Oscar nominations will be announced in February. But this we already know: None of this year’s contenders come anywhere close to being one of the best movies ever made. None are even remotely close to the magnitude and sweep of a movie called “The Godfather.”
It may well be the perfect movie to watch, in front of a roaring fire, during a holiday season now imperiled by yet another COVID-19 variant. And the perfect companion to that may be to read a colorful new book that tells you everything you thought you knew about the making of “The Godfather” but didn’t.
Author Mark Seal has won a coveted “star” from Publishers Weekly for the book, whose title comes from one of the film’s best lines, “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli.”
Publishers Weekly praises the book for being full of “enthralling portraits,” eye-opening details and “fascinating morsels for fans to savor.”
It’s heady stuff for Seal, 68, a friendly, native Alabamian who spent 26 years in Dallas before embracing the Mafia — at least as subject matter.
It’s a story of its own, how a son of the South got mixed up with the Italian criminal underground and lived to tell about it. So many miles had to be traveled, so much cannoli had to be eaten, before Seal’s effort became a handsome hardcover book, published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
“I was a college freshman when I saw the movie on spring break in 1972 in Memphis. I felt like I was a kid when I walked in and an adult when I walked out,” Seal says. “I had never seen such a world before. It was so foreign to me. I just loved the movie and like everybody else became obsessed with it. You felt like you were part of that family, part of that whole world.”
Seal’s family moved from Alabama to Corpus Christi, Texas, when he was 10. His parents divorced, and he ended up graduating from high school in Memphis before getting his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee.
He started out as a police reporter in Austin, Texas, and Houston — he admits feeling drawn to true crime due in part to the sway of “The Godfather” — and in 1979, he arrived at The Dallas Morning News, where for almost five years he specialized in narrative journalism for what was then its Sunday magazine. His literary agent, Jan Miller, is based in Dallas.
He moved on from The News to become a nomadic freelance writer, whose byline began to appear in Vanity Fair, for which he wrote stories on “the brutal murder of Joan Root,” a pioneering naturalist and conservationist; a con artist named Christian Gerhartsreiter, who falsely claimed to be a member of the Rockefeller dynasty; and a “mysteriously disfigured” socialite named Carolyn Mary Skelly, who once lived in the Mansion on Turtle Creek and who became, in Seal’s words, “one of the world’s foremost diamond jewelry robbery victims.”
By 2008, Seal had risen to contributing editor at Vanity Fair, which assigned him to write a story on the making of “The Godfather,” whose 50th anniversary arrives in March. Feeling once again like the college kid who marveled at the cinematic classic that flickered in front of him, Seal was thrilled.
He began by jetting to the Beverly Hills mansion of Paramount studio executive Robert Evans, who as soon as he met the young writer asked him to go to bed.
“What?” Seal blurted out.
As it turns out, fire had consumed Evans’ famous screening room in 2003, and since then, he and his friends had been relegated to watching movies from where he slept and did other things.
“So, I climbed into bed with Robert Evans,” Seal writes, “to hear the story of the film that had both made him and destroyed him.”
Evans died in 2019, and author Mario Puzo, whose novel gave birth to the trilogy that became “The Godfather” movies, passed away a decade before that. But the blessing of the Vanity Fair piece is that, because of the legwork it demanded, it begat a nearly 400-page book 13 years later. Seal conducted almost 100 interviews for the book alone.
As author Nick Pileggi, who has written extensively about the Mafia, wrote on the back cover of “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli”: “Mark Seal’s seductive book about the making of The Godfather — often with the help of the men it was about — could be a movie itself. He couldn’t have gotten any closer and lived to type about it.”