Creative Writing


Article written in memory of Mario Puzo by his friend and colleague.
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  09.11.14, 20:33Book@artsPage 1 of 3   CAFECANCUNORDERSRIGHTSJULES SIEGEL REVIEWSCONTACT T-SHIRTS & OTHERGEARAn Erotic Novel How we lost the rightto feel.Go to the beach.   Saying Goodbye to Mario Puzo By Jules Siegel One never knows what the mail will bring. SpaceFrom: David Kipen, Books Editor, SF Chronicle To: 'Jules Siegel' <> Date: Friday, July 02, 1999 3:01 PM dear jules,i hate to tell you this, but mario puzo just died. i seem to recall you two wereacquainted.any comment?sorry david We were more than acquaintances. We worked at adjoining desks at Magazine ManagementCompany in 1964-65. Bruce Jay Friedman was the editorial director. They published dozensof men's adventure magazines -- the kind of pulps with covers of eight girls in bikinis withmachinguns storming out of black helicopters. I gave him some research materials on theMafia in Sicily -- Norman Lewis's book, The Honored Society , among other items -- and hewrote a fictional adventure story based on it -- presented as fact in the shamelessly corruptpolicy of the company's products. This went through the roof on all the marketing surveycategories -- they read it, remembered it, liked it, wanted more of the same. My girlfriend, Nina Watkins, was then reading manuscripts for Saul Braun, who was running a$230,000 best novel contest sponsored by movie producer Joe Levine, G. P. Putnam's Sonsand  McCall's Magazine. They had been looking for a winner for almost a year with no resultsthat would satisfy all the sponsors. Nina came home and said, Mario could do it. I passedthis along to Mario with the advice that he should write a novel about the Mafia. Mario knewSaul well, as he often wrote for Magazine Management. Saul offered to try to keep the contestopen for another year if Mario could come up with a book. Mario wrote a 5,000-word outline. William Targ, Putnam editor in chief decided to forgetabout the contest and he gave Mario a modest advance to write the book. Stories I told Mario about my father, a petty criminal, the gangster saint, immortalized in mymemoir Family Secrets, influenced Mario's concept of Don Vito Corleone, in the sense of his sensitivity and intelligence, and his love of family and justice. Mario later told CamillePaglia that Don Vito was based on his mother. I'm sure his mother was a great woman, but myfather was a criminal. Mario was a great friend in many ways, but not the kind who would becapable of the generosity required to acknowledge my influence. He often said to me, Youhave to write a novel about your father. If you don't, I will. I urged him to do so. I knew very   09.11.14, 20:33Book@artsPage 2 of 3 A Literary Love Affair  make a successful grand novel. Mario was free to invent whatever he needed. This is not to say that The Godfather  and Jimmy Siegel were all that directly connected. It was just a matter of nuance. Before The Godfather , who knew that criminals had families andbelieved in justice? The greatness of The Godfather  is that, except for the material derivedfrom The Honored Society  and some Congressional hearings, it is entirely a work of fiction,the invention of a great story teller. It's really a shame that it caused people to believe thatcrime was romantic and honorable and heroic, that the Mafia was ever anything more thanguys hustling lots of cheap scams in order to be able to live in Kew Gardens, Queens. But Mario didn't really know much about crime. I did, and so I see the book as a great work of art, while others want to see it as some kind of history. There's a Dr. Jules Segal in The Godfather , a gynecologist. I often have thought that this wasMario's idea of an inside joke, as he always thought of me as being obsessed with that portionof the female anatomy to the exclusion of all other normal interests. In any case, Mario had a far greater influence on my style than I ever had on his, if indeed Ihad any. No one had a greater influence on my writing style than Mario Puzo. He wrotesentences as if carving steel. My mother used to love his imagery -- the table at the end of afamily feast in his masterpiece, The Fortunate Pilgrim , looking like a battlefield covered withbloody bones and carcasses. He taught me to write clearly, as if I were talking, dramatically, asif I were telling a story. He taught me to include the simple sensual details of food and lightand smell that made a story come alive. He once told me that The Godfather  wasn't about crime but about power and justice. He saidthat the Kennedys were an important influence in the characterization of the Corleones, andmentioned their compound at Hyannisport as an example of how he used elements of theirlives in the novel. He told me he was proudest of the opening scene of The Godfather , the judge rolling up hissleeves, the cinematic introduction of all the main characters and themes. He said that scenessuch as the punishment of the blue suede scam artists who tried to cheat the mother by takingapart her furnace and then demanding a blackmailer's ransom to put it back together again,were there to drive home the way the lack of official justice creates a need for men like DonVito Corleone. Mario worked harder than any writer I knew. He used to turn out a minimum of 30-40thousand words a month under four or five names at Magazine Management Company, thengo home and work on a novel or major magazine assignment. Before the success of TheGodfather, he was deeply in debt -- mortgage, credit cards, personal loans. He kept hisaccounts in a legal sized manila folder with lines and lines of different payments. He said that just the postage for sending in the payments was a significant expense. He said that he neveradded it all up because he was afraid to see how much it amounted to. Mario told me that when Candid Donadio, his agent (and mine at the time), called him withthe news that Bantam (I think) had offered $360,000 for the paperback rights to TheGodfather , he added up his debts for the first time. The total was around $70,000 (notincluding the house, I imagine) -- a mere nothing. Whew! What a relief. The following day,Candida called back. There was a little hitch in a few details. Stand by and wait for furthernews. But she turned it around in a few days and sold the rights to Fawcett for $405,000. Anita (my beautiful wife) reminded me of another anecdote. In 1967, I brought a check forabout $1500 from the Saturday Evening Post to the bank and the assistant manager wouldn't   09.11.14, 20:33Book@artsPage 3 of 3  . . , . got annoyed and told him that someday I was going to have a best seller and I would not bringthe check to that bank. I told this to Mario some years later. He replied, Wrong. I brought the check for TheGodfather paperback sale right to the guy who used to sneer at my overdrafts and reluctantlycash my pay checks and remind me about my late payments. It was so satisfying to watch himgrovel. Now that Mario is gone, I can tell one of the saddest stories I know about fame and success.When The Godfather  exploded, I called him and asked, How does it feel to have the numberone best seller in the nation? I am still fat, he replied. ! #$   %&$'()*+   ,*-*().+   /0%)*0   1'% … ! #$%&'(&)   *+#'&,-& !RUB750.00
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