In the first film, Don Vito Corleone was portrayed by Marlon Brando. He was portrayed as a younger man in The Godfather Part II by Robert DeNiro. Both performances won Academy Awards, making the Don the only person, real or imaginary, to be the subject of two Oscar-winning performances. Though composed of characteristics of many gangsters, the Vito Corleone character is based largely on those of Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino. Like Costello, Vito has a raspy voice, has politicians and judges on his payroll, and has many gambling interests. Like Gambino, Vito is very cunning.In Puzo's novel, Vito is the head of the Corleone crime family, the most powerful Mafia family in the New York City area if not the country. He is depicted as an ambitious Italian immigrant who moves to Hell's Kitchen and builds a Mafia empire, yet retains (and strictly adheres to) his own personal code of honor. His youngest son, Michael Corleone, becomes the Don upon his death at the end of the novel. He has two other sons, Santino "Sonny" Corleone and Fredo Corleone, and a daughter, Connie Corleone, all of whom play major roles in the story. He also informally adopted another son, Tom Hagen, who grew up to become the Family's consigliere.
In the chronology of the Godfather saga, Vito first appears in 1901 as a young boy in the small Sicilian town of Corleone. As documented in the novel (and in Godfather Part II), his father, Antonio Andolini, is murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, because he refused to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swears revenge, but is himself murdered soon after. Eventually, Ciccio's henchmen come to the residence of the Andolinis to take Vito away and have him killed. Desperate, Signora Andolini takes her son to see the mafia chieftain herself.
Immigration to America Edit
When Vito's mother goes to see Don Ciccio, she begs him to spare Vito. However, Ciccio refuses, reasoning that Vito would also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Signora Andolini puts a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape, but is then murdered by Ciccio's guards. (In the novel, she survives being shot and later reunites with her son in Sicily many years later.) Later that night, he is smuggled away, fleeing Sicily to seek refuge in America on a cargo ship full of immigrants. In the novel, he deliberately changes his name to Corleone, after his home town. The movie, however, plays that he is renamed "Vito Corleone" because the immigration workers at Ellis Island mistake "Andolini" for his middle name and the name of his town for his last name. According to The Godfather: Part II, he later adopted the middle name "Andolini" to acknowledge his heritage, though this could have been done posthumously by his family.
Corleone is later adopted by the Abbandando family in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, and he befriends their son, Genco, who becomes like a brother to him. Corleone begins making an honest living at Abbandando's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but loses the job, as an intimidated Abbandando is forced to fire Vito to make room for the nephew of Don Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone. Corleone soon learns to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. During this time, he also befriends two other low-level hoods, Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio. In 1919, he commits his first murder, killing Fanucci, who had tried to extort money from him. Corleone chooses the day of a major festival to spy on Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci goes home, and surprises him at the door to his apartment. He shoots Fanucci three times, as the din from the festival drowns out the noise from the gunshots.
Rise as an olive oil importer Edit
As a young man, Corleone starts an olive oil business, Genco Pura (known as simply Genco Olive Oil in the films) with his friend Genco Abbandando. The company eventually becomes the biggest olive oil importer in the nation. Over the years he uses it as a legal front for his organized crime syndicate, while amassing a fortune with his illegal operations. In 1925, he returns to Sicily for the first time since leaving 24 years earlier. He and his partner, Don Tommasino then set up a meeting with the aging Don Ciccio, where he kills him by carving his stomach open—thus avenging his murdered father, mother and brother.
Organized crime Edit
By the early 1930s, Vito Corleone has organized his illegal operations as the Corleone crime family. Genco Abbandando becomes his consigliere, or advisor, with Clemenza and Tessio as caporegimes. Later, his son Sonny becomes a capo as well, and eventually his underboss. Around 1939, he moves his base of operations to Long Beach, on Long Island. While he oversees a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, he is known as a kind, generous man who lives by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. At the same time, he is known as a traditionalist who demands respect commensurate with his status. By the time of the novel and film, even his three closest friends—Genco, Pete and Sal—never call him "Vito," but either "Godfather" or "Don Corleone." In both the book and the first scene of the first Godfather, he chastises his old friend, undertaker Bonasera, for not coming to him first after his daughter is beaten up instead of going to the police. Although he has a reputation for ruthlessness, he disagrees with many of the vicious crimes carried out by gangs and so seeks to control crime in New York by either consuming or eliminating rival gangs. In the mid-1920s, Vito met Hyman Roth (based on real life Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky), who wanted to use Vito's trucks for his own smuggling operation. Vito accepted this offer, and the two became allies for many years.
In 1945, Corleone is nearly assassinated when he refuses the request of Virgil Sollozzo to invest in a heroin operation and use his political contacts for the operation's protection. He is supposed to be driven home by his bodyguard, Paulie Gatto (a soldier in the Clemenza regime) along with his son Fredo. When the Don finds that Paulie is not there, Fredo tells him that Paulie has called in sick that day due to a cold. The Don crosses the street to buy oranges and other fruits from a street vendor. At that time, two of Sollozzo's hitmen come out from the shadows with guns drawn. Realizing the situation, the Don tries to sprint back to his Alfa Romeo but he is shot five times in his thighs and arms. Fredo tries to help his father, but fumbles with his gun and can't get to him in time. Certain that the Don is dead, Sollozzo kidnaps Hagen and tells him to get Sonny to accept the drug deal. Hagen agrees, but warns Sollozzo that the Don's fanatically loyal hitman, Luca Brasi, will likely come after Sollozzo. However, Sollozzo doesn't tell Hagen that he helped kill Brasi earlier. Just as Hagen is released, Sollozzo finds out the Don survived. Enraged, he makes a second attempt two days later. The Don is at the French Hospital being guarded by men from Tessio's regime. However, Sollozzo has police Captain Mark McCluskey, who has been on the take for many years, throw Tessio's men in jail, leaving the Don unguarded. Unfortunately for Sollozzo and McCluskey, Michael comes to visit his father just minutes before the attack is due. Realizing that his father is in danger, Michael has a nurse help him move the Don to another room and pretends to stand guard outside the hospital with Enzo the baker. Injuries from the attack put the Don out of action for next three years. Sonny served as acting head of the family during this time. He determined that Paulie Gatto took money from Sollozzo in return for betraying the Don, and ordered him killed. He also got word that the Tattaglias had killed Luca Brasi, and ordered Tessio's men to kill the family's underboss, Bruno Tattaglia. Michael persuaded Sonny to allow him to avenge their father by killing Sollozzo and McCluskey himself.
Sonny was himself assassinated, forcing Vito to resume command. He ordered all inquiries made, yet also ordered that no vengeance shall be sought. With the Don incapacitated, the other families had moved in on his business interests, as well as his labor rackets. With the Don's return, rival families now started reconsidering their moves. After Sonny's funeral and other formalities, Vito ordered Hagen to contact Emilio Barzini, the second most powerful Mafia chieftain in the country, in order to arrange a meeting of heads of all the families in America except the Chicago Outfit (considered the "black sheep" of the underworld). The meeting took place in the board room of a Manhattan bank whose president was a close friend of the Corleones. In that meeting, Vito renounced all vengeance regarding his son's death. He also said a light yes to the drug operations although he mentioned he never believed in drugs. However, he said he only accepted this for "selfish reasons" in order to bring back Michael from exile in Sicily. In this part he said, “But let me say this. I am a superstitious man, a ridiculous failing but I must confess it here. And so if some unlucky accident should befall my youngest son, if some police officer should accidentally shoot him, if he should hang himself while in his jail cell, if new witnesses appear to testify to his guilt, my superstition will make me feel that it was the result of the ill will still borne me by some people here. Let me go further. If my son is struck by a bolt of lightning I will blame some of the people here. If his plane show fall into the sea or his ship sink beneath the waves of the ocean, if he should catch a mortal fever, if his automobile should be struck by a train, such is my superstition that I would blame the ill will felt by people here."  after Michael's return from Sicily, Vito installed him in the family business as a learner associate. Michael learned things from his father for more than a year. After Michael's marriage with earlier girlfriend Kay Adams, Vito went into semi-retirement. Michael became operating head of the family, with Vito as an informal consigliere. Michael sent Hagen to Las Vegas to act as the family's lawyer there and lay the groundwork for a planned move of most operations there after Vito's death. Clemenza and Tessio requested permission to break off and form their own families after the move to Las Vegas. Michael's bodyguard Albert 'Al' Neri and Rocco Lampone were chosen to be the future caporegimes of the family. Willi Cicci was also considered, but opted to go with Clemenza's planned family.
At the end of the novel and in the movie, he dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony in his garden. His last words in the novel are, "Life is so beautiful." Vito's funeral was a grand affair, with all the other dons, capos and consiglieres in New York attending. Vito told Michael some days before his death that Barzini would set Michael up to be killed under cover of a meeting "to fix up things." Barzini would use a trusted member of the Corleone family as an intermediary. At the funeral, Tessio told Michael that he'd set up a meeting on his territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would presumably be safe. However, Michael had anticipated this and had Tessio killed. Michael then ordered his men to kill Barzini and Tattaglia (in the film, the other two family chiefs as well), thus avenging his father and brother.