EXPIRED: 10/13/09 – Al Martino, 82, enlisted in the army as teenager. Then, long after WW2 was over, he played Johnny Fontane in the 1972 movie based on Mario Puzo’s best selling crime novel, The Godfather. But he had quite a career besides that well known part.
As a crooner, he was facing an uphill battle when rock and roll started to take hold of the airwaves in the 1960’s. So Martino did what any good self-employed corporation would do: he outsourced — himself. He took his act to Europe where he reintroduced classic pop songs to those who never got a taste of the real thing live before. It worked to keep him on the charts. Between ’63 and ’67 he had 9 Top 40 singles, including “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Spanish Eyes” which was basically “Moon Over Naples” with vocals. It later became standard fare at Elvis Presley and Wayne Newton shows.
His traditional singing style – not to mention his Italian good looks – made him perfect for the role of singer Johnny Fontane in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.”
Martino’s Fontane was loosely based on Frank Sinatra. A two bit actor and half-way decent night club act who asks the local mob boss, Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone) to do something to boost his career. Corleone obliges with a horse’s head dumpedin the bed of a movie producer who rejected Fontane. Interesting fact: a real dead horse’s head was used in the filming of that scene. Yuck.
Martino also recorded a version of the “Godfather” theme song, “Speak Softly Love” followed by a a disco version of the Italian classic “Volare,” ensuring him a place at every Italian American Wedding for decades.
Not everything was rosy though. In 1972 he quit a series of shows at the Plaza Hotel saying that he had creative differences with management. And before the end of the decade he was arrested for shoplifting socks and shirts from a Boston area department store.