The Godfather: Johnny Fontane’s Cream Silk Suit
Al Martino as Johnny Fontane, down-on-his-luck crooner
Long Island, New York, Summer 1945
Film: The Godfather
Release Date: March 14, 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
Today in 1927, Al Martino was born in Philadelphia to two Italian immigrants from Abruzzo, the same southern Italian region from which much of my family hails. Following his U.S. Navy service during World War II, the singer began earnestly following his career in entertainment. Twenty years after his first single, “Here in My Heart”, reached #1 in the U.S. Billboard and UK Singles charts, Martino joined the cast of The Godfather as Johnny Fontane, an Italian-American crooner whose early career parallels that of Martino’s contemporary Frank Sinatra.
“When Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to this personal service contract with a big bandleader, and as his career got better and better, he wanted to get out of it. Now, Johnny is my father’s godson, and my father went to see this bandleader and he offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go. The bandleader said ‘no.’ So, the next day, my father went to see him, only this time with Luca Brasi. And, within an hour, he signed a release for a certified check of $1,000…,” Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) explains to his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton), in an incident said to be inspired by the Mafia’s role in easing Sinatra out of his contract with Tommy Dorsey. “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse… Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.”
His arrival heralded by excitedly screaming teeny-boppers and autograph-seekers, Johnny Fontane arrives at a Corleone family wedding, though his attendance has a two-fold purpose, knowing that Sicilian tradition—one invented for the story, it’s said—dictates that the Don can’t refuse a favor request on his wedding day. After having his arm twisted to sing the contemporary hit “I Have But One Heart”, Johnny asks for his godfather’s influence in securing him a role in a “new war picture” that would guarantee his comeback… another biographical detail echoing Sinatra’s salvation from a career slump by his Oscar-winning performance in From Here to Eternity. Much to the entertainment of his colleagues, Don Vito (Marlon Brando) takes the opportunity to mock Johnny’s self-pity before assigning the task to his capable consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall).
Vito: You spend time with your family?
Johnny: Sure I do.
Vito: Good. (with a look at his philandering son Sonny) ’cause a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.
Though as much as art imitated life, life would again imitate art through Al Martino’s own quest to secure the role of Johnny Fontane, which author Mark Seal chronicles in Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather. Martino’s campaign reportedly began after fellow crooner Vic Damone exited the role in 1970, working to convince Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Evans, Mario Puzo, and Al Ruddy to cast him, before taking a page straight from Puzo’s text. According to Seal, no severed horse’s heads were required as “Martino said he went to the crime boss Russ Bufalino and asked him to intervene. When the official cast list was announced, the role of Johnny Fontane was his. The answer to how he got the role, Martino said, was simple: ‘I went to my godfather!‘”
As this is the 50th anniversary year of The Godfather as well as the month of my own wedding, it feels appropriate to celebrate Al Martino’s birthday by analyzing the loud suit that Johnny Fontane wears for his appearance at Connie’s wedding reception at the sprawling Corleone estate in Long Island.
What’d He Wear?
There’s something undeniably 1970s about Johnny Fontane’s attire for the Corleone family wedding, his cream silk suit, ruffled pink shirt, and oversized bow tie providing a garish contrast to the staid black wool tuxedoes and wing collars worn by the old-school mobsters. It’s the sort of look that one might find when rifling through your parents’ prom photos—or your own, not to disparage BAMF Style readers who lived through the disco decade!
Johnny’s cream-colored suiting is slubbed with a sheen indicative of raw silk. The suit is undeniably a lounge suit rather than a dinner suit or tuxedo, though he dresses it up in a creative black tie manner.
Tailored to flatter Al Martino’s broad-shouldered frame with front darts that shape and pull in the waist, the single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels of a substantial breadth, rolling to two cream-colored buttons that match the suiting. The notch lapels and two-button front are enough of a deviation to signify that Johnny isn’t wearing a traditional black tie jacket, though the distinction is further made by the jacket’s single vent and wide flaps over the hip pockets.
Johnny dresses his welted breast pocket with a unique pocket square that’s all black on one side, with the reverse showing a magenta pink within the black rolled edges of the silk. The scheme echoes the same coloring of his oversized butterfly-shaped bow tie, which presents as black silk but with magenta-lined reverse peers out from where the tie has been folded over itself.
While already dressed loudly, especially in contrast to the Corleones, the most flamboyant aspect of Johnny’s attire is arguably his pale pink ruffled shirt. The ruffles flourishing Johnny’s front placket and pleats are detailed with a subtle black trim that harmonizes with the black-and-pink bow tie and pocket square. We also find ruffles along the outer edges of the shirt’s double (French) cuffs, which Johnny holds in place by ornate detailed gold links, each with a gleaming diamond framed in the center.
Ruffles had been reawakened from their Regency-era height during the Peacock Revolution that began in the swinging ’60s, sartorially characterized by colorful challenges to menswear tradition. Though perhaps anachronistic to see on a men’s dress shirt in the ’40s, Johnny’s ruffles—on a pink shirt, no less—visually communicate what Don Vito sees Johnny’s effete weakness.
Johnny also wears a hefty ring on the third finger of his right hand, almost wide enough to fill the space between his knuckle and the rest of his hand, with a shining square-cut diamond.
As the matching trousers are part of a lounge suit rather than a dinner suit, they lack any silk side braiding, instead plainly detailed with a flat front, side pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs). Through the trouser belt loops, he wears a cream belt that matches the suit but contrasts against the leather of black lace-up dress shoes.
Johnny arrives with a straw Panama hat in his hand that harmonizes with the summer cloth and setting, though he discards it as he makes his way to the reception, with the hand ending up in the hands of one of his dark-suited escorts.
How to Get the Look
Compared to the conservatively dressed Corleones, Johnny Fontane isn’t doing his reputation from the Don as “a Hollywood finocchio” any favors by showing up in a pink ruffled shirt to his daughter’s wedding, paired with a cream silk suit and oversized bow tie rather than a proper tuxedo, but his attire presents an immediately obvious visual contrast between the celebrity and the crime family… at least until Fredo Corleone would slip into his own bold dinner jacket several years later in The Godfather, Part II.
- Cream-colored raw silk suit
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Pale-pink evening shirt with wide collar, ruffled front pleats, and ruffled double/French cuffs
- Round gold cuff links with diamond center
- Black silk butterfly-shaped bow tie with magenta reverse
- Cream leather belt
- Black leather lace-up dress shoes
- Square-cut diamond ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series and read Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel that started it all.
Oh, Godfather, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do…
Due to Fredo, players at tables were unable to acquire drinks!
Pretty interesting detail the fact the suit itself is anachronistic to the late 40s. I wouldnt wear it myself as im not a fan of ruffles but i enjoy your dissection of costume design nonetheless.