American novelist, best-known for his Godfather saga. The novel stayed on The New York Times’ best-seller list for sixty-seven weeks. Puzo’s book had a deep impact on American society through its film adaptation, and the saying about “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” has became a clich.
Mario Puzo was born into an immigrant family in New York City in the area known as ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. His father was a railway trackman. Puzo lived with his six brothers and sisters above the railway yards. During World War II Puzo served in the US Air Force stationed in East Asia and Germany. He studied at New School for Social Research, New York and at Columbia University. Puzo then worked for 20 years as an administrative assistant in government offices in New York and overseas. In 1946 he married Erika Lina Broske; they had three sons and two daughters. Puzo’s his first book, Dark arena, appeared in 1955, when he was 35. The novel dealt with the relationship between Mosca, a soldier, and Hella, a German native, and explored the problems created by the characters’ different backgrounds.
From 1963 Puzo worked as a free lancer journalist and writer. In 1965 appeared Fortunate Pilgrim, which followed one family of Italian immigrants from the late 1920s through World War II. The plot centered around an Italian peasant woman’s perception of the ‘American dream’, and juxtaposed her honest and determined progress with that of a corrupt climber. Neither of Puzo’s first two books was a financial success, though both received good reviews.
The themes of love, crime, family bondage, and Old World values were further developed in Puzo’s novel Godfather (1969), his international breakthrough story about roots of mafia, corruption, violence and honor. The central character, Don Corleone, is rebel-former of an influential crime syndicate. His values are at once ‘domestic’ and anti-social. Puzo describes Don Corleone’s struggle among the underworld bosses for power, and how family values are transferred from one generation to the next and how they change under social pressure. With the book Puzo achieved his financial goals, but he also confessed that he wrote below his gifts.
Puzo’s international bestseller was also adapted into screen. Director Francis Ford Coppola did not like the book at first, but his films, Godfather and Godfather Part II, received several Oscars, including best picture and best script (written by Puzo and Coppola). The production was beset with difficulties. Before shooting began, the Italian-American Civil Rights League held a rally in Madison Square Garden and raised $600 000 towards attempts to stop the film. Finally Coppola agreed to eliminate the words ‘Mafia’ and ‘Cosa Nostra’ from the screenplay. The third part (1990), which was not based on the original book, was written by the director Coppola and Puzo.
Fools Die from 1978 was set in Las Vegas, Hollywood, Tokyo, and New York during the 1950s and 1960s. The protagonist in the story was a dishonest fiction writer who considered himself as a modern-day magician.
Puzo’s later works from the 1990s include The Fourth K (1991), a global political thriller in the spirit of Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follet. In The Last Don (1996) Puzo returned to the world of Godfathers. The head of the most powerful Mafia family in the country, Don Clericuzio, decides to make his enterprises legal, and the story follows how the don’s plans for his family future succeed. Puzo died from heart failure on July 1999 at his home in Long Island, after completing his latest organized crime book, OMERTA, which came out in July 2000.