Fact vs Fiction: The Offer episode 7 — did The Godfather use a real horse head?

Miles Teller, Dan Fogler and Juno Temple in The Offer
(Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

The Offer dives into two of the most iconic scenes from The Godfather, in episode 7, "Mr. Producer." The first was the "horse head" scene. The second was Michael’s murder of Solozzo and Capt. McClusky. In addition, after weeks of growing tension between Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) and Joe Gallo (Joseph Russo), things finally came to a head between the two.

Based on the experiences of The Godfather producer Al Ruddy, The Offer has detailed what went into making one of the greatest movies of all time. But what in The Offer is fact and what is fiction? Specifically, fact-checking episode 7: did the movie use a real horse’s head? Were Coppola and Pacino in danger of being fired? Who shot Joe Colombo? Let's dive in.

Check out our previous fact vs fiction recaps for Paramount Plus original series The Offer

Did The Godfather use a real horse's head?

Aimee Carrero holding a fake horse head in The Offer, with Miles Teller

Aimee Carrero holding a fake horse head (Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

The fiction: "Mr. Producer" begins as Ruddy (Miles Teller), Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple) and Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) skeptically look at the horse head prop presented to them by Dean Tavoularis (Eric Balfour). Despite Tavoularis claiming it will look better on camera, the trio remains unconvinced. Coppola goes as far as saying he will cut the scene rather than using that horse’s head — and he is not cutting that scene. So what to do? 

That responsibility falls to Bettye. With the help of Caesar (Jake Cannavale), Bettye procures a real horse’s head from a butcher. Coppola finds this acceptable.

The horse’s head in the bed of the Hollywood producer in The Godfather is one of the most memorable scenes from the movie, so... did they really use an actual horse’s head?

The fact: Yep. Per the Los Angeles Times, Coppola confirmed it was a real horse’s head used in the scene and that it was acquired from a slaughterhouse. Yikes.

But was it Bettye’s job to pick it up? According to Mark Seal’s book, Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, in addition to being Ruddy’s assistant, Bettye was also the horse head scout. However, it didn't need a favor from the movie’s mafia connections, just some good old-fashioned hustle. Once tasked with the job, Bettye McCartt called a dog-food processing plant that, as luck would have it, just put down a racehorse. If she could pick it up she could have it. Unsurprisingly, McCartt said the head "smelled worse than anything you could ever imagine."

The horse's head "smelled worse than anything you could ever imagine."

Bettye McCartt

Did they try to fire Coppola and Pacino?

Dan Fogler and Anthony Ippolito in The Offer

(Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

The fiction: Jack Ballard (Paul McCrane) has been a thorn in the side of The Godfather production, serving as Gulf + Western's watchdog on set. As he scrutinizes nearly every move made by Ruddy and Coppola, in episode 6 we see him find an ally in editor Aram Avakian (Geoffrey Arend). This is further solidified in episode 7 as the two plot to oust Coppola as director and replace him... with Avakian. Meanwhile, the studio is getting cold feet about Al Pacino as Michael and is considering replacing him as well. 

Of course we all know that neither outcome happens, as The Godfather is an iconic movie for both Coppola and Pacino — but did they both nearly lose their jobs?

The fact: Amazingly enough, yes, Coppola and Pacino were nearly fired from The Godfather

Let’s start with Pacino. After the fight to get Pacino cast as Michael, the studio was not enthused by the actor's early scenes. In a 2015 Nightline interview, Pacino said, "They wanted to fire me when I was on the picture ... [during] the shooting, first couple of weeks. Because they kept seeing the rushes, you know, or the footage that was shot and they kept looking at it and thinking, 'What is he doing?'" Just as in The Offer, the restaurant scene saved him.

With Coppola, the coup Ballard attempted in the show is pretty close to what happened in real life, though there are some differing accounts. Coppola told Empire magazine that the studio did complain about the movie being too dark and there were rumors that they were "going to put in a new director." 

In his book, Mark Seal details a call between Robert Evans and Ballard, where the idea of replacing Coppola with Avakian was discussed. Also in Seal's book, Peter Bart says that Ballard had even made offers to other directors (including Elia Kazan) to replace Coppola.

As in The Offer, Coppola fired the conspirators to regain control, including Avakian and Ballard. However, Coppola has since said that he doesn't think Avakian was part of the plot.

Who shot Joe Colombo?

Giovani Ribisi in The Offer

(Image credit: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+)

The fiction: The end of "Mr. Producer" sees Al Ruddy attend a rally led by Joe Colombo, as the two have become close friends. However, Colombo is far less friendly with Joe Gallo, who has been working to get revenge against Colombo after being released from jail. At the rally, Colombo is shot. It's inferred through editing that it was arranged by Gallo, likely at the behest of Carlo Gambino (Anthony Skordi), who wasn’t happy with Colombo’s growing public persona. How much of this is true though?

The fact: Joe Colombo was indeed shot at a rally for the Italian American Civil Rights League in Columbus Circle. The New York Times reported the shooter was Jerome A. Johnson, a 25-year-old, who was killed at the scene. The paper also said that Gallo (plus his brother Albert) and Gambino were picked up for questioning. Although it's a common belief that Gallo was behind the shooting of Colombo — including by Frank Sheeran in The Irishman — Gallo was never convicted.

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

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. Follow on Letterboxd.