Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Nepo Babies

Before we get to the actual date-related topic for today, I beg your indulgence, as I need to tell you a story.  It’s a story that most of you know, at least in part. Again, indulge me.

A partial reunion of the stars of The Godfather films I and II in 2017
A partial reunion of the stars of The Godfather films I and II in 2017, on the 45th anniversary of the release of The Godfather I; from left-to-right: Diane Keaton, Robert de Niro, Robert Duvall, director Francis Ford Coppola, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Talia Shire; missing are Marlon Brando – Don Corleone himself – who died in 2004; and John Cazale, who portrayed Fredo Corleone, who passed away in 1978

The Godfather III – the third film in the storied Godfather franchise, released in 1990 – was one of the most anticipated films of all time.  And no wonder: the first of the Godfather movies – The Godfather, or “G1”, released in 1972 – was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and received three, including Best Picture and Best Actor (for Marlon Brando). G2, released two years later in 1974 was also nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning six of them, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (for Robert DeNiro).   So G3 – The Godfather III – had a lot riding on it.

Much of the casting was easy.  Al Pacino returned in the role of Michael Corleone; Diane Keaton in the role of Kaye Corleone; and Talia Shire in the role of Connie Corleone. But there were new roles to fill, none more important than Mary Corleone, the now grown-up daughter of the “godfather” himself, Michael Corleone. G3’s writer and director, Francis Ford Coppola (born 1939), wanted Julia Roberts for the role of Mary Corleone. Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts was not available, so Coppola tested a number of other actresses for the part, including Madonna (whose own Italian heritage did not, in the end, help her get the part). In the end, the part went to Winona Ryder. (Born Winona Horowitz in Winona, Minnesota in 1971, Ms. Ryder grew up in Northern California and graduated from Petaluma High School in 1989 with a 4.0 average).  The 18-year-old Ms. Ryder was up-and-coming at the time she was chosen for the role of Mary Corleone, having scored major successes in the movies Beetlejuice (1988) and Heathers (1989).

Winona Ryder (born Horowitz, 1971) in 1990 with Johnny Depp (born 1963), her boyfriend at the time
Winona Ryder (born Horowitz, 1971) in 1990 with Johnny Depp (born 1963), her boyfriend at the time

Ryder arrived at the G3 set in Italy and rehearsed for a day.  The next morning, her boyfriend, a young actor named Johnny Depp, called in to say that Ms. Ryder was “indisposed” and unavailable.  Her issues were, in fact, a bit more serious than that.  Suffering from what was later diagnosed as “nervous exhaustion,” Ryder left the movie, never to return, after just that one day of rehearsals.

Okay: I trust we all appreciate the expenses involved in having the cast and crew of a big-budget movie on set in a foreign country, twiddling their thumbs and sitting on their collective rear ends, with no female lead anywhere in sight.  Coppola considered replacing Ryder with either Madonna, Annabella Sciorra, or Laura San Giacomo, but wasn’t happy with any of those choices.  Meanwhile, principal photography, which was slated to begin on November 15, 1989, there at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios (meaning “Cinema City Studios”) was pushed back three weeks, during which Coppola’s ongoing expenses forced him to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Francis Ford Coppola, who had not wanted to make a third Godfather movie in the first place, was pushed to the brink; he needed a female lead, and he needed her yesterday.  So in his desperation, he made what turned out to be the worst decision of his career: he gave the role to his youngest child and only daughter, Sophia (born 1971).  …

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