Star of 'The Godfather' pens autobiography 'Hollywood Godfather'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Of all the stars of "The Godfather," Gianni Russo is the only one who can claim to have been a mobster for real.

His colorful life is the subject of his new autobiography, written with former cop Patrick Picciarelli, and I went to Russo's apartment on the Upper East Side to talk about "Hollywood Godfather."

His home is a shrine to one of the most famous movies ever made, but even leaving aside his most famous role as "Carlo," Russo has actually lived many lives.

"My whole life has been about survival," he said. "When I put something in my head, I go for it."

His most famous role is a perfect case in point. I pointed out that it was his mob connections that got him the part, and Russo replies easily, "Oh yeah."

In fact, as his new book makes clear, "The Godfather" might never have been made in the city if Russo had not brokered peace between moviemakers and a top mobster, Joe Columbo.

As Russo explained to me, the filmmakers "needed the mob first of all to shoot Mulberry Street and all the areas of New York, and Columbo was putting it out there, 'Don't cooperate.'"

When a deal got done, Russo's percentage of the action came in the form of a part.

"I said, 'Joe, I want to play Carlo,'" he said. "He said, 'He's playing Carlo.' That's it, and I became an actor."

Playing opposite Marlon Brando was going to be tough for anyone who'd never acted before, and the star had his doubts until Russo set him straight.

"I said, 'Let me just tell you something, Mr. Brando, you screw this up for me, I'm going to suck on your heart. You hear what I said? Don't do this to me,'" Russo said. "He stepped back, and he said, 'That was brilliant. That's good acting. You could do this part.' He thought I was acting."

Russo wasn't.

His new book may be called "Hollywood Godfather," but Russo is the real deal. I've chosen just one story from his book to tell, but so many more are contained between its two covers. Robert De Niro calls it a "worthy read," and I have to agree.

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