When Coppola first read Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather, the filmmaker was disappointed to find that the story was more of a “potboiler” and not the intellectual treatise on power that he envisioned.
But just as he felt Puzo—whose previous books he admired—had churned out some bestseller fodder to make money in this case, he admitted that he needed the paycheck, too, so he took the job.
Reservations aside, the film’s story hews closely to the novel, minus the subplot involving—as Coppola put it on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2016—the character Lucy Mancini’s “private anatomy problems.” Cutting that out, he said, “didn’t harm the remaining part, which we all know.”
But signing on to make the movie was only the beginning of a seemingly endless array of disagreements with the studio, over everything from the time period (“the script had hippies in it,” he recalled to NPR) to the location (“they took me on a trip to look around at Italian neighborhoods in Kansas City”) to every actor he wanted for the main roles.
When all was said and sparred over, though, The Godfather made more than $250 million at the worldwide box office (making it the highest-grossing release ever until Jaws came out in 1975) and is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time. But though it was named Best Picture at the 1973 Academy Awards and Coppola and Puzo shared the Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Coppola lost Best Director to Cabaret helmer Bob Fosse (you can watch all that jazz unfold in the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon). He’d win for The Godfather: Part II in 1975.