On the real Godfather set

By Germanm

Apr 19, 2006 9:22am

Correspondent David Wright blogs about covering the arrest of mob boss Bernardo Provenzano:

Within minutes of the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano – boss of the Sicilian mafia — my boss of bosses in NY sent me an envious one-line email: “I can’t believe you get to say Corleone on the air!” wrote Chuck Lustig, ABC’s director of foreign news.

Even better, I got to go there! I’ve been to some pretty amazing places for ABC News, but few as special as this. Provenzano’s arrest was worthy of a Francis Ford Coppola script. The legendary mob boss Lucky Luciano once said of Provenzano: “He has the brains of a chicken, but he shoots like an angel.” Turns out Luciano seriously underestimated the young hit man who would one day take his place. Provenzano outsmarted authorities for 43 years. The Italian prosecutors leading the investigation weren’t even born when he went into hiding. (Me neither, come to think of it!) He ruled a criminal empire worth an estimated $750 million from a shepherd’s cabin, typing out orders in code on little scraps of paper.

When police finally caught up with him, he was reportedly typing a note to his wife. “Stop sending the baked pasta,” it said. “But send me as much cheese as you like.” We got to visit the farmhouse – at least from the outside. And got to see Corleone – at least from the outside.

Provenzano could not have survived the manhunt without lots of help from the town, and it was clear from the reception we and other news crews received that he still has more than a few supporters there.

Corleone is an old school Sicilian farm town, population 12,000, most of whom could make a fortune as Hollywood extras. In tweed caps and faded corduroy trousers, the older gentlemen of Corleone seem to like to sit in the sun and tell stories only they can appreciate. Their dialect is so thick even our Rome producer, Phoebe Natanson, a fluent Italian speaker, had trouble understanding them.

One of the first people we met was the jovial town mortician. “I handle all the tough cases,” he joked. “All the people who shoot themselves, all the people who hang themselves.” Naturally, he refused to go on camera. The majority in Corleone seem determined to maintain omerta — the legendary code of silence — on the subject of Provenzano. What ultimately betrayed the elusive “Ghost of Corleone” was a bundle of clean laundry sent by his wife. Authorities watched over 3 days, as it was passed ten times before finding its way to his doorstep.

Hollywood has done its homework, even if (we were disappointed to find out) not a frame of the Godfather saga was shot there. The town is dominated by a medieval castle built atop a jutting rock – dramatically beautiful. I’m told it’s called the Castle Soprano. We also saw road signs for the neighboring towns of Prizzi and Partanna – names familiar to anyone who’s seen “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Chuck Lustig and I amused ourselves emailing back and forth favorite lines from the Godfather movies – the idea being that I might use them in my own news script. So it was fun, even though we both knew full well that “Drop the gun, take the canollis!” would never make it into my story.

Didn’t matter. The true tale of Bernardo Provenzano was colorful enough.

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