During the 1960s, before he gained worldwide fame as a novelist, Mario Puzo made his living primarily as a writer of stories for men’s adventure magazines, such as Male, Men, Man's World and True Action.
Under the pen name “Mario Cleri,” he wrote scores of wild action and adventure yarns. Under his real name he served as an Associate Editor at the Magazine Management publishing company, which published many of the best post-WWII men’s pulp mags.
Puzo also wrote novels in his spare time in the 1960s.
But he didn’t become famous as a novelist until 1969, when his fifth novel, The Godfather, was published.
Early in that book, the Italian singer and actor Johnny Fontane tells Mafia “Godfather” Don Vito Corleone that a Hollywood movie executive had refused to give him a role he wanted in an upcoming movie.
“He’s a businessman,” the Don said blandly. “I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.”
Corleone sends his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to visit the studio exec and make a seemingly polite request to have Johnny reconsidered for the movie role.
The studio exec refuses. Soon after that, he finds the severed head of his prized stud racehorse in his bed — and quickly decides to give Johnny the role.
Later in the novel, after Vito’s son Michael takes over the family business, Michael predicts that another mobster who had declined the family’s offer to buy his casino will change his mind.
Echoing his father, Michael says: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Soon, that mobster is dead and Michael’s family owns the casino.
As you probably know, these same events are played out in the movie version of The Godfather, which was scripted by Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola and released in the USA on March 15, 1972.
Brando says: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Later in the film, Al Pacino, as Michael, says the same line that Vito and Michael say in Puzo’s novel: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
When The Godfather hit movie theaters, it was a huge hit. The phrase “an offer he can’t refuse” became a national catchphrase virtually overnight.
Of course, in the novel and film the “offer” is a veiled threat used with chilling effect. As part of our language, mentions of offers that can’t be refused are now often used for humorous effect.
One of my favorite funny uses was in HBO’s mob family series The Sopranos.
In Episode 4, the character Uncle Junior (played by Dominic Chianese) tells this politically incorrect joke:
“You hear about the Chinese Godfather? He made them an offer they couldn’t understand.”
If any members of a Chinese Tong are reading this blog, please don’t send me any offers.
I suddenly realize it’s a terrible joke and promise never repeat it again.
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