|First appearance||The Godfather (novel)|
|Last appearance||The Godfather Part III|
|Created by||Mario Puzo|
|Portrayed by||Al Martino|
|Relatives||Vito Corleone (Godfather)|
John "Johnny" Fontane is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and the series of films based upon it. In Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of the novel, he was portrayed by Al Martino, the role having been turned down by Vic Damone.
Novel and film
In the novel and film, Fontane is a famous crooner and occasional film star in the vein of Frank Sinatra. He is also the godson of Vito Corleone, the head of a major Mafia crime family. The Corleone family intervenes four times to aid his career. The first, years before the novel's and film's main time frame, Vito used violent persuasion (an "offer he can't refuse") to buy out Fontane's ironclad contract with a big bandleader; after the bandleader declines Vito's first offer to buy out the contract, he orders his personal assassin Luca Brasi to place a gun to the man's forehead, telling the bandleader that either his signature or his brains would be on the contract.
The second, the infamous "horse-head" scene, is an act of intimidation, carried out at the Godfather's behest to ensure Fontane is cast in a war film that could revitalize the singer's career. The film's producer, Jack Woltz, despises Fontane for "ruining" an actress he was grooming for stardom and had been having an affair with, and thus blacklists the singer from the production. After Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen fails to persuade Woltz to cast Fontane, Woltz awakens soon after to find his prize racehorse's severed head in his bed as a warning. Terrified, Woltz relents and casts Fontane. Months later, Vito uses his Hollywood connections to ensure that Fontane wins the Academy Award for Best Actor. Finally, the Corleones finance Fontane's film studio.
Fontane is a minor character in the movie adaptation. In the original novel, however, the character is far more central, with large portions of the book dedicated to his adventures and misadventures in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada, his precarious relationship with childhood friend and former partner Nino Valenti, and his struggles with losing his singing voice. In the novel, Fontane develops (and eventually is cured of) lesions on his vocal cords.
Fontane was widely believed to have been based on Frank Sinatra. While Puzo never made this claim, he also never denied it.
The character is expanded upon in the novel The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner. In the 2004 novel, he campaigns for the presidential election of his friend, James Kavanaugh "Jimmy" Shea, believed to be based on former President John F. Kennedy.
In Winegardner's sequel The Godfather's Revenge, Fontane becomes romantically involved with Francesca Corleone, daughter of Sonny. They are married at the end of the novel. In this novel, the real Sinatra is mentioned twice, even within a discussion between Fontane and Francesca.
According to Al Martino, he was cast in the film in a similar manner to his own character Johnny Fontane. Martino claims that he used a connection to Mafia boss Russell Bufalino to intervene on his behalf and secure his role in the film. Martino was much older than the character.