By Michael Callahan
This past October 15th was Mario Puzo’s 85th birthday. Not exactly common knowledge, sure, but in the years before his death I learned a lot of little things about the man who wrote The Godfather, the book which begat the movie which begat more quotations among guys than anything short of the Bible.
See, nine years ago I was assigned by an airline magazine to do a telephone interview with Puzo. I set up the time with his agent and, on the appointed afternoon, dialed him at his house in Long Island. We chatted for about an hour. As is the case with most celebrity interviews, it was painless and rather pointless.
Before we hung up he said to me, “If you need to fill in any blanks, call back. But not between 3 and 5. That’s when I take my nap.”
I did call back (1:43 PM) to clear up some stuff, and this time we had a more conversational chat. I could tell he was doing something as we talked, so I asked him what he was up to. Making a sandwich, he said.
Six months later my phone rang. It was Mario. “How ya doin’, kid?”
I’d recognize that voice anywhere — sort of Ernest Borgnine on crack. Mario proceeded to fill me in on his health (he was having circulatory problems with his leg) and other minutia of his life. As time passed, my phone would ring a few times a year, and we’d just sort of shoot the shit.
When I moved to Boston, he told me it was a mistake. (”Terrible city,” he said. He was right.) The last time we spoke, a few months before his death in 1999, I called him one lazy afternoon only to hear the familiar voice of Jack Barry in the background, yelling, “Joker! Joker! Joker!” I started laughing. “Mario, are you watching The Jokers Wild?!” I said in disbelief.
He grunted. “There are not a whole lotta things,” he replied, “for old fucks to do with their afternoons.”
Don Corleone could not have said it any better.