Late-April of 1973, just a month after Marlon Brando famously turned down an Academy Award for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola wrote him the following letter and asked him one final time to star as a young Vito in the next installment. Brando’s financial demands, coupled with the Oscar refusal, had recently soured his already fractious relationship with Paramount executives Charles Bluhdorn, Robert Evans, and Frank Yablans, and Coppola had clearly been working hard to repair the situation on his behalf.
Brando agreed to Coppola’s proposal; however he later failed to turn up for filming after relations deteriorated once again. It was then that De Niro stepped in to deliver his own award-winning portrayal of The Don.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of RRAuction, who are currently selling this very letter.
I heard you were back from the South Pacific; but I didn’t want to call you because I always feel stupid bringing up the matter of the Godfather. I know you return my calls on a personal and friendly basis, and so I can’t bring myself to misuse that and bring up what is bothering me.
My problem is simply that I am stalling and stalling because I have the inkling that it may be possible that you will play the young Vito Corleone. I’ve seen in the past, that even a slight possibility may blossom into a fact, and so I’ve tried to kindle this as best I could. I’ve become a real behind-the-scenes monster playing Yablans and Evans and Bludhorn; trying to get them to do what I want. I tell Yablans that he’s the only one who can do it. Then I tell Evans the same thing.
I tell them the movie cannot be made without you; I tell Yablans he has to apologize to you. Now Yablans says that he’s trying to do this, and get together on the money and stuff, but you don’t return his call.
Evans wants to approach you; but Yablans is terrified that Evans might make it work, where he failed…so he keeps preventing that.
But what it really comes down to is me. Marlon I respect you enormously; and if you told me that you did not want to do it under any circumstances, whatsoever…of course I would accept that, and never mention it again. And if you liked, I wouldn’t tell anyone else.
I learned a lot from you…one thing being that it’s only a movie, and what’s that compared to everything else there is in the world.
At times, I try really hard to imagine what you’re like in your thoughts. I realized that you’ve been in the strange state of adoration and exhibition for 25 years now, intensely…and I think that would have driven me crazy. And the fact that you’re really a good man, and warm, and love people is a tremendous achievement considering that you’ve been in a glass box for half your life.
I always to tell you that,..although it has nothing to do with this letter.
All I’m saying is that if you will be in this movie; I will do my very best to make it be good; and human, and express the notion that the Mafia is only a metaphor for America and capitalism, which will do anything to protect and perpetuate itself. (I will do this anyway, if you’re not in the film…but if you were in it, it would be better, and you would help me with your ideas as I work on the script.)
If you will not be in it, I will love you no less. All I ask is to please tell me without the shadow of a doubt.
I am very happy; having a terrific time up here. After this film I am quitting the movie business, and will do other things that I am excited about (that may involve film).
My number is [redacted]