Puzo family blasts Paramount with Godfather countersuit

The estate of The Godfather author Mario Puzo is embroiled in duelling lawsuits with Paramount Pictures, the movie studio behind the classic film versions of his Mafia tale.
Director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Robert De Niro on the set of the film The Godfather: Part II. Paramount has filed a lawsuit to block the forthcoming literary prequel novel The Corleone Family, which explores the rise of De Niro's character, Vito Corleone, and was approved by author Mario Puzo's estate. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The estate of The Godfather author Mario Puzo is embroiled in duelling lawsuits with Paramount Pictures, the movie studio behind the classic film versions of his Mafia tale.

In February, Paramount sued the late author's son Anthony Puzo in order to block the publication of a new, upcoming prequel novel inspired by his father's The Godfather.

The Puzo family's case, filed Monday in Manhattan federal court, is a countersuit. It claims Paramount has interfered with a publishing contract the studio struck with the heirs a decade ago and also breached an earlier, 1960s-era agreement with the author.

Mario Puzo began his saga of the Corleone family with the bestselling novel The Godfather in 1969 and continued with The Sicilian in 1984. Though he died in 1999, the novel Omerta was published posthumously in 2000. He and Francis Ford Coppola won a pair of adapted screenplay Oscars for the film adaptations The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II.

Upcoming instalment

Award-winning writer and educator Ed Falco is scheduled to release his novel The Family Corleone — set in New York in 1933 during Vito Corleone's rise to power — this summer.

Falco, who has previously tackled the theme of violence in his fiction and has the blessing of the Puzo estate, is also the uncle of Edie Falco, the Emmy-winning actress who starred in the acclaimed mob series The Sopranos.

The Paramount lawsuit accuses Puzo's heirs of approving two sequel novels — The Godfather Returns (2004) and The Godfather's Revenge (2006), both penned by Mark Winegardner — without first seeking the studio's permission and in violation of an agreement to forgo any new literary sequels.

"Paramount has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo and his legacy," the movie studio said in a statement.

"We are only seeking to adhere to the terms of the deal that were agreed upon by Mr. Puzo himself."

Meanwhile, the estate's countersuit charges that Paramount's original deal with Puzo excluded subsequent publication of additional books that featured characters from The Godfather in new or similar situations.

The heirs also allege that their father received only "minimal payment" from Paramount for the rights to The Godfather. So, they are calling on the court to terminate the studio's 1969 deal with Puzo and award the estate more than $10 million US in damages.

"Mario Puzo brought vast wealth to Paramount at a time when they desperately needed it. Now that he's gone, Paramount's trying to deprive his children of the rights he specifically reserved," entertainment lawyer Bert Fields, who is counselling the Puzo family, said in a statement Tuesday.

"I promised Mario I'd protect his kids from this kind of reprehensible conduct."