“You’re asking if he is a Sicilian.“

The Don had not seemed surprised when Hagen returned from California late tuesday evening and told him the results of the negotiations with Woltz. He had made Hagen go over every detail and grimaced with distaste when Hagen told about the beautiful little girl and her mother. Had had murmured “infamita,“ his strongest disapproval. He had asked Hagen one final question, “does this man have real balls?“

Hagen considered exactly when the Don meant by this question. Over the years he had learned that the Don’s values were so different from those of most people that his words also could have a different meaning. Did Woltz have character? Did he have a strong will? He most certainly didn’t, but that was not what the Don was asking. Did the movie producer have the courage not to be bluffed? Did he have the willingness to suffer heavy financial loss delay on his movies would mean, the scandal of his big star exposed as a user of heroin? Again the answer was yes. But again this was not what the Don meant. Finally Hagen translated the question properly in his mind. Did Jack woltz have the balls to risk everything, to run the chance of losing all on a matter of principle, on a matter of honor; for revenge?

Hagen smiled. He did it rarely but now but he could not resist jesting with the Don. “You’re asking if he is a Sicilian.“ The Don nodded his head pleasantly, acknowledging the flattering witticism and its truth. “No,“ Hagen said.

That had been all. The Don had pondered the question until the next day. on Wednesday afternoon he had called Hagen to his home and given him his instructions. The instructions had consumed the rest of Hagen’s working day and left him dazed with admiration. There was no question in his mind that the Don had solved the problem, that Woltz would call him this morning with the news that Johnny Fontane had the starring part in his new war movie.

At that moment the phone did ring but it was Amerigo Bonasera. The undertaker’s voice was trembling with gratitude. He wanted Hagen to convey to the Don his undying friendship. the Don had only to call on him. He, amerigo Bonasera, would lay down his life for the blessed Godfather. Hagen assured him that the Don would be told.

The Daily News had carried a middle-page spread of Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan lying in the street. The photos were expertly gruesome, they seemed to be pulps of human beings. Miraculously, said the News, they were both still alive though they would both be in the hospital for months and would require plastic surgery. Hagen made a note to tell Clemenza that something should be done for Paulie Gatto. He seemed to know his job.

Hagen worked quickly and efficiently for the next three hours consolidating earning reports from the Don’s real estate company, his olive oil importing business and his construction firm. None of them were doing well but with the war over they should all become rich producers. He had almost forgotten the Johnny Fontaine problem when his secretary told him California was calling. He felt a little thrill of anticipation as he picked up the phone and said, “Hagen here.“

The voice that came over the phone was unrecognizable with hate and passion. “You fucking bastard,“ Woltz screamed. “I’ll have you all in jail for a hundred years. I’ll spend every penny I have to get you. I’ll get that Johnny Fontane’s balls cut off, do you hear me, you guinea fuck?“

Hagan said kindly, “I’m German-Irish.“ There was a long pause and then a click of the phone being hung up. Hagen smiled. Not once had Woltz uttered a threat against Don Corleone himself. Genius had its rewards.

Jack Woltz always slept alone. He had a bed big enough for ten people and a bedroom large enough for a movie ballroom scene, but he had slept alone since the death of his first wife ten years before. This did not mean he no longer used women. He was physically a vigorous man despite his age, but he could be aroused not by only very young girls and had learned that a few hours in the evening were all the youth his body and his patience could tolerate.

On this Thursday morning, for some reason, he awoke early. The light of dawn made his huge bedroom as misty as a foggy meadowland. Far down at the foot of his bed was a familiar shape and Woltz struggled up on his elbows to get a clearer look. It had the shape of a horse’s head. Still groggy. Woltz reached and flicked on the night table lamp.

The shock of what he saw made him physically ill. It seemed as if a great sledgehammer had struck him on the chest, his heartbeat jumped erratically and he became nauseous. His vomit splattered on the thick bear rug.

Severed from its body, the black silky head of the great horse Khartoum was stuck fast in a thick cake of blood. White, reedy tendons showed. Froth covered the muzzle and those apple-sized eyes that had glinted like gold, were mottled the color of rotting fruit with dead, hemorrhaged blood. Woltz was struck by a purely animal terror and out of the terror he screamed for his servants and out of the terror he called Hagen to make his uncontrolled threats. His maniacal raving alarmed the butler, who called Woltz’s personal physician and his second in command at the studio. But Woltz regained his senses before they arrived.

He had been profoundly shocked. What kind of man could destroy an animal worth six hundred thousand dollars? Without a word of warning. Without any negotiation to have the act, its order, countermanded. The ruthlessness, the sheer disregard for any values, implied a man who considered himself completely his own law, even his own God. And a man who backed up this kind of will with the power and cunning that held his own stable security force of no account. For by this time Woltz had learned that the horse’s body had obviously been heavily drugged before someone leisurely hacked the huge triangular head off with an ax. The men on night duty claimed that they had heard nothing. To Woltz this seemed impossible. The could be made to talk. They had been bought off and they could be made to tell who had done the buying.

Woltz was not a stupid man, he was merely a supremely egotistical one. He had mistaken the power he wielded in his world to be more potent than the power of Don Corleone. He had merely needed some proof that this was not true. He understood this message. That despite all his wealth, despite all his contacts with the President of the United States, despite all his claims of friendship with director of the FBI, an obscure importer of Italian olive oil would have him killed. would actually have him killed! Because he wouldn’t give Johnny Fontane a movie part he wanted. It was incredible. People didn’t have any right to act that way. There couldn’t be any kind of world if people acted that way. It was insane. It meant you couldn’t do what you wanted with your own money, with the companies you owned , the power you had to give orders. It was ten times worse than communism. It had to be smashed. It must never be allowed.

Woltz let the doctor give him a very mild sedation. It helped him calm down again and to think sensibly. What really shocked him was the casualness with which this man Corleone had ordered the destruction of a world-famous horse worth six hundred thousand dollars. Six hundred thousand dollars! And that was just for openers. Woltz shuddered. He thought of this life he had built up. He was rich. He could have the most beautiful women in the world by crooking his finger and promising a contract. He was received by kings and queens. He lived a life as perfect as money and power could make it. It was crazy to risk all this because of a whim. Maybe he could get to Corleone. What was the legal penalty for killing a racehorse? He laughed wildly and his doctor and servants watched him with nervous anxiety. Another thought occurred to him. He would be the laughingstock of California merely because someone had contemptuously defied his power in such arrogant fashion. That decided him. That and the thought that maybe, maybe they wouldn’t kill him. That they had something much more clever and painful in reserve.

Woltz gave the necessary orders. His personal confidential staff swung into action. The servants and the doctor were sworn to secrecy on pain of incurring the studio’s and Woltz’ undying enmity. Word was given to the press that the racehorse Khartoum had died of an illness contracted during his shipment from England. Orders were given to bury the remains in a secret place on the estate.

Six hours later Johnny Fontane received a phone call from the executive producer of the film telling him to report for work the following Monday.

– from “The Godfather“
Mario Puzo

The Godfather, The Undertaker, and Informal Systems

In recent talks I have found an anecdote that has worked well to explain the difference between formal and informal systems that most Americans can relate to. The book The Godfather opens with:

Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her. (pg 3)

bridgeThe two young men who did this were set free by a corrupt judge. Amerigo Bonasera, the Sicilian Undertaker, concludes “For justice we must go on our knees to Don Corleone.” The formal American system in this fictional book has failed our Undertaker. So he reaches out to the informal system in his community; Don Corleone. When they meet on the day of Corleone’s daughter’s funeral, a day “that by tradition no Sicilian can refuse a request” (pg 17), Amerigo asks the Godfather to have the men killed. Corleone refuses and rebukes Amerigo for basically being a rainy-day-friend. Corleone says:

“…until this day you never came to me for counsel or help. I can’t remember the last time you invited me to your house for coffee though my wife is godmother to your only child. Let us be frank. You spurned my friendship. You feared to be in my debt. … Now you come to me and say, ‘Don Corleone give me justice.'” (pg 21)

he continues

“Why do you fear to give your allegiance to me? … if you had come to me, my purse would have been yours. If you had come to me for justice those scum who ruined your daughter would be weeping bitter tears this day. If by some misfortune an honest man like yourself made enemies they would become my enemies” – the Don raised his finger pointing at Bonasera – “and then, believe me, they would fear you.”

“you shall have your justice. Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do me a service in return. Until that day, consider this justice a gift from my wife, your daughter’s godmother.” (pg 23)

Justice is delivered on page 53 “… they seemed to be pulps of human beings. Miraculously, said the News, they were both still alive though they would both be in the hospital for months and would require plastic surgery.” – And the Undertaker owes the Godfather.

All of us can relate to this story, particularly if we have children. “I don’t need you! I’m (an adult/in high school/have my own job/etc/etc) now! I can do it on my own!” But really NONE of us can do it on our own, with any level of success at least. It takes support from both formal and informal systems. Success requires support from family, the rule of law, the employer and these days more and more success requires the full support of extended urban tribes.

For Public Relations folks, I like to bring up the shift from formal distribution (traditional mainstream media) to informal distribution (bloggers, youtube, twitter brand attacks). In my opinion, many people in PR and in media DO understand the shift from centralized to distributed (long tail, small pieces loosely joined) media. Yet what they potentially don’t fully understand is the shift in authority from the police to the Don Corleone’s of the world. And let us not forget the Godfather wasn’t exactly a saint, collecting protection money, bribing the police and “knocking off” the competition.

For public relations professionals, the bloggers are hidden (no Bacon’s directory! gasp!). And bloggers are completely biased and proud of it. And have authority far beyond what a small olive importer should have. From the bloggers perspective the world is finally acknowledging their informal system of authority. About time.

Just an observation about the shift from formal authority in the media to a more informal system. And we all need to get to know and be friends with the new kids in town. With respect.