Peter Clemenza

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Peter Clemenza
Peter Clemenza
Richard S. Castellano portraying Peter Clemenza in The Godfather
First appearanceThe Godfather
Last appearanceThe Godfather: The Game
Created byMario Puzo
Portrayed byRichard S. Castellano, Bruno Kirby (as a young man)
NicknameFat Clemenza, Pete
FamilyCorleone family
SpouseMrs. Clemenza
RelativesRay Clemenza (son)
Don Domenic Clemenza (brother)

Peter Clemenza is a fictional character appearing in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and two of the three films based on it. He is played by Academy Award-nominee Richard Castellano[1][2] in Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of the novel, and by Bruno Kirby (as a young man) in The Godfather Part II.

The Godfather[edit]

Born near Trapani, Sicily, Peter Clemenza is one of Don Vito Corleone's caporegimes and oldest friends, as well as the godfather of his eldest son, Sonny. He has a reputation as a superb judge of talent; his regime produced no fewer than five future capos—Sonny, Frank Pentangeli, Rocco Lampone, Al Neri, and Joey Zasa.

He is a supporting character in the story, but several of his actions are key to the plot. For example, he is ordered by Don Corleone, via consigliere Tom Hagen, to oversee the punishment of two teenage boys who received suspended sentences for beating and attempting to rape the daughter of undertaker Amerigo Bonasera. Vito's wife, Mrs. Corleone, is the girl's godmother. Clemenza assigns the job to his "button man" Paulie Gatto, who recruits two former professional boxers turned Corleone Family loan enforcers to assist. A deleted scene from the film depicts Gatto delivering the beating.[citation needed]

When the family discovers that Gatto helped Virgil Sollozzo and the Tattaglia Family set up Vito to be assassinated, Sonny orders Clemenza to execute him. Clemenza considers Gatto's actions a personal insult, having recruited and personally groomed him. According to the novel, Sonny Corleone initially suspects Clemenza was involved in the conspiracy, but Clemenza is eventually cleared. Clemenza chooses Rocco Lampone, then an associate, to do the hit on Gatto so Lampone can "make his bones." Clemenza has Gatto drive him and Lampone around for several hours on the pretext of locating housing for Corleone soldiers in the event war breaks out with the other crime families. After Lampone shoots Gatto, Clemenza—upon returning to the car after relieving himself—utters (to Lampone) his most famous line in the film: "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."[3]

When it is decided that Vito's youngest son, Michael, will murder drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo and Captain Mark McCluskey, a corrupt NYPD cop on Sollozzo's payroll, Clemenza instructs Michael on using a gun, how to allay Sollozzo's suspicions, and what to do after the shooting. The plan succeeds, and while Michael hides in Sicily, Clemenza prepares for an all-out war against the remaining four families. The war ultimately claims Sonny's life, and Vito resumes his leadership role. Upon returning to New York, Michael succeeds his father as the family's operating head. Clemenza and fellow caporegime Salvatore Tessio, doubting Michael as Don, request permission to break off from the Corleone family and start their own families in accordance with Vito's promise made several years earlier. Michael agrees, but insists they wait a short while longer, needing to complete the family's transition to Las Vegas. When Michael is targeted for assassination by Don Emilio Barzini, who was behind Sonny's murder, Clemenza is initially suspected of being the Corleone family traitor. Tessio turns out to be the traitor, however, and he is killed.

Clemenza, on Michael's orders, personally murders both Don Victor Stracci and Carlo Rizzi, Michael's brother-in-law, who conspired with Barzini to murder Sonny. Clemenza is last seen greeting Michael as "Don Corleone" and kissing Michael's hand.

The Godfather Part II[edit]

Clemenza does not appear in the present timeline of the film due to a disagreement between Castellano and Paramount Pictures over the character's dialogue and the amount of weight Castellano was expected to gain for the part.[4] After Castellano bowed out of the film, Clemenza was written out of the script and replaced by Frank Pentangeli. It is explained that, by the time of film, Clemenza has died under suspicious circumstances; when Fredo Corleone mentions that Clemenza died of a heart attack, Willi Cicci scoffs, "That was no heart attack," implying that Clemenza may have been murdered.

Clemenza, however, appears in several flashbacks to Vito Corleone's early days, played by Bruno Kirby. He first meets Vito when asking him to hide some guns for him from the police. Vito does so, and Clemenza repays the favor by stealing an expensive carpet (assisted by a surprised Vito) and giving it to the Corleones for their apartment. Around the same time, Vito and Clemenza befriend a young Tessio. One of their lines of business is selling stolen dresses door-to-door; a deleted scene depicts Clemenza charming his way into the apartment of a young housewife and emerging a little later, having presumably had sex with her.

Later on, the trio's partnership is discovered by the local blackhander, Don Fanucci, who attempts to extort them. Clemenza initially suggests that they pay Fanucci to avoid any problems with him, but Vito talks him and Tessio into paying him less money. Shortly thereafter, Vito kills Fanucci and takes over the neighborhood - the beginnings of the future Corleone family. Clemenza is last seen at Vito's side as they open Genco Pura Olive Oil, the front for their criminal empire.

The Sicilian[edit]

Clemenza appears briefly in Puzo's second Godfather installment, The Sicilian. He meets with Michael during his exile in Sicily, at his brother Domenico Clemenza's home in Trapani. They discuss what the fate of Turi Giuliano is to be, following the orders of a recovering Vito Corleone. Clemenza tells Michael that he should report to him after a week, with or without Giuliano, and that Michael could return to America afterward. Clemenza then leaves on a boat to Tunis, telling Michael that he would be back the following day to bring him back to date with the Don's orders.

The Godfather Returns[edit]

Clemenza's gradual takeover of the Corleone empire in New York is briefly covered in The Godfather Returns, Mark Winegardner's sequel to Puzo's original novel. It also tells of Clemenza's involvement during Michael's return from exile and eventual, official initiation into the Corleone crime family. Most noteworthy, the novel depicts Clemenza's fatal heart attack (mentioned in The Godfather Part II), and the many conspiracy theories that he had actually been murdered by the Rosato Brothers, enemies of the Corleone Family.

Video game version[edit]

The video game title The Godfather: The Game depicts Clemenza as his movie counterpart; Castellano's estate gave permission for his likeness to be used in the game. However, due to Castellano's death in 1988, all of Clemenza's dialogue had to be recorded by Jason Schombing. In the game, he becomes partners and good friends with the protagonist, Aldo Trapani. He gives him several missions, such as killing members of rival families, particularly the Cuneo Family.


  1. ^ "The Godfather (1972)". Retrieved 2014-07-06.
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Godfather". Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  3. ^ Bona, Mary Jo (2010). By the Breath of Their Mouths: Narratives of Resistance in Italian America. State University of New York Press, Albany. p. 238. ISBN 9781438429977.
  4. ^ Lumenick, Lou (March 11, 2012). "Leave the gun - Take my career". The New York Post. Retrieved May 28, 2017.

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