Q: Is it true that Ernest Borgnine was almost in "The Godfather"?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

"The Godfather" almost looked very different than it did when it took the cinematic world by storm 1972. But the biggest change that nearly happened was casting sitcom star Ernest Borgnine as Don Vito Corleone, the titular mafia kingpin, instead of Marlon Brando.

Well, that's not exactly true. Borgnine was no nearer to being cast than Anthony Quinn, Richard Conte or Danny Thomas -- reportedly, the studio's preference in the early stages of the film's development was for anybody but Brando.

He was a famously difficult actor to work with, which was the source of the studio's reluctance, but that wasn't the only place where Paramount's vision differed from that of director Francis Ford Coppola.

They had other acting preferences as well (they also weren't keen on Al Pacino as Vito's son Michael, preferring more heartthrobby types like Martin Sheen, Robert Redford or even soap star Ryan O'Neal), and they wanted it to be a contemporary film with hippies and televisions in the background, rather than a period piece.

"If I hadn't’ve fought, I would have made a movie with Ernest Borgnine and Ryan O'Neal set in the '70s," said Coppola, in the essential film-history book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls."

Paramount would eventually be rewarded for letting Coppola have his way. "The Godfather" is now a cinematic classic that has, to date, earned $246 million from its $6 million budget.

Coppola's smiling, too: He reportedly took a small initial paycheck in exchange for a larger share of that revenue. 


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