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Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
~ Peter Clemenza's most famous line

Peter Clemenza is a character from The Godfather novel and films. He was one of the two original caporegimes of the Corleone Family, the other being Salvatore Tessio.

He was portrayed by the late Richard S. Castellano in the first film, and as a young man by the late Bruno Kirby in the second film.

Biography

Clemenza was born in the 1890s in the city of Trapani on the island of Sicily. At a young age he immigrated to the United States, settling in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City. At a young age he became friends with Salvatore Tessio. During this time Clemenza was neighbors with another young Italian immigrant named Vito Corleone.

Clemenza asked Vito to hold a blanket full of guns for him in order to avoid their discovery by police. Vito did this and Clemenza returned the favor by stealing an expensive rug with the unwitting assistance of Vito. Soon Vito, Clemenza, and Tessio were working together in hijacking garment trucks, performing petty crimes, and doing favors in exchange for loyalty.

The pair soon came to the attention of the local padrone, Don Fanucci. Fanucci demanded they pay him a substantial tribute or he would inform the police about their activities. Clemenza and Tessio were unnerved by his demands and wanted to pay him off right away. Vito however decided to play a hunch he had that Fanucci was not an actual made man and was an independent tricking people into thinking he was Mafia connected. He convinced Clemenza and Tessio to let him go to Fanucci with far less money that what the padrone demanded, saying that he would make the man "an offer he can't refuse". The two men met at a local cafe. Impressed by Vito's courage, Fanucci left the cafe with the one-hundred Vito gave him. This confirmed Vito's hunch that Fanucci was weak and vulnerable. A few weeks later during a major festival Vito made his bones by shooting Fanucci during a major festival. Clemenza, Tessio, and Vito continued working together, with Vito being the clear leader of the group. The three took over the neighborhood, treating it with greater respect than Fanucci ever did.

After earning a fortune in protection money from various businesses and racket leaders, Clemenza, Vito, and Tessio set up Genco Pura Olive Oil Importers as a legal front to launder the spoils of their criminal empire. By the 1930s Vito became a major mafia figure, having established the Corleone Crime Family. Clemenza and Tessio became the caporegimes of the family, with Vito's childhood friend Genco Abbandando becoming its consigliere. Clemenza later trained Vito's oldest son Sonny in marksmanship and assassination technique.

Clemenza remained close and loyal to Vito during these years. Originally a slim man, Clemenza put on a great deal of weight as he aged, leading to him becoming known as "Fat Pete" or "Fat Clemenza." Clemenza trained a large number of the soldiers and family associates. One of these was Paulie Gatto. Vito would often give jobs requiring violent acts to Clemenza, knowing that his people would do what was "necessary", but not "get carried away".

Not long after the marriage of Vito's daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzi, the Tattaglia family associate Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo approached Vito with a request to assist in entering the drug trade in New York. Feeling that entering the drug trade was a bad move Vito turned him down. In response Sollozzo used information provided by Paulie to make an attempt on Vito's life, badly wounding him but not killing him.

Sonny, his father's heir apparent, quickly figured out that Paulie was the traitor and ordered Clemenza to kill him. Clemenza took Paulie and soldier Rocco Lampone out to scout locations for the family to "go to the mattresses" in the event of war. While in a semi-rural area of Long Island, Clemenza asked Paulie to stop in a field so Clemenza could relieve himself. After Clemenza got out of the car, Rocco emerged from the backseat and shot Paulie twice in the back of the head, killing him. Onceback to the car, Clemenza told Rocco to leave the gun but take the cannoli he had picked up for his wife.

Clemenza later helped Vito's youngest son Michael assassinate both Sollozzo and the corrupt police Captain McCluskey, who was serving as his bodyguard and enforcer. He prepared the gun that Michael would use, taping it down so that it would not leave prints. Clemenza left the gun loud so that it would scare "any pain in the ass innocent bystanders" and instructed Michael how to proceed once he had committed the deed. He told Michael that the crackdown that would follow would be pretty bad, not only from law enforcement but from the other four Mafia families as well. He assured Michael these wars had to happen every so often to clear out the bad blood. Arriving back at the Corleone compound Clemenza was surprised by all the new muscle around the compound. Tessio informed him that Sonny had Bruno Tattaglia killed at four in the morning. Waiting to find out where the meeting between Michael and Sollozzo was going to occur Clemenza also showed Michael how to properly prepare pasta sauce and meatballs.

After Michael successfully carried out the assassination the war that Clemenza knew was going to happen started. With law enforcement and the other families working against them it hampered the Corleone family. The war culminated in Sonny getting killed in a tollbooth causeway by the Tattaligas in retribution for Bruno's death. Once Vito recovered he went to the Commission to work out a peace agreement with the other families in order to bring Michael home from Sicily safely and to protect his remaining family.

Once Michael came home, Vito handed over the reins of power over to his son, and went into retirement. Michael began making plans to move the family out to Las Vegas. Clemenza and Tessio asked Vito for permission to break off and form their own families. Vito asked Clemenza and Tessio if they trusted him, and when they said they did Vito said to trust Michael and work with him as he was the Don now. Michael said that once the Corleones were established in Las Vegas the two caporegimes would be free to do so.

Shortly before his death, Vito had a talk with his son Michael. During this time he warned Michael that after he died that a traitor in the family would come forward suggesting a meeting with the Brazini family, a meeting at which Michael would be assassinated. Vito died a few days later while playing in the garden with his grandson Anthony.

A young Peter Clemenza, circa 1917.

After Vito's funeral procession arrived at the cemetery and the time was approaching to bury Vito, Tessio approached Michael with the suggestion of a meeting with Brazini in his territory in Brooklyn. This confirmed Tessio was the traitor.

During the baptism of Connie's son, Michael had his people systematically wipe out the family's enemies. Clemenza was given the job of killing Victor Stracci. Cornering the man in an elevator, Clemenza shot him twice with a shotgun. Afterwards, Clemeza garroted Rizzi to death for conspiring with Vito's rival mob boss Emilio Barzini to have Sonny murdered.

Clemenza took charge of the Corleone operations in New York after Michael moved to Las Vegas. He died sometime before 1958 from a heart attack, though rumors abounded throughout the Family that he was murdered. He was succeeded by his lieutenant Frank Pentangeli.

Trivia

  • Castellano was due to reprise his role in the second film, but disagreements between him and Paramount led to his being written out of the script, with the character of Pentangeli being written to take his place.

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See Also
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