nicholas II abdicates

During the February Revolution, Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia since 1894, is forced to abdicate the throne by the Petrograd insurgents, and a provincial government is installed in his place.Crowned on May 26, 1894, Nicholas was neither trained nor inclined to rule, which did ...read more

Johnson calls for equal voting rights

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all.Using the phrase “we shall overcome,” borrowed from African-American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declared ...read more

Russian czar abdicates

During the February Revolution, Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia since 1894, is forced to abdicate the throne on this day in 1917, after strikes and general revolts break out in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).Crowned on May 26, 1894, Nicholas was a relatively weak and ...read more

President Nixon hints at reintervention

President Nixon hints that the United States might intervene again in Vietnam to prevent communist violations of the truce. A cease-fire under the provisions of the Paris Peace Accords had gone into effect on January 27, 1973, but was quickly and repeatedly violated by both sides ...read more

Bobby Orr scores 100 points in one season

On March 15, 1970, Boston Bruin Bobby Orr becomes the first defenseman in NHL history to score 100 points in a season, after scoring four goals in one game against the Detroit Red Wings. Orr would finish the 1969-70 season with 120 points, a record for a defensive player that ...read more

Andrew Jackson is born

Future President Andrew Jackson is born in a backwoods region between North and South Carolina to Irish immigrant parents on this day in 1767. Jackson was essentially an orphan—all but one member of his family were killed during the Revolutionary War–who rose from humble ...read more

Andrew Jackson born

Andrew Jackson is born in the Garden of the Waxhaws, South Carolina.The son of Irish immigrants, Jackson spent much of his early life in the rough-and-tumble frontier regions of South Carolina and Tennessee. His father died from injuries sustained while lifting a heavy log, and ...read more

Julius Caesar is stabbed

“Beware the Ides of March,” the soothsayer urges Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar (act I, scene ii). Despite the forewarning, Caesar is stabbed in the back by his friend Marcus Brutus. Caesar falls and utters his famous last words, “Et tu, Brute?” (And you, ...read more

The ides of March: Julius Caesar is murdered

Julius Caesar, the”dictator for life”of the Roman Empire, is murdered by his own senators at a meeting in a hall next to Pompey’s Theatre. The conspiracy against Caesar encompassed as many as sixty noblemen, including Caesar’s own protege, Marcus Brutus.Caesar was scheduled to ...read more

Edward A. Perry born

On this day in 1831, Confederate General Edward Aylesworth Perry is born in Richmond, Massachusetts. The transplanted Yankee led a Florida brigade during the Civil War, and served as governor of the state after the war.Perry received his education at Lee Academy in Massachusetts ...read more