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Salvatore Tessio

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We'll need 'em now. After the hospital thing, Sonny got mad. We hit Bruno Tattaglia at four o'clock this morning.
~ Sal Tessio

Salvatore "Sal" Tessio was a secondary antagonist from The Godfather novel and movies. He was one of the two original caporegimes of the Corleone Family.

Born in Sicily Tessio immigrated to the United States at a young age. By 1917 he was living in the Hell's Kitchen part of New York City. During that time he became friends with another young immigrant named Peter Clemenza. Clemenza introduced him to his neighbor Vito Corleone and the three were soon friends. The three became friends as they carried out petty crimes and performed favors in exchange for loyalty.

The three men came to the attention of the local pardone Don Fanucci, who attempted to extort money from them. Frightened both Tessio and Clemenza both wanted to pay off Fanucci, convinced that he was a mobster. Vito however thought Fanucci was an independent operator who was tricking local immigrants into thinking he was a member of the Mafia. He talked Tessio and Clemenza into only giving Fanucci a fraction of what he demanded. Vito met Fanucci in a cafe and gave him the money. Fanucci was impressed with Vito's courage and accepted the money. This confirmed to Vito that Fanucci was not a member of the Mafia. During a festival he shot and killed Fanucci - with the sounds of the festival covering up the noise.

The killing established Vito as the leader of the group. Together they took over Fanucci's neighborhood, treating the people there with far more respect then Fanucci ever did. Vito soon became a powerful and respected figure in the neighborhood. Vito soon set up Genco Olive Oil Importers as a front for his criminal activities.

By the 1930s Vito had established the Corleone mafia family as one of the five mafia families in New York City. As such he founded the Commission with other mafia families. Tessio became one of the two original caporegimes in the family with Clemenza. Tessio ran Corleone operations in Brooklyn. The two respected Vito so much that they no longer called Vito by his first name, instead calling him Don Vito or Godfather.

In the early 1950s Vito retired as the Don of the family, turning over power to his youngest son Michael Corleone. Tessio thought highly of Michael, but didn't think that he would be able to maintain the family after Vito died. He began plotting with the Barzini family to have Michael assassinated, leaving him clear to take over the Corleone family. Shortly before Vito died he warned Michael that someone would approach him about attending truce talks with Barzini after his death and that Michael would be assassinated at that meeting.

Vito died in 1955. At Vito's funeral he approached Michael and told him that Barzini wanted to talk peace and that he could arrange it to take place in Brooklyn. This confirmed to Michael that Tessio was the traitor. Consigliere Tom Hagen was surprised at this, thinking Clemenza would have turned, not Tessio. Michael responded that this was the smart move and that Tessio had always been the smarter of the capos.

YoungSalTessio

A young Sal Tessio.

A few days later as they prepared to leave for the talks Cicci informed Tessio that Michael would come in a separate car. Tessio complained that this was messing up his arrangements, at which point Hagen told him he couldn't come either. As soldiers surrounded him Tessio realized that he had been found out. He told Hagen to tell Michael that it had not been personal, only business. Hagen assured Tessio that Michael knew that. Tessio asked Hagen if he could get him off the hook, Hagen said he couldn't do it. Tessio was led away to be killed as Michael and Hagen looked on.

Trivia

  • The older Sal Tessio was portrayed by Abe Vigoda in the first Godfather movie. He returned for a cameo in the flashback scene at the end of the second movie. The younger Sal Tessio was played by John Aprea in the The Godfather II.

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