How Mario Puzo penned ‘The Godfather’ to get out of debt — and made bank


In the late 1960s, Mario Puzo retreated to the basement nook that served as his office to work on a new book. The broom-closet-like space beneath his Long Island house had enough room for a desk, a typewriter and little more.

The basement also held a pool table, and while Puzo typed away, his five children would come down and play loud games, forcing Puzo to admonish the brood.

“He’d say, ‘Keep it down, I’m writing a best-seller,’” Puzo’s eldest child, Tony, tells The Post.

The kids rolled their eyes and snickered. Their father’s claim was so laughable because, at that point, Puzo was a long way from the best-seller list. His previous two novels were well-reviewed but had sold about enough copies to fill a modest station wagon.

So Puzo had decided to sell out. He put his highbrow literary aspirations aside and set out to pen a big, honking, commercial book that would bring him fame and fortune. Or at least enough money to pay off his mounting debts.

The result was “The Godfather,” published 50 years ago next week, and a book that, as he promised his children, did indeed become a best-seller — and then some.

The Mafia tale had its roots in rough Hell’s Kitchen, where Puzo was raised by Italian immigrants. His father worked for the railroad and abandoned the family when Mario was 12. (He was later diagnosed with a mental illness.)

Puzo’s stern mother kept him clear of the gangs that dominated the neighborhood back then, and the young man spent his free time reading books checked out from the public library.