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“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo - Courtesy: Shahid Riaz Islamabad Pakistan

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They were so beautiful it broke his heart. Their faces were shining and clear, their eyes alive with curiosity and the eager desire to run to him. They wore their hair braid old-fashioned in long pigtails and they wore old-fashioned frocks and white patent-leather shoes. They stood by the breakfast cart watching him as he stubbed out his cigarette and waited for him to call and hold his arms wide. Then they came running to him. He pressed his face between their two fresh fragrant cheeks and scraped them with his beard so that they shrieked. Ginny appeared in the bedroom door and wheeled the breakfast cart the rest of the way so that he could eat in bed. She sat beside him on the edge of the bed, pouring his coffee, buttering his toast. The two young daughters sat on the bedroom couch watching him. They were too old now for pillow fights or to be tossed around. They were already smoothing their mussed hair. Oh, Christ, he thought, pretty soon they’ll be all grown up, Hollywood punks will be out after them.
He shared his toast and bacon with them as he ate, gave them sips of coffee. It was a habit left over from when he had been singing with the band and rarely ate with them so they liked to share his food when he had his odd-hour meals like afternoon breakfasts or morning suppers. The change-around in food delighted them– to eat steak and french fries at seven in the morning, bacon and eggs in the afternoon.
Only Ginny and a few of his close friends knew how much he idolized his daughters.
That had been the worst thing about the divorce and leaving home. The one thing he had fought about, and for, was his position as a father to them. In a very sly way he had made Ginny understand he would not be pleased by her remarrying, not because he was jealous of her, but because he was jealous of his position as a father. He had arranged the money to be paid to her so it would be enormously to her advantage financially not to remarry. It was understood that she could have lovers as long as they were not introduced into her home life. But on this score he had absolute faith in her.
She had always been amazingly shy and old-fashioned in sex. The Hollywood gigolos had batted zero when they started swarming around her, sniffing for the financial settlement and the favors they could get from her famous husband.
He had no fear that she expected a reconciliation because he had wanted to sleep with her the night before. Neither one of them wanted to renew their old marriage. She understood his hunger for beauty, his irresistible impulse toward young women far more beautiful than she. It was known that he always slept with his movie co-stars at least once. His boyish charm was irresistible to them, as their beauty was to him.
“You’ll have to start getting dressed pretty soon,” Ginny said. “Tom’s plane will be

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getting in.” She shooed the daughters out of the room.
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “By the way, Ginny, you know I’m getting divorced? I’m gonna be a free man again.”
She watched him getting dressed. He always kept fresh clothes at her house ever since they had come to their new arrangement after the wedding of Don Corleone’s daughter.
“Christmas is only two weeks away,” she said. “Shall I plan on you being here?” It was the first time he had even thought about the holidays. When his voice was in shape, holidays were lucrative singing dates but even then Christmas was sacred. If he missed this one, it would be the second one. Last year he had been courting his second wife in Spain, trying to get her to marry him.
“Yeah,” he said. “Christmas Eve and Christmas.” He didn’t mention New Year’s Eve.
That would be one of the wild nights he needed every once in a while, to get drunk with his friends, and he didn’t want a wife along then. He didn’t feel guilty about it.
She helped him put on his jacket and brushed it off. He was always fastidiously neat.
She could see him frowning because the shirt he had put on was not laundered to his taste, the cuff links, a pair he had not worn for some time, were a little too loud for the way he liked to dress now. She laughed softly and said, “Tom won’t notice the difference.”
The three women of the family walked him to the door and out on the driveway to his car. The two little girls held his hands, one on each side. His wife walked a little behind him. She was getting pleasure out of how happy he looked. When he reached his car he turned around and swung each girl in turn high up in the air and kissed her on the way down. Then he kissed his wife and got into the car. He never liked drawn-out good-byes.

* * *


Arrangements had been made by his PR man and aide. At his house a chauffeured car was waiting, a rented car. In it were the PR man and another member of his entourage.
Johnny parked his car and hopped in and they were on their way to the airport. He waited inside the car while the PR man went out to meet Tom Hagen’s plane. When Tom got into the car they shook hands and drove back to his house.
Finally he and Tom were alone in the living room. There was a coolness between them.
Johnny had never forgiven Hagen for acting as a barrier to his getting in touch with the Don when the Don was angry with him, in those bad days before Connie’s wedding.

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Hagen never made excuses for his actions. He could not. It was part of his job to ad as a lightning rod for resentments which people were too awed to feel toward the Don himseif though he had earned them.
“Your Godfather sent me out here to give you a hand on some things,” Hagen said. “I wanted to get it out of the way before Christmas.” Johnny Fontane shrugged. “The picture is finished. The director was a square guy and treated me right. My scenes are too important to be left on the cutting-room floor just for Woltz to pay me off. He can’t ruin a ten-million-dollar picture. So now everything depends on how good people think I am in the movie.” Hagen said cautiously, “Is winning this Academy Award so terribly important to an actor’s career, or is it just the usual publicity crap that really doesn’t mean anything one way or the other?” He paused and added hastily, “Except of course the glory, everybody likes glory.”
Johnny Fontane grinned at him. “Except my Godfather. And you. No, Tom, it’s not a lot of crap. An Academy Award can make an actor for ten years. He can get his pick of roles. The public goes to see him. It’s not everything, but for an actor it’s the most important thing in the business. I’m counting on winning it. Not because I’m such a great actor but because I’m known primarily as a singer and the part is foolproof. And I’m pretty good too, no kidding.”
Tom Hagen shrugged and said, “Your Godfather tells me that the way things stand now, you don’t have a chance of winning the award.” Johnny Fontane was angry. “What the hell are you talking about? The picture hasn’t even been cut yet, much less shown. And the Don isn’t even in the movie business.
Why the hell did you fly the three thousand miles just to tell me that shit?” He was so shaken he was almost in tears.
Hagen said worriedly, “Johnny, I don’t know a damn thing about all this movie stuff.
Remember, I’m just a messenger boy for the Don. But we have discussed this whole business of yours many times. He worries about you, about your future. He feels you still need his help and he wants to settle your problem once and for all. That’s why I’m here now, to get things rolling. But you have to start growing up, Johnny. You have to stop thinking about yourself as a singer or an actor. You’ve got to start thinking about yourself as a prime mover, as a guy with muscle.” Johnny Fontane laughed and filled his glass. “If I don’t win that Oscar I’ll have as much

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muscle as one of my daughters. My voice is gone; if I had that back I could make some moves. Oh, hell. How does my Godfather know I won’t win it? OK, I believe he knows.
He’s never been wrong.”
Hagen lit a thin cigar. “We got the word that Jack Woltz won’t spend studio money to support your candidacy. In fact he’s sent the word out to everybody who votes that he does not want you to win. But holding back the money for ads and all that may do it.
He’s also arranging to have one other guy get as much of the opposition votes as he can swing. He’s using all sorts of bribes– jobs, money, broads, everything. And he’s trying to do it without hurting the picture or hurting it as little as possible.” Johnny Fontane shrugged. He filled his glass with whiskey and downed it. “Then I’m dead.”
Hagen was watching him with his mouth curled up with distaste. “Drinking won’t help your voice,” he said.
“Fuck you,” Johnny said.
Hagen’s face suddenly became smoothly impassive. Then he said, “OK, I’ll keep this purely business.”
Johnny Fontane put his drink down and went over to stand in front of Hagen. “I’m sorry I said that, Tom,” he said. “Christ, I’m sorry. I’m taking it out on you because I wanta kill that bastard Jack Woltz and I’m afraid to tell off my Godfather. So I get sore at you.” There were tears in his eyes. He threw the empty whiskey glass against the wall but so weakly that the heavy shot glass did not even shatter and rolled along the floor back to him so that he looked down at it in baffled fury. Then he laughed. “Jesus Christ,” he said.
He walked over to the other side of the room and sat opposite Hagen. “You know, I had everything my own way for a long time. Then I divorced Ginny and everything started going sour. I lost my voice. My records stopped selling. I didn’t get any more movie work. And then my Godfather got sore at me and wouldn’t talk to me on the phone or see me when I came into New York. You were always the guy barring the path and I blamed you, but I knew you wouldn’t do it without orders from the Don. But you can’t get sore at him. It’s like getting sore at God. So I curse you. But you’ve been right all along the line. And to show you I mean my apology I’m taking your advice. No more booze until I get my voice back. OK?”
The apology was sincere. Hagen forgot his anger. There must be something to this

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thirty-five-year-old boy or the Don would not be so fond of him. He said, “Forget it, Johnny.” He was embarrassed at the depth of Johnny’s feeling and embarrassed by the suspicion that it might have been inspired by fear, fear that he might turn the Don against him. And of course the Don could never be turned by anyone for any reason.
His affection was mutable only by himself.
“Things aren’t so bad,” he told Johnny. “The Don says he can cancel out everything Woltz does against you. That you will almost certainly win the Award. But he feels that won’t solve your problem. He wants to know if you have the brains and balls to become a producer on your own, make your own movies from top to bottom.”
“How the hell is he going to get me the Award?” Johnny asked incredulously.
Hagen said sharply, “How do you find it so easy to believe that Woltz can finagle it and your Godfather can’t? Now since it’s necessary to get your faith for the other part of our deal I must tell you this. Just keep it to yourself. Your Godfather is a much more powerful man than Jack Woltz. And he is much more powerful in areas far more critical.
How can he swing the Award? He controls, or controls the people who control, all the labor unions in the industry, all the people or nearly all the people who vote. Of course you have to be good, you have to be in contention on your own merits. And your Godfather has more brains than Jack Woltz. He doesn’t go up to these people and put a gun to their heads and say, ‘Vote for Johnny Fontane or you are out of a job.’ He doesn’t strong-arm where strong-arm doesn’t work or leaves too many hard feelings. He’ll make those people vote for you because they want to. But they won’t want to unless he takes an interest. Now just take my word for it that he can get you the Award. And that if he doesn’t do it, you won’t get it.”
“OK,” Johnny said. “I believe you. And I have the balls and brains to be a producer but I don’t have the money. No bank would finance me. It takes millions to support a movie.” Hagen said dryly, “When you get the Award, start making plans to produce three of your own movies. Hire the best people in the business, the best technicians, the best stars, whoever you need. Plan on three to five movies.”
“You’re crazy,” Johnny said. “That many movies could mean twenty million bucks.”
“When you need the money,” Hagen said, “get in touch with me. I’ll give you the name of the bank out here in California to ask for financing. Don’t worry, they finance movies all the time. Just ask them for the money in the ordinary way, with the proper justifications, like a regular business deal. They will approve. But first you have to see me and tell me

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the figures and the plans. OK?”
Johnny was silent for a long time. Then he said quietly, “Is there anything else?” Hagen smiled. “You mean, do you have to do any favors in return for a loan of twenty million dollars? Sure you will.” He waited for Johnny to say something. “Nothing you wouldn’t do anyway if the Don asked you to do it for him.” Johnny said, “The Don has to ask me himself if it’s something serious, you know what I mean? I won’t take your word or Sonny’s for it.” Hagen was surprised by this good sense. Fontane had some brains after all. He had sense to know that the Don was too fond of him, and too smart, to ask him to do something foolishly dangerous, whereas Sonny might. He said to Johnny, “Let me reassure you on one thing. Your Godfather has given me and Sonny strict instructions not to involve you in any way in anything that might get you bad publicity, through our fault. And he will never do that himself. I guarantee you that any favor he asks of you, you will offer to do before he requests it. OK?” Johnny smiled. “OK,” he said.
Hagen said, “Also he has faith in you. He thinks you have brains and so he figures the bank will make money on the investment; which means he will make money on it. So it’s really a business deal, never forget that. Don’t go screwing around with the money. You may be his favorite godson but twenty million bucks is a lot of dough. He has to stick his neck out to make sure you get it.”
“Tell him not to worry,” Johnny said. “If a guy like Jack Woltz can be a big movie genius, anybody can.”
“That’s what your Godfather figures,” Hagen said. “Can you have me driven back to the airport? I’ve said all I have to say. When you do start signing contracts for everything, hire your own lawyers, I won’t be in on it. But I’d like to see everything before you sign, if that’s OK with you. Also, you’ll never have any labor troubles. That will cut costs on your pictures to some extent, so when the accountants lump some of that in, disregard those figures.”
Johnny said cautiously, “Do I have to get your OK on anything else, scripts, slats, any of that?”
Hagen shook his head. “No,” he aid. “It may happen that the Don would object to something but he’ll object to you direct if he does. But I can’t imagine what that would

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be. Movies don’t affect him at all, in any way, so he has no interest. And he doesn’t believe in meddling, that I can tell you from experience.”
“Good,” Johnny said. “I’ll drive you to the airport myself. And thank the Godfather for me.
I’d call him up and thank him but he never comes to the phone. Why is that, by the way?”
Hagen shrugged. “He hardly ever talks on the phone. He doesn’t want his voice recorded, even saying something perfectly innocent. He’s afraid that they can splice the words together so that it sounds as if he says something else. I think that’s what it is.
Anyway his only worry is that someday he’ll be framed by the authorities. So he doesn’t want to give them an edge.”
They got into Johnny’s car and drove to the airport. Hagen was thinking that Johnny was a better guy than he figured. He’d already learned something, just his driving him personally to the airport proved that. The personal courtesy, something the Don himself always believed in. And the apology. That had been sincere. He had known Johnny a long time and he knew the apology would never be made out of fear. Johnny had always had guts. That’s why he had always been in trouble, with his movie bosses and with his women. He was also one of the few people who was not afraid of the Don.
Fontane and Michael were maybe the only two men Hagen knew of whom this could be said. So the apology was sincere, he would accept it as such. He and Johnny would have to see a lot of each other in the next few years. And Johnny would have to pass the next test, which would prove how smart he was. He would have to do something for the Don that the Don would never ask him to do or insist that he do as part of the agreement. Hagen wondered if Johnny Fontane was smart enough to figure out that part of the bargain.

* * *


After Johnny dropped Hagen off at the airport (Hagen insisted that Johnny not hang around for his plane with him) he drove back to Ginny’s house. She was surprised to see him. But he wanted to stay at her place so that he would have time to think things out, to make his plans. He knew that what Hagen had told him was extremely important, that his whole life was being changed. He had once been a big star but now at the young age of thirty-five he was washed up. He didn’t kid himself about that. Even if he won the Award as best actor, what the hell could it mean at the most? Nothing, if his voice didn’t come back. He’d be just second-rate, with no real power, no real juice. Even

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that girl turning him down, she had been nice and smart and acting sort of hip, but would she have been so cool if he had really been at the top? Now with the Don backing him with dough he could be as big as anybody in Hollywood. He could be a king. Johnny smiled. Hell. He could even be a Don.
It would be nice living with Ginny again for a few weeks, maybe longer. He’d take the kids out every day, maybe have a few friends over. He’d stop drinking and smoking, really take care of himself. Maybe his voice would get strong again. If that happened and with the Don’s money, he’d be unbeatable. He’d really be as close to an oldtime king or emperor as it was possible to be in America. And it wouldn’t depend on his voice holding up or how long the public cared about him as an actor. It would be an empire rooted in money and the most special, the most coveted kind of power.
Ginny had the guest bedroom made up for him. It was understood that he would not share her room, that they would not live as man and wife. They could never have that relationship again. And though the outside world of gossip columnists and movie fans gave the blame for the failure of their marriage solely to him, yet in a curious way, between the two of them, they both knew that she was even more to blame for their divorce.
When Johnny Fontane because the most popular singer and movie musical comedy star in motion pictures, it had never occurred to him to desert his wife and children. He was too Italian, still too old-style. Naturally he had been unfaithful. That had been impossible to avoid in his business and the temptations to which he was continually exposed. And despite being a skinny, delicate-looking guy, he had the wiry horniness of many small-boned Latin types. And women delighted him in their surprises. He loved going out with a demure sweet-faced virginal-looking girl and then uncapping her breasts to find them so unexpectedly slopingly full and rich, lewdly heavy in contrast to the cameo face. He loved to find sexual shyness and timidity in the sexy-looking girls who were all fake motion like a shifty basketball player, vamping as if they had slept with a hundred guys, and then when he got them alone having to battle for hours to get in and do the job and finding out they were virgins.
And all these Hollywood guys laughed at his fondness for virgins. They called it an old guinea taste, square, and look how long it took to make a virgin give you a blow job with all the aggravation and then they usually turned out to be a lousy piece of ass. But Johnny knew that it was how you handled a young girl. You had to come on to her the right way and then what could be greater than a girl who was tasting her first dick and

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loving it? Ah, it was so great breaking them in. It was so great having them wrap their legs around you. Their thighs were all different shapes, their asses were different, their skins were all different colors and shades of white and brown and tan and when he had slept with that young colored girl in Detroit, a good girl, not a hustler, the young daughter of a jazz singer on the same nightclub bill with him, she had been one of the sweetest things he had ever had. Her lips had really tasted like warm honey with pepper mixed in it, her dark brown skin was rich, creamy, and she had been as sweet as God had ever made any woman and she had been a virgin.
And the other guys were always talking about blow jobs, this and other variations, and he really didn’t enjoy that stuff so much. He never liked a girl that much after they tried it that way, it just didn’t satisfy him right. He and his second wife had finally not got along, because she preferred the old sixty-nine too much to a point where she didn’t want anything else and he had to fight to stick it in. She began making fun of him and calling him a square and the word got around that he made love like a kid. Maybe that was why that girl last night had turned him down. Well, the hell with it, she wouldn’t be too great in the sack anyway. You could tell a girl who really liked to fuck and they were always the best. Especially the ones who hadn’t been at it too long. What he really hated were the ones who had started screwing at twelve and were all fucked out by the time they were twenty and just going through the motions and some of them were the prettiest of all and could fake you out.
Ginny brought coffee and cake into his bedroom and put it on the long table in the sitting room part. He told her simply that Hagen was helping him put together the money credit for a producing package and she was excited about that. He would be important again.
But she had no idea of how powerful Don Corleone really was so she didn’t understand the significance of Hagen coming from New York. He told her Hagen was also helping with legal details.
When they had finished the coffee be told her he was going to work that night, and make phone calls and plans for the future. “Half of all this will be in the kids’ names,” he told her. She gave him a grateful smile and kissed him good night before she left his room.
There was a glass dish full of his favorite monogrammed cigarettes, a humidor with pencil-thin black Cuban cigars on his writing desk. Johnny tilted back and started making calls. His brain was really whirring along. He called the author of the book, the best-selling novel, on which his new film was based. The author was a guy his own age

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who had come up the hard way and was now a celebrity in the literary world. He had come out to Hollywood expecting to be treated like a wheel and, like most authors, had been treated like shit. Johnny had seen the humiliation of the author one night at the Brown Derby. The writer had been fixed up with a well-known bosomy starlet for a date on the town and a sure shack-up later. But while they were at dinner the starlet had deserted the famous author because a ratty-looking movie comic had waggled his finger at her. That had given the writer the right slant on just who was who in the Hollywood pecking order. It didn’t matter that his book had made him world famous. A starlet would prefer the crummiest, the rattiest, the phoniest movie wheel.
Now Johnny called the author at his New York home to thank him for the great part he had written in his book for him. He flattered the shit out of the guy. Then casually he asked him how he was doing on his next novel and what it was all about. He lit a cigar while the author told him about a specially interesting chapter and then finally said,
“Gee, I’d like to read it when you’re finished. How about sending me a copy? Maybe I can get you a good deal for it, better than you got with Woltz.” The eagerness in the author’s voice told him that he had guessed right. Woltz had chiseled the guy, given him peanuts for the book. Johnny mentioned that he might be in New York right after the holidays and would the author want to come and have dinner with some of his friends. “I know a few good-looking broads,” Johnny said jokingly. The author laughed and said OK.
Next Johnny called up the director and cameraman on the film he had just finished to thank them for having helped him in the film. He told them confidentially that he knew Woltz had been against him and he doubly appreciated their help and that if there was ever anything he could do for them they should just call.
Then he made the hardest call of all, the one to Jack Woltz. He thanked him for the part in the picture and told him how happy he would be to work for him anytime. He did this merely to throw Woltz off the track. He had always been very square, very straight. In a few days Woltz would find out about his maneuvering and be astounded by the treachery of this call, which was exactly what Johnny Fontane wanted him to feel.
After that he sat at the desk and puffed at his cigar. There was whiskey on a side table but he had made some sort of promise to himself and Hagen that he wouldn’t drink. He shouldn’t even be smoking. It was foolish; whatever was wrong with his voice probably wouldn’t be helped by knocking off drinking and smoking. Not too much, but what the

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hell, it might help and he wanted all the percentages with him, now that he had a fighting chance.
Now with the house quiet, his divorced wife sleeping, his beloved daughters sleeping, he could think back to that terrible time in his life when he had deserted them. Deserted them for a whore tramp of a bitch who was his second wife. But even now he smiled at the thought of her, she was such a lovely broad in so many ways and, besides, the only thing that saved his life was the day that he had made up his mind never to hate a woman or, more specifically, the day he had decided he could not afford to hate his first wife and his daughters, his girl friends, his second wife, and the girl friends after that, right up to Sharon Moore brushing him off so that she could brag about refusing to screw for the great Johnny Fontane.

* * *


He had traveled with the band singing and then he had become a radio star and a star of the movie stage shows and then he had finally made it in the movies. And in all that time he had lived the way he wanted to, screwed the women he wanted to, but he had never let it affect his personal life. Then he had fallen for his soon to be second wife, Margot Ashton; he had gone absolutely crazy for her. His career had gone to hell, his voice had gone to hell, his family life had gone to hell. And there had come the day when he was left without anything.
The thing was, he had always been generous and fair. He had given his first wife everything he owned when he divorced her. He had made sure his two daughters would get a piece of everything he made, every record, every movie, every club date. And when he had been rich and famous he had refused his first wife nothing. He had helped out all her brothers and sisters, her father and mother, the girl friends she had gone to school with and their families. He had never been a stuck-up celebrity. He had sung at the weddings of his wife’s two younger sisters, something he hated to do. He had never refused her anything except the complete surrender of his own personality.
And then when he had touched bottom, when he could no longer get movie work, when he could no longer sing, when his second wife had betrayed him, he had gone to spend a few days with Ginny and his daughters. He had more or less flung himself on her mercy one night because he felt so lousy. That day he had heard one of his recordings and he had sounded so terrible that he accused the song technicians of sabotaging the record. Until finally he had become convinced that that was what his voice really

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sounded like. He had smashed the master record and refused to sing anymore. He was so ashamed that he had not sung a note except with Nino at Connie Corleone’s wedding.
He had never forgotten the look on Ginny’s face when she found out about all his misfortunes. It had passed over her face only for a second but that was enough for him never to forget it. It was a look of savage and joyful satisfaction. It was a look that could only make him believe that she had contemptuously hated him all these years. She quickly recovered and offered him cool but polite sympathy. He had pretended to accept it. During the next few days he had gone to see three of the girls he had liked the most over the years, girls he had remained friends with and sometimes still slept with in a comradely way, girls that he had done everything in his power to help, girls to whom he had given the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts or job opportunities.
On their faces he had caught that same fleeting look of savage satisfaction.
It was during that time that he knew he had to make a decision. He could become like a great many other men in Hollywood, successful producers, writers, directors, actors, who preyed on beautiful women with lustful hatred. He could use power and monetary favors grudgingly, always alert for treason, always believing that women would betray and desert him, adversaries to be bested. Or he could refuse to hate women and continue to believe in them.
He knew he could not afford not to love them, that something of his spirit would die if he did not continue to love women no matter how treacherous and unfaithful they were. It didn’t matter that the women he loved most in the world were secretly glad to see him crushed, humiliated, by a wayward fortune; it did not matter that in the most awful way, not sexually, they had been unfaithful to him. He had no choice. He had to accept them.
And so he made love to all of them, gave them presents, hid the hurt their enjoyment of his misfortunes gave him. He forgave them knowing he was being paid back for having lived in the utmost freedom from women and in the fullest flush of their favor. But now he never felt guilty about being untrue to them. He never felt guilty about how he treated Ginny, insisting on remaining the sole father of his children, yet never even considering remarrying her, and letting her know that too. That was one thing he had salvaged out of his fall from the top. He had grown a thick skin about the hurts he gave women.
He was tired and ready for bed but one note of memory stuck with him: singing with Nino Valenti. And suddenly he knew what would please Don Corleone more than anything else. He picked up the phone and told the operator to get him New York. He

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called Sonny Corleone and asked him for Nino Valenti’s number. Then he called Nino.
Nino sounded a little drunk as usual.
“Hey, Nino, how’d you like to come out here and work for me,” Johnny said. “I need a guy I can trust.”
Nino, kidding around, said, “Gee, I don’t know, Johnny, I got a good job on the truck, boffing housewives along my route, picking up a clear hundred-fifty every week. What you got to offer?”
“I can start you at five hundred and get you blind dates with movie stars, how’s that?” Johnny said. “And maybe I’ll let you sing at my parties.”
“Yeah, OK, let me think about it.” Nino said. “Let me talk it over with my lawyer and my accountant and my helper on the truck.”
“Hey, no kidding around, Nino,” Johnny said. “I need you out here. I want you to fly out tomorrow morning and sign a personal contract for five hundred a week for a year. Then if you steal one of my broads and I fire you, you pick up at least a year’s salary. OK?” There was a long pause. Nino’s voice was sober. “Hey, Johnny, you kidding?” Johnny said, “I’m serious, kid. Go to my agent’s office in New York. They’ll have your plane ticket and some cash. I’m gonna call them first thing in the morning. So you go up there in the afternoon. OK? Then I’ll have somebody meet you at the plane and bring you out to the house.”
Again there was a long pause and then Nino’s voice, very subdued, uncertain, said,
“OK, Johnny.” He didn’t sound drunk anymore.
Johnny hung up the phone and got ready for bed. He felt better than any time since he had smashed that master record.

Chapter 13


Johnny Fontane sat in the huge recording studio and figured costs on a yellow pad.
Musicians were filing in, all of them friends he had known since he was a kid singer with the bands. The conductor, top man in the business of pop accompaniment and a man who had been kind to him when things went sour, was giving each musician bundles of music and verbal instructions. His name was Eddie Neils. He had taken on this recording as a favor to Johnny, though his schedule was crowded.
Nino Valenti was sitting at a piano fooling around nervously with the keys. He was also

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sipping from a huge glass of rye. Johnny didn’t mind that. He knew Nino sang just as well drunk as sober and what they were doing today wouldn’t require any real musicianship on Nino’s part.
Eddie Neils had made special arrangements of some old Italian and Sicilian songs; and a special job on the duel-duet song that Nino and Johnny had sung at Connie Corleone’s wedding. Johnny was making the record primarily because he knew that the Don loved such songs and it would be a perfect Christmas gift for him. He also had a hunch that the record would sell in the high numbers, not a million, of course. And he had figured out that helping Nino was how the Don wanted his payoff. Nino was, after all, another one of the Don’s godchildren.
Johnny put his clipboard and yellow pad on the folding chair beside him and got up to stand beside the piano. He said, “Hey, paisan,” and Nino glanced up and tried to smile.
He looked a little sick. Johnny leaned over and rubbed his shoulder blades. “Relax, kid,” he said. “Do a good job today and I’ll fix you up with the best and most famous piece of ass in Hollywood.”
Nino took a gulp of whiskey. “Who’s that, Lassie?” Johnny laughed. “No, Deanna Dunn. I guarantee the goods.” Nino was impressed but couldn’t help saying with pseudo-hopefulness, “You can’t get me Lassie?”
The orchestra swung into the opening song of the medley. Johnny Fontane listened intently. Eddie Neils would play all the songs through in their special arrangements.
Then would come the first take for the record. As Johnny listened he made mental notes on exactly how he would handle each phrase, how he would come into each song. He knew his voice wouldn’t last long, but Nino would be doing most of the singing, Johnny would be singing under him. Except of course in the duet-duel song. He would have to save himself for that.
He pulled Nino to his feet and they both stood by their microphones. Nino flubbed the opening, flubbed it again. His face was beginning to get red with embarrassment.
Johnny kidded him, “Hey, you stalling for overtime?”
“I don’t feel natural without my mandolin,” Nino said.
Johnny thought that over for a moment. “Hold that glass of booze in your hand,” he said.
It seemed to do the trick. Nino kept drinking from the glass as he sang but he was doing

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fine. Johnny sang easily, not straining, his voice merely dancing around Nino’s main melody. There was no emotional satisfaction in this kind of singing but he was amazed at his own technical skill. Ten years of vocalizing had taught him something.
When they came to the duet-duel song that ended the record, Johnny let his voice go and when they finished his vocal cords ached. The musicians had been carried away by the last song, a rare thing for these calloused veterans. They hammered down their instruments and stamped their feet in approval as applause. The drummer gave them a ruffle of drums.
With stops and conferences they worked nearly four hours before they quit. Eddie Neils came over to Johnny and said quietly, “You sounded pretty good, kid. Maybe you’re ready to do a record. I have a new song that’s perfect for you.” Johnny shook his head. “Come on, Eddie, don’t kid me. Besides, in a couple of hours I’ll be too hoarse to even talk. Do you think we’ll have to fix up much of the stuff we did today?”
Eddie said thoughtfully, “Nino will have to come into the studio tomorrow. He made some mistakes. But he’s much better than I thought he would be. As for your stuff, I’ll have the sound engineers fix anything I don’t like. OK?”
“OK,” Johnny said. “When can I hear the pressing?”
“Tomorrow night,” Eddie Neils said. “Your place?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “Thanks, Eddie. See you tomorrow.” He took Nino by the arm and walked out of the studio. They went to his house instead of Ginny’s.
By this time it was late afternoon. Nino was still more than half-drunk. Johnny told him to get under the shower and then take a snooze. They had to be at a big party at eleven that night.
When Nino woke up, Johnny briefed him. “This party is a movie star Lonely Hearts Club,” he said. “These broads tonight are dames you’ve seen in the movies as glamour queens millions of guys would give their right arms to screw. And the only reason they’ll be at the party tonight is to find somebody to shack them up. Do yov know why?
Because they are hungry for it, they are just a little old. And just like every dame, they want it with a little bit of class.”
“What’s the matter with your voice?” Nino asked.
Johnny had been speaking almost in a whisper. “Every time after I sing a little bit that

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happens. I won’t be able to sing for a month now. But I’ll get over the hoarseness in a couple of days.”
Nino said thoughtfully, “Tough, huh?”
Johnny shrugged. “Listen, Nino, don’t get too drunk tonight. You have to show these Hollywood broads that my paisan buddy ain’t weak in the poop. You gotta come across.
Remember, some of these dames are very powerful in movies, they can get you work. It doesn’t hurt to be charming after you knock off a piece.” Nino was already pouring himself a drink. “I’m always charming,” he said. He drained the glass. Grinning, he asked, “No kidding, can you really get me close to Deanna Dunn?”
“Don’t be so anxious,” Johnny said. “It’s not going to be like you think.”

* * *


The Hollywood Movie Star Lonely Hearts Club (so called by the young juvenile leads whose attendance was mandatory) met every Friday night at the palatial, studio-owned home of Roy McElroy, press agent or rather public relations counsel for the Woltz International Film Corporation. Actually, though it was McElroy’s open house party, the idea had come from the practical brain of Jack Woltz himself. Some of his money-making movie stars were getting older now. Without the help of special lights and genius makeup men they looked their age. They were having problems. They had also become, to some extent, desensitized physically and mentally. They could no longer “fall in love.” They could no longer assume the role of hunted women. They had been made too imperious; by money, by fame, by their former beauty. Woltz gave his parties so that it would be easier for them to pick up lovers, one-night stands, who, if they had the stuff, could graduate into full-time bed partners and so work their way upward. Since the action sometimes degenerated into brawls or sexual excess that led to trouble with the police, Woltz decided to hold the parties in the house of the public relation counselor, who would be right there to fix things up, pay off newsmen and police officers and keep everything quiet.
For certain virile young male actors on the studio payroll who had not yet achieved stardom or featured roles, attendance at the Friday night parties was not always pleasant duty. This was explained by the fact that a new film yet to be released by the studio would be shown at the party. In fact that was the excuse for the party itself.
People would say, “Let’s go over to see what the new picture so and so made is like.”

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And so it was put in a professional context.
Young female starlets were forbidden to attend the Friday night parties. Or rather discouraged. Most of them took the hint.
Screenings of the new movies took place at midnight and Johnny and Nino arrived at eleven. Roy McElroy proved to be, at first sight, an enormously likable man, well-groomed, beautifully dressed. He greeted Johnny Fontane with a surprised cry of delight. “What the hell are you doing here?” he said with genuine astonishment.
Johnny shook his hand. “I’m showing my country cousin the sights. Meet Nino.” McElroy shook hands with Nino and gazed at him appraisingly. “They’ll eat him up alive,” he said to Johnny. He led them to the rear patio.
The rear patio was really a series of huge rooms whose glass doors had been opened to a garden and pool. There were almost a hundred people milling around, all with drinks in their hands. The patio lighting was artfully arranged to flatter feminine faces and skin. These were women Nino had seen on the darkened movie screens when he had been a teenager. They had played their part in his erotic dreams of adolescence.
But seeing them now in the flesh was like seeing them in some horrible makeup.
Nothing could hide the tiredness of their spirit and their flesh; time had eroded their godhead. They posed and moved as charmingly as he remembered but they were like wax fruit, they could not lubricate his glands. Nino took two drinks, wandered to a table where he could stand next to a nest of bottles. Johnny moved with him. They drank together until behind them came the magic voice of Deanna Dunn.
Nino, like millions of other men, had that voice imprinted on his brain forever. Deanna Dunn had won two Academy Awards, had been in the biggest movie grosser made in Hollywood. On the screen she had a feline feminine charm that made her irresistible to all men. But the words she was saying had never been heard on the silver screen.
“Johnny, you bastard, I had to go to my psychiatrist again because you gave me a one-night stand. How come you never came back for seconds?” Johnny kissed her on her proffered cheek. “You wore me out for a month,” he said. “I want you to meet my cousin Nino. A nice strong Italian boy. Maybe he can keep up with you.”
Deanna Dunn turned to give Nino a cool look. “Does he like to watch previews?” Johnny laughed. “I don’t think he’s ever had the chance. Why don’t you break him in?”

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Nino had to take a big drink when he was alone with Deanna Dunn. He was trying to be nonchalant but it was hard. Deanna Dunn had the upturned nose, the clean-cut classical features of the Anglo-Saxon beauty. And he knew her so well. He had seen her alone in a bedroom, heartbroken, weeping over her dead flier husband who had left her with fatherless children. He had seen her angry, hurt, humiliated, yet with a shining dignity when a caddish Clark Gable had taken advantage of her, then left her for a sexpot.
(Deanna Dunn never played sexpots in the movies.) He had seen her flushed with requited love, writhing in the embrace of the man she adored and he had seen her die beautifully at least a half dozen times. He had seen her and heard her and dreamed about her and yet he was not prepared for the first thing she said to him alone.
“Johnny is one of the few men with balls in this town,” she said. “The rest are all fags and sick morons who couldn’t get it up with a broad if you pumped a truckload of Spanish fly into their scrotums.” She took Nino by the hand and led him into a corner of the room, out of traffic and out of competition.
Then still coolly charming, she asked him about himself. He saw through her. He saw that she was playing the role of the rich society girl who is being kind to the stableboy or the chauffeur, but who in the movie would either discourage his amatory interest (if the part were played by Spencer Tracy), or throw up everything in her mad desire for him (if the part were played by Clark Gable). But it didn’t matter. He found himself telling her about how he and Johnny had grown up together in New York, about how he and Johnny had sung together on little club dates. He found her marvelously sympathetic and interested. Once she asked casually, “Do you know how Johnny made that bastard Jack Woltz give him the part?” Nino froze and shook his head. She didn’t pursue it.
The time had come to see the preview of a new Woltz movie. Deanna Dunn led Nino, her warm hand imprisoning his, to an interior room of the mansion that had no windows but was furnished with about fifty small two-person couches scattered around in such a way as to give each one a little island of semiprivacy.
Nino saw there was a small table beside the couch and on the table were an ice bowl, glasses and bottles of liquor plus a tray of cigarettes. He gave Deanna Dunn a cigarette, lit it and then mixed them both drinks. They didn’t speak to each other. After a few minutes the lights went out.
He had been expecting something outrageous. After all, he had heard the legends of Hollywood depravity. But he was not quite prepared for Deanna Dunn’s voracious

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plummet on his sexual organ without even a courteous and friendly word of preparation.
He kept sipping his drink and watching the movie, but not tasting, not seeing. He was excited in a way he had never been before but part of it was because this woman servicing him in the dark had been the object of his adolescent dreams.
Yet in a way his masculinity was insulted. So when the world-famous Deanna Dunn was sated and had tidied him up, he very coolly fixed her a fresh drink in the darkness and lit her a fresh cigarette and said in the most relaxed voice imaginable, “This looks like a pretty good movie.”
He felt her stiffen beside him on the couch. Could it be she was waiting for some sort of compliment? Nino poured his glass full from the nearest bottle his hand touched in the darkness. The hell with that. She’d treated him like a goddamn male whore. For some reason now he felt a cold anger at all these women. They watched the picture for another fifteen minutes. He leaned away from her so their bodies did not touch.
Finally she said in a low harsh whisper, “Don’t be such a snotty punk, you liked it. You were as big as a house.”
Nino sipped his drink and said in his natural off-hand manner, “That’s the way it always is. You should see it when I get excited.”
She laughed a little and kept quiet for the rest of the picture. Finally it was over and the lights went on. Nino took a look around. He could see there had been a ball here in the darkness though oddly enough he hadn’t heard a thing. But some of the dames had that hard, shiny, brighteyed look of women who had just been worked over real good. They sauntered out of the projection room. Deanna Dunn left him immediately to go over and talk to an older man Nino recognized as a famous featured player, only now, seeing the guy in person, he realized that he was a fag. He sipped his drink thoughtfully.
Johnny Fontane came up beside him and said, “Hi, old buddy, having a good time?” Nino grinned. “I don’t know. It’s different. Now when I go back to the old neighborhood I can say Deanna Dunn had me.”
Johnny laughed. “She can be better than that if she-invites you home with her. Did she?”
Nino shook his head. “I got too interested in the movie,” he said. But this time Johnny didn’t laugh.
“Get serious, kid,” he said. “A dame like that cn do you a lot of good. And you used to

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boff anything. Man, sometimes I still get nightmares when I remember those ugly broads you used to bang.”
Nino waved his glass drunkenly and said very loud, “Yeah, they were ugly but they were women.” Deanna Dunn, in the corner, turned her head to look at them. Nino waved his glass at her in greeting.
Johnny Fontane sighed. “OK, you’re just a guinea peasant.”
“And I ain’t gonna change,” Nino said with his charmingly drunken smile.
Johnny understood him perfectly. He knew Nino was not as drunk as he pretended. He knew that Nino was only pretending so that he could say things which he felt were too rude to say to his new Hollywood padrone when sober. He put his arm around Nino’s neck and said affectionately, “You wise guy bum, you know you got an ironclad contract for a year and you can say and do anything you want and I can’t fire you.”
“You can’t fire me?” Nino said with drunken cunning.
“No,” Johnny said.
“Then fuck you,” Nino said.
For a moment Johnny was surprised into anger. He saw the careless grin on Nino’s face. But in the past few years he must have gotten smarter, or his own descent from stardom had made him more sensitive. In that moment he understood Nino, why his boyhood singing partner had never become successful, why he was trying to destroy any chance of success now. That Nino was reacting away from all the prices of success, that in some way he felt insulted by everything that was being done for him.
Johnny took Nino by the arm and led him out of the house. Nino could barely walk now.
Johnny was talking to him soothingly. “OK, kid, you just sing for me, I wants make dough on you. I won’t try to run your life. You do whatever you wants do. OK, paisan?
All you gotta do is sing for me and earn me money now that I can’t sing anymore. You got that, old buddy?”
Nino straightened up. “I’ll sing for you, Johnny,” he said, his voice slurring so that he could barely be understood. “I’m a better singer than you now. I was always a better singer than you, you know that?”
Johnny stood there thinking; so that was it. He knew that when his voice was healthy Nino simply wasn’t in the same league with him, never had been in those years they had sung together as kids. He saw Nino was waiting for an answer, weaving drunkenly in the

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California moonlight. “Fuck you,” he said gently, and they both laughed together like the old days when they had both been equally young.

* * *


When Johnny Fontane got word about the shooting of Don Corleone he not only worried about his Godfather, but also wondered whether the financing for his movie was still alive. He had wanted to go to New York to pay his respects to his Godfather in the hospital but he had been told not to get any bad publicity, that was the last thing Don Corleone would want. So he waited. A week later a messenger came from Tom Hagen.
The financing was still on but for only one picture at a time.
Meanwhile Johnny let Nino go his own way in Hollywood and California, and Nino was doing all right with the young starlets. Sometimes Johnny called him up for a night out together but never leaned on him. When they talked about the Don getting shot, Nino said to Johnny, “You know, once I asked the Don for a job in his organization and he wouldn’t give it to me. I was tired of driving a truck and I wanted to make a lot of dough.
You know what he told me? He says every man has only one destiny and that my destiny was to be an artist. Meaning that I couldn’t be a racket guy.” Johnny thought that one over. The Godfather must be just about the smartest guy in the world. He’d known immediately that Nino could never make a racket guy, would only get himself in trouble or get killed. Get killed with just one of his wisecracks. But how did the Don know that he would be an artist? Because, goddamn it, he figured that someday I’d help Nino. And how did he figure that? Because he would drop the word to me and I would try to show my gratitude. Of course he never asked me to do it. He just let me know it would make him happy if I did it. Johnny Fontane sighed. Now the Godfather was hurt, in trouble, and he could kiss the Academy Award good-bye with Woltz working against him and no help on his side. Only the Don had the personal contacts that could apply pressure and the Corleone Family had other things to think about. Johnny had offered to help, Hagen had given him a curt no.
Johnny was busy getting his own picture going. The author of the book he had starred in had finished his new novel and came west on Johnny’s invitation, to talk it over without agents or studios getting into the act. The second book was perfect for what Johnny wanted. He wouldn’t have to sing, it had a good gutsy story with plenty of dames and sex and it had a part that Johnny instantly recognized as tailor-made for Nino. The character talked like Nino, acted like him, even looked like him. It was uncanny. All Nino

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would have to do would be to get up on the screen and be himself.
Johnny worked fast. He found that he knew a lot more about production than he thought he did, but he hired an executive producer, a man who knew his stuff but had trouble finding work because of the blacklist. Johnny didn’t take advantage but gave the man a fair contract. “I expect you to save me more dough this way,” he told the man frankly.
So he was surprised when the executive producer came to him and told him the union rep had to be taken care of to the tune of fifty thousand dollars. There were a lot of problems dealing with overtime and hiring and the fifty thousand dollars would be well spent. Johnny debated whether the executive producer was hustling him and then said,
“Send the union guy to me.”
The union guy was Billy Goff. Johnny said to him, “I thought the union stuff was fixed by my friends. I was told not to worry about it. At all.” Goff said, “Who told you that?”
Johnny said, “You know goddamn well who told me. I won’t say his name but if he tells me something that’s it.”
Goff said, “Things have changed. Your friend is in trouble and his word don’t go this far west anymore.”
Johnny shrugged. “See me in a couple of days. OK?” Goff smiled. “Sure, Johnny,” he said. “But calling in New York ain’t going to help you.” But calling New York did help. Johnny spoke to Hagen at his office. Hagen told him bluntly not to pay. “Your Godfather will be sore as hell if you pay that bastard a dime,” he told Johnny. “It will make the Don lose respect and right now he can’t afford that.”
“Can I talk to the Don?” Johnny asked. “Will you talk to him? I gotta get the picture rolling.”
“Nobody can talk to the Don right now,” Hagen said. “He’s too sick. I’ll talk to Sonny about fixing things up. But I’ll make the decision on this. Don’t pay that smart bastard a dime. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Annoyed, Johnny hung up. Union trouble could add a fortune to making the film and screw up the works generally. For a moment he debated slipping Goff the fifty grand on the quiet. After all, the Don telling him something and Hagen telling him something and giving him orders were two different things. But he decided to wait for a few days.

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By waiting he saved fifty thousand dollars. Two nights later, Goff was found shot to death in his home in Glendale. There was no more talk of union trouble. Johnny was a little shaken by the killing. It was the first time the long arm of the Don had struck such a lethal blow so close to him.
As the weeks went by and he became busier and busier with getting the script ready, casting the movie and working out production details, Johnny Fontane forgot about his voice, his not being able to sing. Yet when the Academy Award nominations came out and he found himself one of the candidates, he was depressed because he was not asked to sing one of the songs nominated for the Oscar at the ceremony that would be televised nationally. But he shrugged it off and kept working. He had no hope of winning the Academy Award now that his Godfather was no longer able to put pressure on, but getting the nomination had some value.
The record he and Nino had cut, the one of Italian songs, was selling much better than anything he had cut lately, but he knew that it was Nino’s success more than his. He resigned himself to never being able to again sing professionally.
Once a week he had dinner with Ginny and the kids. No matter how hectic things got he never skipped that duty. But he didn’t sleep with Ginny. Meanwhile his second wife had finagled a Mexican divorce and so he was a bachelor again. Oddly enough he was not that frantic to bang starlets who would have been easy meat. He was too snobbish really. He was hurt that none of the young stars, the actresses who were still on top, ever gave him a tumble. But it was good to work hard. Most nights he would go home alone, put his old records on the player, have a drink and hum along with them for a few bars. He had been good, damn good. He hadn’t realized how good he was. Even aside from the special voice, which could have happened to anybody, he was good. He had been a real artist and never knew it, and never knew how much he loved it. He’d ruined his voice with booze and tobacco and broads just when he really knew what it was all about.
Sometimes Nino came over for a drink and listened with him and Johnny would say to him scornfully, “You guinea bastard, you never sang like that in your life.” And Nino would give him that curiously charming smile and shake his head and say, “No, and I never will,” in a sympathetic voice, as if he knew what Johnny was thinking.
Finally, a week before shooting the new picture, the Academy Award night rolled around. Johnny invited Nino to come along but Nino refused. Johnny said, “Buddy, I

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never asked you a favor, right? Do me a favor tonight and come with me. You’re the only guy who’ll really feel sorry for me if I don’t win.” For one moment Nino looked startled. Then he said, “Sure, old buddy, I can make it.” He paused for a moment and said, “if you don’t win, forget it. Just get as drunk as you can get and I’ll take care of you. Hell, I won’t even drink myself tonight. How about that for being a buddy?”
“Man,” Johnny Fontane said, “that’s some buddy.” The Academy Award night came and Nino kept his promise. He came to Johnny’s house dead sober and they left for the presentation theater together. Nino wondered why Johnny hadn’t invited any of his girls or his ex-wives to the Award dinner. Especially Ginny. Didn’t he think Ginny would root for him? Nino wished he could have just one drink, it looked like a long bad night.
Nino Valenti found the whole Academy Award affair a bore until the winner of the best male actor was announced. When he heard the words “Johnny Fontane,” he found himself jumping into the air and applauding. Johnny reached out a hand for him to shake and Nino shook it. He knew his buddy needed human contact with someone he trusted and Nino felt an enormous sadness that Johnny didn’t have anyone better than himself to touch in his moment of glory.
What followed was an absolute nightmare. Jack Woltz’s picture had swept all the major awards and so the studio’s party was swamped with newspaper people and all the on-the-make hustlers; male and female. Nino kept his promise to remain sober, and he tried to watch over Johnny. But the women of the party kept pulling Johnny Fontane into bedrooms for a little chat and Johnny kept getting drunker and drunker.
Meanwhile the woman who had won the award for the best actress was suffering the same fate but loving it more and handling it better. Nino turned her down, the only man at the party to do so.
Finally somebody had a great idea. The public mating of the two winners, everybody else at the party to be spectators in the stands. The actress was stripped down and the other women started to undress Johnny Fontane. It was then that Nino, the only sober person there, grabbed the half-clothed Johnny and slung him over his shoulder and fought his way out of the house and to their car. As he drove Johnny home, Nino thought that if that was success, he didn’t want it.

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