- "You can never lose your family."
- ―Carmela Corleone to Michael.[src]
Carmela Corleone was born to a Sicilian family in 1897, many of whom lived near Corleone. She came to the United States sometime after the turn of the century and married Vito Corleone at the age of sixteen. They both occupied a small apartment in the Bronx, accompanied by neighbors Peter Clemenza and Signora Anita Colombo. After two years, they had their first child, Santino. Carmela suffered several miscarriages in the following years before giving birth to her second child, the sickly Fredo. At this time, Vito was struggling to make ends meet, as Don Fanucci had forced him out of his job at Abbandando Grosseria.
Vito killed Fanucci in 1920, and Carmela seemed to learn of this fact, as the entire neighborhood began to treat him as a 'man of respect'. She brought her friend Signora Colombo to Vito when the widow needed a favor, and her husband helped her out, later becoming godfather to her son Ruggerio.
- "She was quite content not to share the pain of her men, after all did they share the pain of women?"
Carmela became used to life in the Corleone crime family, and she bore Vito two more children, Michael and Connie as well as becoming godmother to Amerigo Bonasera's daughter Maria Bonasera due to her friendship with Mrs. Bonasera. She also accepted Tom Hagen as a son when Sonny brought him home. Both Sonny and Tom later married Sicilian women and she had many grandchildren within her lifetime. Carmela was greatly respected within her family and her children, more or less, tended to bend to her instruction at all times.
She twice had to live with the harsher side of her husband's life, when he was shot by an Irish gang in 1934, and by Virgil Sollozzo's men in 1945. Despite this, the two of them maintained a loving relationship in 40 years of marriage, and Vito never sought a mistress or ever found the need to strike his wife.
Carmela diligently managed the household in times of both peace and trouble, knowing the schemes of her sons and the nature of husband's associates. She was a skilled singer, as shown by her talent during Connie's wedding. She often warned the wives of her sons, including Sandra (Sonny's wife) and Kay, about the truth of their actions. Carmela was unnerved that her husband had turned from the kind and quiet man she'd married into a ruthless crime boss. She prayed for his soul nearly every day in hopes that he didn't end up "down there". She taught her children faith and regularly lectured them, especially Tom Hagen, on their habits. She was very close to her son Fredo, who continued to live with his parents into adulthood.
She was devastated by the shooting of her husband in 1945 and the death of her eldest child, Sonny.
The move to Tahoe
After the deaths of Sonny and Vito, Carmela moved with Michael to Nevada, living in one of the houses in Lake Tahoe. She maintained a close relationship with Kay, and helped convert her to Catholicism so that she might pray to God for her husband's immortal soul, like Carmela did for her husband. Carmela was often made to look after Connie's children Victor and Michael when their mother went off with her latest man to Europe, and repeatedly chastised her daughter for this lackluster parenting. Her health declined in the years following the move, and Carmela missed her home in New York.
Shortly before his senate hearing, Michael sought his mother's advice about the deteriorating state of his family. She died shortly after this. When he found out that Fredo had betrayed him to Hyman Roth, Michael banished him from the family, but let it be known that he didn't want Fredo harmed while their mother was still alive. Their mother's death inspired Connie to reconcile with Michael. It was at Carmela's funeral when Michael gave Al Neri the order to kill her son, Fredo.
Behind the scenes
- Carmela Corleone is portrayed by Morgana King as an older woman and Francesca De Sapio in her youth. When King expressed uncertainty about appearing in an open coffin, Coppola had his mother Italia fill in for her.
- She makes a cameo appearance in The Godfather: The Game, she appeared in the background talking with Scottie Harris in the mission where Aldo Trapani must convince Emilio to work for Corleones. Other than this she is only seen in Corleone mall, cooking or smoking outside. Here she bears little resemblance vocally or facially to her film counterpart; instead, her design is based on her novel description (black eyes, wrinkly face and a friendly smile).
- In the original novel, Carmela speaks mostly in broken, heavily accented English. In the films, however, her English is almost perfect. She is also not given a first name in the novel, only being called "Mama Corleone". In other officially licensed media, her name is sometimes misspelled as "Carmella" instead of "Carmela".
- Like the actress that portrays her, Morgana King, and as seen at Connie's wedding, Carmela is apparently a skilled singer.