Oh My Godfather! A Corleone Comeback

Paramount getting first shot at film rights to new book in Godfather saga

By Josh Grossberg Oct 22, 2002 10:55 PMTags

It's an offer Paramount Pictures will certainly find hard to refuse.

The studio behind the troika of Godfather movies will likely have first dibs to the screen rights for a new book about the storied Corleone family. The novel is still on the drawing board, with publisher Random House looking to commission a writer to take over for original author Mario Puzo, who died three years ago.

According to a lawyer representing both the Puzo estate and Paramount, the novel could be transformed into The Godfather, Part IV by the studio.

"That's a decision that will be made by the estate itself, but Paramount has rights to certain characters and events, and they backed The Godfather for quite some time, so it'd be a natural thing for the estate to go to Paramount first," attorney Bertram Fields explains to E! Online.

With the blessing of the late author's family, Random House's vice president and executive editor, Jonathan Karp, sent out notices last week to select literary agents seeking to draft a new writer to pen a continuation to the popular Mafia saga.

"We're looking for a writer who's basically at the same place as Mario was in his career," says Karp, Puzo's editor for a decade. "Mario had written two acclaimed literary novels and set out to write a big pop novel on a broad canvas, and we're looking for the same kind of narrative energy, dark irony and originality of voice."

No definitive timetable has been set for when the new don will be anointed, but would-be scribes out there planning on churning out a quick proposal of their own shouldn't waste their time--Karp notes that the publishing house is only selecting submissions from literary agents.

"We're not going to rush this. We know how popular this novel is, and we'll do it justice. You don't rush the Mob," says Karp.

Though he refused to offer up specific figures, he said the deal with Puzo's estate was "probably worth more than an under-boss makes in a year."

Based on Industry estimates, the author's family most likely snagged something close to the $5 million Margaret Mitchell's estate scored for agreeing to the publication of Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind, written by Alexandra Ripley.

Karp says the decision to bring back the Corleone was more than just business. It had to with the fact that "these characters just keep pulling you back in" and the feeling there were still more compelling parts of saga to be told.

"The Godfather is a towering monument in our culture, and it sold over 25 million copies. Obviously, we're not going to top The Godfather, but we are certain that there are writers out there who can continue the story in a vastly entertaining way that will satisfy multitudes of readers, and that's what we're setting out to do," says Karp.

Turning the novel into a movie would be a major task, but rumors of a Godfather IV have been gestating for years. In 1999, shortly before Puzo's death, Paramount was in feeling-out talks with Puzo, original director-cowriter Francis Ford Coppola, Godfather III star Andy Garcia and, yes, Leonardo DiCaprio about a fourth installment. Those plans were scuttled, however, once Puzo passed away.

But Karp says it was always Puzo's wish to return to the family that made him rich and famous (and earned him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the original, which he shared with Coppola).

"I talked to Mario about it a few times, and he wanted to do more with the Sonny Corleone character in some way, and Michael Corleone did make an appearance at the beginning and end of The Sicilian, and I wanted to do more with the Johnny Fontaine character," says Karp. "He was open to the idea of doing more with the Corleones."

No word from Coppola, Garcia or DiCaprio on their future Godfather plans, if any.

As for skeptics who say Random House is exploiting Puzo's novel to make a quick buck, Karp says the publisher would rather sleep with the fishes than make mincemeat out of the Corleone clan.

"Obviously these characters have a mythic hold on the public, and we take this challenge very seriously," says Karp. "We're going to pick a writer who will take the Corleone family on an entertaining and compelling journey."