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Fact vs Fiction: The Offer episode 2 — was Frank Sinatra connected to the mob?

Ron Rogge as Jilly Rizzo in The Offer
Ron Roggé as Jilly Rizzo in The Offer (Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

After ending its premiere episode with a literal bang, the second episode of The Offer, "Warning Shots," continues the story of making The Godfather from the perspective of producer Al Ruddy. But what in the episode was real and what has had a little bit of narrative "polishing"?

In the show, after learning that the blasting out of his car window was a warning shot, Ruddy (Miles Teller) finds out more about the threats to the movie, both from the mob and from Paramount. On the studio front, although Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) and Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) bond while writing the script, the young director becomes frustrated by the limitations and notes that the studio is suggesting. Ruddy meets with legendary Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen before heading onto Joe Colombo’s (Giovanni Ribisi) home turf in New York.

Elsewhere, Bettye (Juno Temple) shows her commitment to Ruddy in a meeting with Francoise (Nora Arnezeder). Coppola wants Marlon Brando and a little-known actor named Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) to play the role of Michael and Bob Evans (Matthew Goode) is threatened with being fired at Paramount.

We’re separating what is fact and what is fiction in The Offer and here’s what we found out about episode 2. You can check out our fact vs fiction breakdown for The Offer episode 1 right here.

Was Frank Sinatra connected to the mob?

Frank John Hughes as Frank Sinatra sit at a poolside table in The Offer

Ron Roggé and Frank John Hughes in The Offer (Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

The Offer briefly introduced us to Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes) in the first episode where he was none too pleased that The Godfather was being made into a movie. The actor was against the movie, believing that the character of Johnny Fontane was based on him and got into a fight with author Mario Puzo at a restaurant (this really did happen). In this episode, Sinatra uses his mob connections to put a damper on the making of The Godfather — torpedoing the casting of Vic Damone for the Fontane part.

Was Old Blue Eyes really connected with the mafia?

Yes. The FBI has nearly 40 years' worth of documents proving it (opens in new tab). Following Sinatra's death in 1998, the FBI released a dossier of the information they'd gathered over the years on the legendary crooner. In it were plenty of examples of his relationship with known mobsters from Chicago, New York, Detroit and more. It doesn’t appear that Sinatra did anything illegal on behalf of the mob, but he was closely connected.

Did Sinatra use those relationships to try and shut down The Godfather? That’s a little less clear. Vic Damone did backtrack on taking on the role of Johnny Fontane, though according to Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli (opens in new tab), it wasn't because of pressure from Frank Sinatra but rather because the production schedule didn’t work with his Las Vegas performances. 

Al Martino, who ended up playing Fontane in the movie, is quoted in Seal’s book that Sinatra threatened he wouldn’t be able to play Vegas after the movie. It’s not clear if this was backed up with any mob threats (Martino apparently had his own mob connection in Russ Bufalino, the gangster that was portrayed by Joe Pesci in 2019’s The Irishman). Either way, the threats were hollow — Martino continued to play Vegas after The Godfather was released.

Did they try to film The Godfather in Kansas City?

Colin Hanks in The Offer

Colin Hanks as the fictionalize Barry Lapidus, a thorn in the side of the production team in The Offer (Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

Al Ruddy was brought on as producer in part because of his skill in making low-budget movies, which is what Paramount wanted The Godfather to be. 

In The Offer, the studio (in the form of Colin Hanks Barry Lapidus) has some of its own ideas on how to keep costs down, including setting the movie in the 1970s to make it contemporary rather than a period piece and avoiding New York City production costs by shooting the movie in… Kansas City? 

Yep, Paramount really did make these suggestions, including trying to make Kansas City look like the Big Apple. Francis Ford Coppola told NPR’s Fresh Air in 2016 (opens in new tab) that they even had him do some location scouting in Kansas City, specifically around the Italian American neighborhoods in the city. The debate led to a big fight between Coppola and the studio (the first of many), but, "I was very adamant," the director said. 

He won that argument. They would soon learn, however, that shooting in New York City brought its own challenges beyond just the extra cost. 

Were Al Ruddy and Robert Evans threatened by the mob? 

At the end of the first episode of The Offer, the back window of Al Ruddy’s car is shot out. Then in the second episode, Ruddy is warned by legendary Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen (Louis Mandylor) that his New York associates are even more dangerous than him. Robert Evans, meanwhile, receives a rat in his bed and an ominous telephone call (at least it wasn’t a horse’s head, like in The Godfather). Then, as the episode concludes, Ruddy is picked up by a pair of gangsters and told at gunpoint to go with them. Did the mob really make such threats to try and stop The Godfather?

The shooting of Ruddy’s car really did happen — though not like in the show. Ruddy’s assistant Bettye McCartt told Vanity Fair (opens in new tab) that after receiving threats Ruddy would often switch out his cars. One night she took his car back to her home and later, while inside, she heard a gunshot. After going outside she saw the window shot up and a note telling them to stop making the movie. No one was inside the car when the shot was fired.

Ruddy also did meet with gangster Cohen following this incident. Mark Seal says that Ruddy accepted an invitation to meet with Cohen, writing that Cohen was "never threatening and he was actually curious," including asking who would play Don Corleone. Though it would be incredible (albeit disturbing) if life had imitated art, there’s no evidence that the head of Paramount, Robert Evans, ever found a dead rat in his bed.

All episodes of The Offer are now available to stream on Paramount Plus in the US and UK.

Michael Balderston
Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.