Benny Jay: How Al Pacino Got to Play Michael Corleone

August 27th, 2013

For the better part of the last week, my nights have been consumed by reading The Kid Stays in the Picture, an autobiography by Robert Evans.

For all who have forgotten — or never know — Evans used to be da shit in Hollywood back in the `60s and `70s. When he wasn’t bedding beautiful babes, he was making one hit after another, including The Godfather and Chinatown. Two of the greatest movies — ever!

The book’s a blast to read, filled with plenty of rat-a-tat dialogue. Like this chestnut….

“The only reason that broad got tested is because she spread her legs for you!”

Or this one….

“Once signed, Freddie Fields proceeded to give me a spiked, steel dildo up my ass.”

And so on….

I could fill five post with fascinating tales from this book. But this one’s my favorite — Evans’s account of how Al Pacino got to play the role of Michael Corleone.


Lucky Bob always got the beautiful babes….


It’s a long story that boiled down to a scheduling conflict. Pacino was booked for The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight at the very time Francis Ford Coppola needed him to star in The Godfather.

So Evans called Jim Aubrey, then head of MGM, which was producing The Gang.

No dice.

Not knowing what else to do, Evans did what he generally did when he didn’t know what else to do — he called his pal Sidney Korshak, the legendary Chicago lawyer and fixer who, allegedly, was Hollywood’s chief connection to the mob.

According to Evans, their conversation went like this….


Pacino was perfect for the part!


Evans: There’s an actor I want for the lead in The Godfather.

Korshak: Yeah.

Evans: I called Aubrey, asked him if you could accommodate me, move his dates around.

Korshak: Yeah.

Evans: He told me to fuck off.

Korshak: Yeah.

Evans: Is there anything you can do about it?

Korshak: Yeah.

Twenty mintues later, Aubrey called Evans to deliver the good news. “You no-good motherfucker, cocksucker. I’ll get you for this. The midget’s yours.”

Which has to be one of the greatest concession calls of all time.

And how did Korshak get Aubrey to budge on Pacino? Easy. He called Aubrey’s boss — Kirk Kerkorian, who owned MGM, and happened to be building a hotel in Las Vegas.

According to Evans, Korshak’s explanation went like this.

“I asked him [Kerkorian] if he wanted to finish building his hotel.”

Bingo! Pacino’s freed to play Michael Corleone and the rest, as they say, is history.

It reminds me of something Milo told me many years ago about how to gain admissions to one of Chicago’s hardest-to-get-in schools.

“Benny,” he said. “Every system has its system.”

I’m not sure if he were drunk or sober when he said it — with Milo, it’s generally fifty-fifty, one way or another. But either way, it’s as true today as it’s ever been.

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