This Article Appeared In The...
 Los Angeles Magazine, July 01 2000 by Scott Huver

Gangster Rap.
(Al Martino tells of personal experiences with the  'mob')
(Brief Article)
 Author/s: Scott Huver Issue: July, 2000

 HOW AL MARTINO, THE CONNECTED CROONER IN
THE GODFATHER, ALMOST SLEPT WITH THE FISHES

        IN THE GODFATHER, SWOON SINGER JOHNNY FONTANE PLEADS WITH
        Don Vito Corleone to influence a Thoroughbred-loving Hollywood producer to cast
        him in the part that will make him a huge star. Corleone makes the mogul the
        fabled offer he can't refuse, which leads to a horse's head and blood-stained silk
        sheets. Fontane gets the part. It's an indelible moment in filmdom's Mafia
        mythology--Billy Crystal even lampooned it in his most recent Oscar montage. But
        for singer Al Martino, who played Fontane in The Godfather, it was a role with
        all-too-real overtones. * With a buoyant new CD, Style, his first in 15 years,
        Martino is a superstar in Europe and admired by contemporary artists like Billy
        Joel, whose friends invited Martino to play Joel's Godfather-themed 50th-birthday
        bash last year. "It was all just fun and games until Al Martino stepped on the
        stage and began to sing," Joel recalls. "Suddenly, I was Don Corleone, and it was
        no longer just my birthday--it was Connie's wedding. I'll never forget it."

        A Philadelphia native who relocated to L.A., Martino became a sensation at 24
        when his "Here in My Heart" reached No. 1 in 1952. With matinee-idol looks and
        lush, operatic vocals like his South Philly pal Mario Lanza, he garnered
        widespread attention--including from some unsavory characters who muscled in on
        his manager. "The mob came to Philadelphia from New York and told him they
        wanted to buy my contract, first in a gentlemanly way and then forcefully," recalls
        Martino. The manager was persuaded. Martino fired the new team by telegram but
        was informed by a menacing Lucca Brazzi--ish enforcer that he would have to sign
        a note promising he'd pay a then-astronomical $75,000 against "future earnings." It
        was an offer Martino, too, couldn't refuse. "I signed the paper and got out of there."

        After making a token payment to ensure his family's safety, Martino exiled himself
        to London, where "Here in My Heart" was No. 1. There he stayed for seven years
        before an old, connected friend convinced Angelo Bruno, the reigning don of
        Philadelphia, that the singer had been treated unfairly, and he was allowed to
        resume his career here--which against all odds skyrocketed again in the 1960s
        with hits like "I Love You Because" and "Spanish Eyes."

        Later, singer Phyllis Maguire saw eerie parallels between Martino and Fontane in
        Mario Puzo's best-seller and urged him to pursue the part in Paramount's film
        version. Hollywood was abuzz with rumors that the Fontane character was
        inspired by the enduring legend of how Frank Sinatra got his Oscar-winning role in
        From Here to Eternity (the Chairman attempted to get the Fontane character cut
        from The Godfather), but Martino saw himself in the role and lobbied for the
        part--even though he was warned by a prominent producer he'd probably never play
        Las Vegas again. This time Martino wouldn't back down. "I was not going to be
        intimidated," he says.

        Now would-be gangstas of hip-hop are checking out Martino's shows. "The rappers
        love him in The Godfather," says Martino's daughter Alison. "They identify with his
        character."

        It must be gratifying to have the "gangstas" in his corner this time around.