Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Oh, Godfather, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do...": RIP Al Martino, aka Johnny Fontaine

Oct. 15, 2009
Posted by Noah

Johnny Fontaine: A month ago he bought the rights to this book, a best seller. The main character is a guy just like me. I wouldn't even have to act, just be myself. Oh, Godfather, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do...

[All of a sudden, Don Corleone rises from his chair and gives Fontaine a savage shake]

Don Corleone: YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN! [gives a quick slap to Fontaine] What's the matter with you? Is this what you've become, a Hollywood finocchio who cries like a woman? "Oh, what do I do? What do I do?" What is that nonsense? Ridiculous!

So. Good. Must. Watch. Godfather. Now.
In the Godfather books, Johnny Fontaine has a much bigger role than in the movies, though in the movies, Johnny Fontaine, as so greasily and guilelessly played by Al Martino, he emerges as one of the most intriguing characters and one of the first catalysts for us to witness, firsthand, the charisma and cruelty of Vito Corleone as played by Brando. Simply awesome.

Then, today, the news comes down that Al Martino - crooner, Mid-Century music star and the actor that gave voice to Fontaine in Godfather and Godfather III - has died at age 82. Rest in peace Al, and say hello to your good friend Mario Lanza (Martino collapsed at a Lanza tribute early this month) when you get to the great Italian singers section of heaven.
When I read the news of Martino's death this morning, right after I said to myself "You can act like a man!" (to which my daughter replied, "No Papa, I can only act like a little girl!") I went to the Heritage Auctions archive to see if anything Martino-related showed up. The Heritage Auctions archives don't disappoint.

There are many Godfather posters and some awesome Godfather-related material, but certainly one of the coolest, from way back in 2003, is the only Al Martino-specific piece of material at all of Heritage Auctions: Martino's nicely signed 1989 contract to appear in Godfather III, for which he was paid $45,000. Nice work if you can get it...

While myself, and so many others - here at Heritage Auctions and beyond - will mourn Martino's passing because of our deep, abiding and obsessive adulation of the Godfather movies (especially parts I and II - and I can hear the eye-rolling of exhausted wives everywhere who have been forced to sit through the movies on Spike TV endlessly - "Wait honey, wait! Don't change it! This is the best part!") he will also be remembered as a wildly successful singer of Pop ballads.

"Along with Perry Como, Dean Martin, Vic Damone and others, Mr. Martino was part of a generation of Italian-American pop singers who emerged after Frank Sinatra to score major hits in the postwar years.

"Mr. Martino’s breakthrough hit, Here in My Heart, released in 1952 on the small BBS label, rose to No. 1 in the United States and on Britain’s first singles chart. It also earned him a contract with Capitol Records."

The world is a little bit less today for having been deprived of Martino. A bit player, to be sure, but what a bit...

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-Noah Fleisher

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