Johnny Fontane waved a casual dismissal to the manservant and said, “See you in the morning, Billy.” The colored butler bowed his way out of the huge dining room-living room with its view of the Pacific Ocean. It was a friendly-goodbye sort of bow, not a servant’s bow, and given only because Johnny Fontane had company for dinner.
Johnny’s company was a girl named Sharon Moore, a New York City Greenwich Village girl in Hollywood to try for a small part in a movie being produced by an old flame who had made the big time. She had visited the set while Johnny was acting in the Woltz movie. Johnny had found her young and fresh and charming and witty, and had asked her to come to his place for dinner that evening. His invitations to dinner were always famous and had the force of royalty and of course she said yes.
Sharon Moore obviously, expected him to come on very strong because of his reputation, but Johnny hated the Hollywood “piece of meat” approach. He never slept with any girl unless there was something about her he really liked. Except, of course, sometimes when he was very drunk and found himself in bed with a girl he didn’t even remember meeting or seeing before. And now that he was thirty-five years old, divorced once, estranged from his second wife, with maybe a thousand pubic scalps dangling from his belt, he simply wasn’t that eager. But there was something about Sharon Moore that aroused affection in him and so he had invited her to dinner.
He never ate much but he knew young pretty girls ambitiously starved themselves for pretty clothes and were usually big eaters on a date so there was plenty of food on the table. There was also plenty of liquor; champagne in a bucket, scotch, rye, brandy and liqueurs on the sideboard. Johnny served the drinks and the plates of food already prepared. When they had finished eating he led her into the huge living room with its glass wall that looked out onto the Pacific. He put a stack of Ella Fitzgerald records on the hifi and settled on the couch with Sharon. He made a little small talk with her, found out about what she had been like as a kid, whether she had been a tomboy or boy crazy, whether she had been homely or pretty, lonely or gay. He always found these details touching, it always evoked the tenderness he needed to make love.
They nestled together on the sofa, very friendly, very comfortable. He kissed her on the lips, a cool friendly kiss, and when she kept it that way he left it that way. Outside the huge picture window he could see the dark blue sheet of the Pacific lying flat beneath the moonlight.
“How come you’re not playing any of your records?” Sharon asked him. Her voice was teasing. Johnny smiled at her. He was amused by her teasing him. “I’m not that Hollywood,” he said.
“Play some for me,” she said. “Or sing for me. You know, like the movies. I’ll bubble up and melt all over you just like those girls do on the screen.”
Johnny laughed outright. When he had been younger, he had done just such things and the result had always been stagy, the girls trying to look sexy and melting, making their eyes swim with desire for an imagined fantasy camera. He would never dream of singing to a girl now; for one thing, he hadn’t sung for months, he didn’t trust his voice. For another thing, amateurs didn’t realize how much professionals depended on technical help to sound as good as they did. He could have played his records but he felt the same shyness about hearing his youthful passionate voice as an aging, balding man running to fat feels about showing pictures of himself as a youth in the full bloom of manhood.
“My voice is out of shape,” he said. “And honestly, I’m sick of hearing myself sing.”
They both sipped their drinks. “I hear you’re great in this picture,” she said. “Is it true you did it for nothing?”
“Just a token payment,” Johnny said.
He got up to give her a refill on her brandy glass, gave her a gold-monogrammed cigarette and flashed his lighter out to hold the light for her. She puffed on the cigarette and sipped her drink and he sat down beside her again. His glass had considerably more brandy in it than hers, he needed it to warm himself, to cheer himself, to charge himself up. His situation was the reverse of the lover’s usual one. He had to get himself drunk instead of the girl. The girl was usually too willing where he was not. The last two years had been hell on his ego, and he used this simple way to restore it, sleeping with a young fresh girl for one night, taking her to dinner a few times, giving her an expensive present and then brushing her off in the nicest way possible so that her feelings wouldn’t be hurt. And then they could always say they had had a thing with the great Johnny Fontane. It wasn’t true love, but you couldn’t knock it if the girl was beautiful and genuinely nice. He hated the hard, bitchy ones, the ones who screwed for him and then rushed off to tell their friends that they’d screwed the great Johnny Fontane, always adding that they’d had better. What amazed him more than anything else in his career were the complaisant husbands who almost told him to his face that they forgave their wives since it was allowed for even the most virtuous matron to be unfaithful with a great singing and movie star like Johnny Fontane. That really floored him.
He loved Ella Fitzgerald on records. He loved that kind of clean singing, that kind of clean phrasing. It was the only thing in life he really understood and he knew he understood it better than anyone else on earth. Now lying back on the couch, the brandy warming his throat, he felt a desire to sing, not music, but to phrase with the records, yet it was something impossible to do in front of a stranger. He put his free hand in Sharon’s lap, sipping his drink from his other hand. Without any slyness but with the sensualness of a child seeking warmth, his hand in her lap pulled up the silk of her dress to show milky white thigh above the sheer netted gold of her stockings and as always, despite all the women, all the years, all the familiarity, Johnny felt the fluid sticky warmness flooding through his body at that sight. The miracle still happened, and what would he do when that failed him as his voice had?
He was ready now. He put his drink down on the long inlaid cocktail table and turned his body toward her. He was very sure, very deliberate, and yet tender. There was nothing sly or lecherously lascivious in his caresses. He kissed her on the lips while his hands rose to her breasts. His hand fell to her warm thighs, the skin so silky to his touch. Her returning kiss was warm but not passionate and he preferred it that way right now. He hated girls who turned on all of a sudden as if their bodies were motors galvanized into erotic pumpings by the touching of a hairy switch.
Then he did something he always did, something that had never yet failed to arouse him. Delicately and as lightly as it was possible to do so and still feel something, he brushed the tip of his middle finger deep down between her thighs. Some girls never even felt that initial move toward lovemaking. Some were distracted by it, not sure it was a physical touch because at the same time he always kissed them deeply on the mouth. Still others seemed to suck in his finger or gobble it up with a pelvic thrust. And of course before he became famous, some girls had slapped his face. It was his whole technique and usually it served him well enough.
Sharon’s reaction was unusual. She accepted it all, the touch, the kiss, then shifted her mouth off his, shifted her body ever so slightly back along the couch and picked up her drink. It was a cool but definite refusal. It happened sometimes. Rarely; but it happened. Johnny picked up his drink and lit a cigarette.
She was saying something very sweetly, very lightly. “It’s not that I don’t like you, Johnny, you’re much nicer than I thought you’d be. And it’s not because I’m not that kind of a girl. It’s just that I have to be turned on to do it with a guy, you know what I mean?”
Johnny Fontane smiled at her. He still liked her. “And I don’t turn you on?”
She was a little embarrassed. “Well, you know, when you were so great singing and all, I was still a little kid. I sort of just missed you, I was the next generation. Honest, it’s not that I’m goody-goody. If you were a movie star I grew up on, I’d have my panties off in a second.”
He didn’t like her quite so much now. She was sweet, she was witty, she was intelligent. She hadn’t fallen all over herself to screw for him or try to hustle him because his connections would help her in show biz. She was really a straight kid. But there was something else he recognized. It had happened a few times before. The girl who went on a date with her mind all made up not to go to bed with him, no matter how much she liked him, just so that she could tell her friends, and even more, herself, that she had turned down a chance to screw for the great Johnny Fontane. It was something he understood now that he was older and he wasn’t angry. He just didn’t like her quite that much and he had really liked her a lot.
And now that he didn’t like her quite so much, he relaxed more. He sipped his drink and watched the Pacific Ocean. She said, “I hope you’re not sore, Johnny. I guess I’m being square, I guess in Hollywood a girl’s supposed to put out just as casually as kissing a beau good night. I just haven’t been around long enough.”
Johnny smiled at her and patted her cheek. His hand fell down to pull her skirt discreetly over her rounded silken knees. “I’m not sore,” he said. “It’s nice having an old-fashioned date.” Not telling what he felt: the relief at not having to prove himself a great lover, not having to live up to his screened, godlike image. Not having to listen to the girl trying to react as if he really had lived up to that image, making more out of a very simple, routine piece of ass than it really was.
They had another drink, shared a few more cool kisses and then she decided to go. Johnny said politely, “Can I call you for dinner some night?”
She played it frank and honest to the end. “I know you don’t want to waste your time and then get disappointed,” she said. “Thanks for a wonderful evening. Someday I’ll tell my children I had supper with the great Johnny Fontane all alone in his apartment.”
He smiled at her. “And that you didn’t give in,” he said. They both laughed. “They’ll never believe that,” she said. And then Johnny, being a little phony in his turn, said, “I’ll give it to you in writing, want me to?” She shook her head. He continued on. “Anybody doubts you, give me a buzz on the phone, I’ll straighten them right out. I’ll tell them how I chased you all around the apartment but you kept your honor. OK?”
He had, finally, been a little too cruel and he felt stricken at the hurt on her young face. She understood that he was telling her that he hadn’t tried too hard. He had taken the sweetness of her victory away from her. Now she would feel that it had been her lack of charm or attractiveness that had made her the victor this night. And being the girl she was, when she told the story of how she resisted the great Johnny Fontane, she would always have to add with a wry little smile, “Of course, he didn’t try very hard.” So now taking pity on her, he said, “If you ever feel real down, give me a ring. OK? I don’t have to shack up every girl I know.”
“I will,” she said. She went out the door.
He was left with a long evening before him. He could have used what Jack Woltz called the “meat factory,” the stable of willing starlets, but he wanted human companionship. He wanted to talk like a human being. He thought of his first wife, Virginia. Now that the work on the picture was finished he would have more time for the kids. He wanted to become part of their life again. And he worried about Virginia too. She wasn’t equipped to handle the Hollywood sharpies who might come after her just so that they could brag about having screwed Johnny Fontane’s first wife. As far as he knew, nobody could say that yet. Everybody could say it about his second wife though, he thought wryly. He picked up the phone.
He recognized her voice immediately and that was not surprising. He had heard it the first time when he was ten years old and they had been in 4B together. “Hi, Ginny,” he said, “you busy tonight? Can I come over for a little while?”
“All right,” she said. “The kids are sleeping though; I don’t want to wake them up.”
“That’s OK,” he said. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
Her voice hesitated slightly, then carefully controlled not to show any concern, she asked, “Is it anything serious, anything important?”
“No,” Johnny said. “I finished the picture today and I thought maybe I could just see you and talk to you. Maybe I could take a look at the kids if you’re sure they won’t wake up.”
“OK,” she said. “I’m glad you got that part you wanted.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll see you in about a half hour.”
When he got to what had been his home in Beverly Hills, Johnny Fontane sat in the car for a moment staring at the house. He remembered what his Godfather had said, that he could make his own life what he wanted. Great chance if you knew what you wanted. But what did he want?
His first wife was waiting for him at the door. She was pretty, petite and brunette, a nice Italian girl, the girl next door who would never fool around with another man and that had been important to him. Did he still want her, he asked himself, and the answer was no. For one thing, he could no longer make love to her, their affection had grown too old. And there were some things, nothing to do with sex, she could never forgive him. But they were no longer enemies.
She made him coffee and served him homemade cookies in the living room. “Stretch out on the sofa,” she said, “you look tired.” He took off his jacket and his shoes and loosened his tie while she sat in the chair opposite him with a grave little smile on her face. “It’s funny,” she said.
“What’s funny?” he asked her, sipping coffee and spilling some of it on his shirt.
“The great Johnny Fontane stuck without a date,” she said.
“The great Johnny Fontane is lucky if he can even get it up anymore,” he said.
It was unusual for him to be so direct. Ginny asked, “Is there something really the matter?”
Johnny grinned at her. “I had a date with a girl in my apartment and she brushed me off. And you know, I was relieved.”
To his surprise he saw a look of anger pass over Ginny’s face. “Don’t worry about those little tramps,” she said. “She must have thought that was the way to get you interested in her.” And Johnny realized with amusement that Ginny was actually angry with the girl who had turned him down.
“Ah, what the hell,” he said. “I’m tired of that stuff. I have to grow up sometime. And now that I can’t sing anymore I guess I’ll have a tough time with dames. I never got in on my looks, you know.”
She said loyally, “You were always better looking than you photographed.”
Johnny shook his head. “I’m getting fat and I’m getting bald. Hell, if this picture doesn’t make me big again I better learn how to bake pizzas. Or maybe we’ll put you in the movies, you look great.”
She looked thirty-five. A good thirty-five, but thirty-five. And out here in Hollywood that might as well be a hundred. The young beautiful girls thronged through the city like lemmings, lasting one year, some two. Some of them so beautiful they could make a man’s heart almost stop beating until they opened their mouths, until the greedy hopes for success clouded the loveliness of their eyes. Ordinary women could never hope to compete with them on a physical level. And you could talk all you wanted to about charm, about intelligence, about chic, about poise, the raw beauty of these girls overpowered everything else. Perhaps if there were not so many of them there might be a chance for an ordinary, nice-looking woman. And since Johnny Fontane could have all of them, or nearly all of them, Ginny knew that he was saying all this just to flatter her. He had always been nice that way. He had always been polite to women even at the height of his fame, paying them compliments, holding lights for their cigarettes, opening doors. And since an this was usually done for him, it made it even more impressive to the girls he went out with. And he did it with all girls, even the one-night stands, I-don’t-know-your-name girls.
She smiled at him, a friendly smile. “You already made me, Johnny, remember? For twelve years. You don’t have to give me your line.”
He sighed and stretched out on the sofa. “No kidding, Ginny, you look good. I wish I looked that good.”
She didn’t answer him. She could see he was depressed. “Do you think the picture is OK? Will it do you some good?” she asked.
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. It could bring me all the way back. If I get the Academy thing and play my cards right, I can make it big again even without the singing. Then maybe I can give you and the kids more dough.”
“We have more than enough,” Ginny said.
“I wants see more of the kids too,” Johnny said. “I want to settle down a little bit. Why can’t I come every Friday night for dinner here? I swear I’ll never miss one Friday, I don’t care how far away I am or how busy I am. And then whenever I can I’ll spend weekends or maybe the kids can spend some part of their vacations with me.”
Ginny put an ashtray on his chest. “It’s OK with me,” she said. “I never got married because I wanted you to keep being their father.” She said this without any kind of emotion, but Johnny Fontane, staring up at the ceiling, knew she said it as an atonement for those other things, the cruel things she had once said to him when their marriage had broken up, when his career had started going down the drain.
“By the way, guess who called me,” she said.
Johnny wouldn’t play that game, he never did. “Who?” he asked.
Ginny said, “You could take at least one lousy guess.” Johnny didn’t answer. “Your Godfather,” she said.
Johnny was really surprised. “He never talks to anybody on the phone. What did he say to you?”
“He told me to help you,” Ginny said. “He said you could be as big as you ever were, that you were on your way back, but that you needed people to believe in you. I asked him why should I? And he said because you’re the father of my children. He’s such a sweet old guy and they tell such horrible stories about him.”
Virginia hated phones and she had had all the extensions taken out except for the one in her bedroom and one in the kitchen. Now they could hear the kitchen phone ringing. She went to answer it. When she came back into the living room there was a look of surprise on her face. “It’s for you, Johnny,” she said. “It’s Tom Hagen. He says it’s important.”
Johnny went into the kitchen and picked up the phone. “Yeah, Tom,” he said.
Tom Hagen’s voice was cool. “Johnny, the Godfather wants me to come out and see you and set some things up that can help you out now that the picture is finished. He wants me to catch the morning plane. Can you meet it in Los Angeles? I have to fly back to New York the same night so you won’t have to worry about keeping your night free for me.”
“Sure, Tom,” Johnny said. “And don’t worry about me losing a night. Stay over and relax a bit. I’ll throw a party and you can meet some movie people.” He always made that offer, he didn’t want the folks from his old neighborhood to think he was ashamed of them.
“Thanks,” Hagen said, “but I really have to catch the early morning plane back. OK, you’ll meet the eleven-thirty A.M. out of New York?”
“Sure,” Johnny said.
“Stay in your car,” Hagen said. “Send one of your people to meet me when I get off the plane and bring me to you.”
“Right,” Johnny said.
He went back to the living room and Ginny looked at him inquiringly. “My Godfather has some plan for me, to help me out,” Johnny said. “He got me the part in the movie, I don’t know how. But I wish he’d stay out of the rest of it.”
He went back onto the sofa. He felt very tired. Ginny said, “Why don’t you sleep in the guest bedroom tonight instead of going home? You can have breakfast with the kids and you won’t have to drive home so late. I hate to think of you all alone in that house of yours anyway. Don’t you get lonely?”
“I don’t stay home much,” Johnny said.
She laughed and said, “Then you haven’t changed much.” She paused and then said, “Shall I fix up the other bedroom?”
Johnny said, “Why can’t I sleep in your bedroom?”
She flushed. “No,” she said. She smiled at him and he smiled back. They were still friends.
When Johnny woke up the next morning it was late, he could tell by the sun coming in through the drawn blinds. It never came in that way unless it was in the afternoon. He yelled, “Hey, Ginny, do I still rate breakfast?” And far away he heard her voice call, “Just a second.”
And it was just a second. She must have had everything ready, hot in the oven, the tray waiting to be loaded, because as Johnny lit his fast cigarette of the day, the door of the bedroom opened and his two small daughters came in wheeling the breakfast cart.
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 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.