Vito Corleone (born Vito Andolini) was a powerful mob boss who was the Boss of the Corleone crime family from 1917 to 1953. He was considered one of the most powerful mobsters of all time, ranking with Al Capone, Hyman Roth, Frank Costello, and Lucky Luciano.
Vito was born in the small Sicilian village of Corleone to Antonio Andolini. Andolini was murdered by a Sicilian Don named Francesco "Don Ciccio" Sciacca because he refused to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo Andolini, swore revenge, but was himself murdered soon after; Paolo's murder was timed with the ultimate insult: during the funeral procession for his father. Eventually, Don Ciccio's henchmen came to the residence of the Andolinis to take Vito away and have him killed as well. Desperate, Signora Andolini took her son to see the Mafia chieftain herself.
When she went to see Don Ciccio, she begged for forgiveness, but Don Ciccio refused, reasoning that the younger boy Vito would also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Don Ciccio's refusal, Signora Andolini put a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape at the expense of her own life. Later that night, he was smuggled away, fleeing Sicily to seek refuge in America on a cargo ship full of immigrants. Unable to speak English, he was renamed on Ellis Island as Vito Corleone when the immigration clerks saw the tag pinned to his clothes labelled "Vito Andolini from Corleone".
Rise to Power
Corleone was later adopted by the Abbandando family in New York, and he befriended Genco Abbandando, who later became like a brother to him. When he was nineteen, Corleone married and started a family. Corleone began making an honest living at Abbandando's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but lost the job, as an intimidated Abbandando was forced to employ the nephew of Don Massimo Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone. Vito was forced to take up an unstable job doing back-breaking labor for the railroads, which he also lost during a mass-layoff. Corleone's money troubles were soon solved when one night, a neighbor of Vito's, Peter Clemenza, asks him to hide a stash of guns for him, and later, to repay the favor, takes him to a fancy apartment where they commit their first crime together, stealing an expensive rug. They soon became friends and, joined by a friend of Peter's named Salvatore Tessio, the three soon learned to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. The three made good money by hijacking garment trucks, Vito being vital to these hijackings since he was one of the few people in Manhattan's Little Italy at the time that knew how to drive a truck.
New York, in 1917, 'Don' Fanucci became aware of the partnership between Vito, Clemenza and Sal Tessio, and demands that they "wet his beak". Fanucci had threatened to inform the police if the trio didn't pay a substantial portion of their ill-gotten gains. Clemenza and Tessio were alarmed and had wanted to pay Fanucci, quite certain that he was connected to the Mafia. While his friends were busy panicking, Vito calmly recalled everything he knew about Fanucci and the Mafia. He remembered that the padrone walked the streets with no obvious protection, which had led to an incident where Fanucci was knifed by several neighborhood boys whose familes he had tried to extort. He later murdered one of the boys, but had called off the vendetta after the families of the remaining two paid him an indemnity to foreswear his vengence. Vito guessed that Fanucci actually allowed himself to be bought off because he had gotten lucky and would be unable to kill the remaining two boys now that their guard was up, suggesting Fanucci worked alone. Vito came to the realization that Fanucci only acted like he was a mob boss in front of easy-to-trick immigrants, as no mafioso would allow an assasin to live, even if paid enormous sums of money, and no member of any mafia would ever need or resort to informing the police as a threat. Thinking further, he decided that Fanucci's life was not worth $700. Vito asked his friends to leave everything in his hands to convince Fanucci to accept less money, telling his friends "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse". When Vito later met with Fanucci, he offered only a fraction of the amount demanded — $100 of the $600 Fanucci expected. Fanucci is impressed with Vito's courage, and offered him work. Vito interpreted his ability to low-ball Fanucci as a sign of the latter's weakness, thus confirming his suspicion of Fanucci's vulnerability. Vito then allowed Fanucci to leave the building, so witnesses could confirm that he left alive. Vito had chosen the day of a major festival to spy on and follow Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci went home, and surprised him at the door to his apartment. He shot Fanucci three times with a muffled pistol, as the din from the festival drowned out the noise from the gunshots. After the hit, Vito retrieved the money Fanucci had taken earlier in the day and then destroyed the gun, dismantling it and dropping it down vent pipes of the apartment building. Despite all the precautions he had taken to insure that he wouldn't be suspected, it turned out that the police thought Fanucci was scum and were in no hurry to find his killer, believing it was a routine gangster execution.
With Fanucci dead, Vito earned the respect of the neighborhood, becoming known as a "Man of Respect" on the streets, and was soon asked to intercede in local disputes, gaining a reputation for never turning down someone who came to him for help and for being able to "reason" with "unreasonable" people. Although he had declined to do so at first out of modesty, Vito eventually started accepting "gifts" from local businesses and racket bosses in return for "ensuring that our patrons know that they are safe", and Vito was soon making a wage of $100 a week (in the 1900s this was an enormous amount of money). Vito, Clemenza and Tessio eventually took over the neighborhood, treating it with a great deal more respect than Fanucci did.
Don of New York City
By the early 1930's, Vito Corleone had established the Corleone family along with old friends Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, who would become his Caporegimes. Genco Abbandando would become the first Consigliere of the family. By this time, everyone, even his closest friends, were referring to him respectfully as "Don Corleone" or "The Godfather". He soon intervened in a problem involving a dangerous thug named Luca Brasi, making the man his personal enforcer. During the Depression, when most people demeaned themselves to make mere pennies a day, Don Corleone offered good-paying, secure jobs to anyone willing to work for him. Anyone who came to him for help, Don Corleone helped with goodwill and encouraging words. He planned for the future by financing the education and careers of bright young neighborhood boys who would soon become lawyers, assistant DA's, even judges. Large numbers of grateful Italians asked his advice on who to vote for in office elections, giving him a great deal of political power. He even hired a lawyer to organize a system of police payoffs, and insisted on paying as many officers as possible, whether they were needed at the moment or not. When Prohibition ended, Don Corleone decided to offer a partnership with Salvatore Maranzano, the big shot gangleader who controlled all the gambling in Manhattan. Corleone offered a political umbrella which would help Maranzano expand his rackets into new areas, and Corleone would get a share of the profits. However, the short-sighted and short-tempered Maranzano, thinking that Corleone was trying to forcibly buy him out, declared war on the "upstart" Corleone, touching off the Olive Oil War. When the war started, it seemed that Maranzano had the upper hand, with business contacts, and alliances with the Tattaglia crime family and Al Capone in Chicago. However, the Corleones were far better organized, had far greater intelligence contacts, had greater political power and police protection, and had deceived Maranzano into believing that Tessio's operation in Brooklyn was a separate gang. The War turned into a stalemate until Maranzano called on Al Capone to send his two best gunmen after Vito. Thanks to their contacts in the telegraph business the Corleones learned of this early on, and Don Corleone sent his enforcer Luca Brasi to intercept and eliminate the hitmen in a most horrifying fashion. Brasi and several men abducted the two hitmen, drove to a warehouse, tied them up, and Luca personally hacked one of the men to pieces with an axe, while the other swallowed his gag in terror and suffocated. Corleone sent a letter to Capone a few days later, the message being clear: you can either join me, or else stay out of my way. Not wanting to lose any more valuable men, Capone decided to remain neutral. This was a turning point in the War, Maranzano had severely underestimated just how powerful and crafty the Corleone family really was, and was soon losing soldiers who had lost faith in his ability to win. While Clemenza's regime hacked away at Maranzano's power structure (and in the process gaining loyalty of the unions who had been oppressed by Marazano's thugs), Corleone then sent in the held-back Tessio regime for the deathblow. By New Year's Eve 1933, the Corleones eliminated Maranzano and his empire, and established themselves as the most powerful of the families in New York.
While he oversaw a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and murder, he was known as a kind, generous man who lived by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. He tried to spread these values throughout the New York crime world; he disagreed with many of the vicious crimes carried out by gangs and so sought to control crime in New York by either consuming or eliminating rival gangs. This was known as the Pacification of New York, which left the area under the control of Five Families. He also started the Commission, in an effort to pacify America's underworld in preparation for WWII. He also disapproved of hard drugs, such as those peddled by his fellow Don, Philip Tattaglia, who resented Vito for this. A straitlaced man concerning sexual matters, he also held himself above prostitution. Don Corleone was also said to be able to find multiple profits and opportunities in everything. An example of this occurred when his daughter Connie became engaged to a friend of her brother's, a hoodlum from Nevada named Carlo Rizzi. The Don sent several men on his payroll to Nevada to learn about Rizzi, and came back with information regarding legalized gambling there, which the Corleone family capitalized on in the years to come.
By this time, he was married with four children, and had several godchildren as well, including big-time singer and actor Johnny Fontane. While he loved all of them, he was most proud of Michael, an intelligent college graduate who's future the Don had "special plans" for. Unfortunately Michael (and everyone else) assumed these "plans" as involving the "family business", and often defied his father, enlisting in the military against his father's wishes and becoming a decorated World War II veteran. In actuality, Don Corleone had wished for a life away from the "family business" for his son, for him to gain power publicly and legitimately, like a governor or senator. It wasn't until after Michael had voluntarily took over as Don that his father explained this to him, exposing the grand irony: both had tried to keep him out of the Mafia, yet he still wound up following in his father's footsteps.
Five Families War
In December 1945, Corleone was nearly assassinated when he refused the request of Virgil Sollozzo to invest in a heroin operation and use his political contacts for the operation's protection.
Prior to the assassination, Vito Corleone left his office in the Genco Pura Olive Oil warehouse. He was supposed to be driven back to his Long Beach home by his regime man Paulie Gatto along with his son Fredo. When the Don found that Paulie was not there, Fredo let him know that Paulie had bunked his duty of that day due to a cold. The Don was ambushed and shot down by two hitmen as he purchased oranges from a stall. Fredo fumbled with his gun, and fails to defeat the hitmen, falling to his knees and sobbing.
The assassination attempt is simultaneous to other multi-directional attacks to the family. Corleone's most trusted and feared enforcer Luca Brasi was sent to infiltrate the Tattaglia family several weeks ealier, but was taken by suprise and murdered in a nightclub by Tattaglia's son Bruno, Tattaglia Associate Sollozzo and Adriano Maserati. Following the assassination, Tom Hagen was kidnapped and told to reason with Santino, who was now the acting head of the family. Sollozzo was unaware that Vito had survived and was furious when discovered this fact.
There was a second attempt on his life at the hospital, which was foiled by Michael, who had his father taken to another ward and scared off Sollozzo and his assassins with the help of Enzo Aguello, which was avenged (against Vito's wishes) by the murder of Bruno Tattaglia.
Michael had to flee to Sicily after assassinating Sollozzo and his bodyguard Captain Mark McCluskey (something which greatly disappointed the Don), and Sonny waged a destructive and costly war on the other families, nearly wiping out the Tattaglias, but without Don Vito's skills, he could not manage a complete victory, and he was eventually assasinated on the Jones Beach Causeway.
After Sonny was gunned down, Vito had to become the Don again. He hastily called for peace with the rest of the Five Families, but the fighting raged on even after The Commission declared that the war was over. Straccis, Cuneos, Tattaglias, Barzinis, and Corleones were jumped or shot on the streets, and businesses were bombed. Don Corleone retired in 1952, leaving the duty of being the patriarch of the family to Michael. Michael accepted Vito Corleone as his consigliere, as he did not think that Tom Hagen was a wartime consigliere. Vito tended to his garden at the Corleone Compound and his grandchildren for the little time he had left of his life.
On July 27, 1955, Don Corleone succumbed to a heart attack while playing with Anthony Corleone, his grandson. Corleone was just sixty-one years old when he died. His passing began the falling action of the Five Families War, as the peak of the fighting subsided.
Don Corleone was a highly-respected don, with the people looking up to him. He loved his family and was concerned with the family's future, trying to keep them afloat amidst the wars that the Corleones fought. His funeral was attended by Don Emilio Barzini, his main enemy in the Five Families War, and many other famous mobsters attended it. He was buried in the garden of the Corleone Mall where his family lived.