- "Is it true?"
- ―Kay Adams[src]
Katherine "Kay" Michelson (née Adams), formerly Kay Corleone, was the long-term girlfriend, then second wife, of Michael Corleone. She is a schoolteacher by profession and the mother of Anthony and Mary Corleone.
Kay was born to Thornton Adams, a Baptist pastor from New Hampshire, and his wife Agnes Adams. An excellent student, she was admitted to Dartmouth College and met Michael in 1945 while studying education there. Though Kay and Michael believed their relationship to be a secret, Kay's concerned parents had read some of her mail and discovered the truth, but did not disapprove of the relationship.
As a non-Italian, she was somewhat of an outsider from the beginning and symbolized Michael's initial desire to live a more Americanized life, in contrast to the Corleone family's criminal enterprises. She attended Connie's wedding with Michael, and most of the guests thought her to be somewhat more free-spirited than they'd come to expect from an unmarried woman. Kay was taken aback when Michael told her how his father helped Johnny Fontane's career by threatening to kill his manager, but Michael assured her "that's my family Kay, not me".
After Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey to avenge the assassination attempt on his father in 1946, he and Kay are separated while he takes refuge in Sicily. On at least one occasion, she asked Tom Hagen to give Michael a letter, but Tom refused out of concern for possible criminal liability. In the meantime, Kay graduated from Dartmouth and took a job as an elementary school teacher in her hometown. During this time, she developed a warm relationship with Michael's mother, Carmela, who encouraged her to move on from Michael.
While Michael was in hiding, he married a local woman, Apollonia Vitelli, who was killed by a car bomb intended for Michael. He returns to the United States two years later and traveled to New Hampshire to reunite with Kay. By this time, Michael had been named as his father's heir apparent, and Kay was surprised and confused to find out Michael was now fully immersed in his family's criminal enterprises. However, after Michael promises to make the Corleone family completely legitimate within five years, Kay agrees to marry him, with the understanding that there were certain parts of his life that they couldn't share. Due to Michael's marriage to Apollonia taking place entirely in Sicily, Kay is apparently unaware that Michael was a widower when he returned to America. She did, however, notice that he was somewhat rougher in bed when they had sex. Kay eventually had two children with Michael, Anthony and Mary. They were born within two years of each other, leading Michael to joke that Kay is "more Italian than Yankee". Kay replies that Michael is "more Yankee than Italian" because he always brings his work home with him.
Michael becomes operating head of the Corleone family in 1954, and succeeds his father as Don after his death a year later. When a hysterical Connie accused Michael of orchestrating a wave of murders — including that of her husband, Carlo Rizzi — Kay asked Michael if his sister is telling the truth. Michael initially refused to tell her, but in response to her repeated pleas, falsely denies that he is responsible. Immediately afterward, Michael received his caporegimes, and Peter Clemenza kissed Michael's hand and greeted him as "Don Corleone". Unknown to them, Kay watched the whole thing. She realized Connie was telling the truth after all, and her husband has become his father's successor in every way. Horrified, she initially fled back to New Hampshire with their children, but Tom Hagen eventually persuaded her to return. Upon her return, Kay converted to Catholicism, going to Mass every day to pray for her husband's soul, just as Carmela had done for Vito.
Life in Nevada
Kay is still very isolated from the decisions Michael makes as the new Don. However, she is not content to be as docile as Carmela had been. During her third pregnancy, she implores Michael to fulfill his promise of legitimizing the family business, as seven years have passed despite his promise that the family would be legitimate in five. Michael makes a sincere effort to break the family's criminal ties, but his escalating war with rival Hyman Roth keeps him trapped in the criminal underworld and in his personal obsession with revenge.
When assassins sent by Roth attempt to kill Michael by shooting through the windows of his bedroom, Kay is present and nearly killed, but everyone manages to escape unharmed. Michael then leaves to attempt to find and deal with the perpetrators of the assassination, leaving Tom Hagen in charge. Hagen, under Michael's orders, refuses to let Kay leave the Lake Tahoe compound.
- "Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that's unholy and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael! I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son! A son! And I had it killed because this must all end!"
- ―Kay Adams[src]
Kay is increasingly repulsed by Michael's criminal life, particularly the fact that Michael's button men have become Anthony's playmates. She also fears that if the baby turns out to be another son, it will tie them to the Mafia forever. During Michael's trip to Cuba, Kay decides to leave Michael for good. She sets her plan in motion by secretly aborting the baby and passing it off as a miscarriage.
A few months later, the Senate's investigation of Michael collapses when Michael intimidates turncoat capo Frank Pentangeli into recanting his testimony against him. After the hearing, Kay tells Michael that she is leaving him and taking the children with her. Michael, under the belief that she miscarried, tries to convince her to stay, promising that he would change, but Kay is unwilling to listen and finally reveals the truth to him – her "miscarriage" was really an abortion. Enraged, he hits her across the face; the two are soon after divorced.
Initially, Michael retained custody of the children, but some time after ordering Fredo Corleone's murder, he relinquished them to Kay. They had a somewhat frosty relationship over the years, which grew even chillier when Anthony told her that Michael had ordered the death of his uncle Fredo.
A new life
- "I know now that it's over. I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael - no way that you could ever forgive me. Not with this "Sicillian thing" that's been going on for 2000 years!"
- ―Kay Adams[src]
- "You won't take my children, Kay."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
- "I... I will!"
- ―Kay Adams[src]
- "You won't take my children!"
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
- "They're my children too!"
- ―Kay Adams[src]
By 1979, Kay and Michael have not been in contact since 1971, and Kay has remarried to Douglas Michelson, a lawyer not involved in organized crime. Michael has extracted himself from criminal enterprises and has even sold the casinos, and he has been given an honor comparable to knighthood by the Pope, in recognition of his charitable work. They have an uneasy reunion, in which Kay says she dreads seeing Michael. She also says that as far as she is concerned, Michael is more dangerous as a businessman than he was as a Don. They agree to a truce after Michael reluctantly consents to permit their son, Anthony, to leave law school and become an opera singer.
Kay and Michael begin to reconcile when Kay joins the family in Sicily to watch Anthony's debut. While having lunch together, Michael asks Kay's forgiveness for giving in to his desire for revenge 20 years earlier, and admits he truly intended to live an honest life, telling her, "I had a whole different destiny planned." Kay admits that she still loves Michael. However, shortly afterward, Calò breaks the news that Don Tommasino has been murdered. Kay hears Calò screaming revenge, and muses, "It never ends."
Nonetheless, Kay and Michael are still attempting to begin a new life together when their daughter, Mary is killed in an assassination attempt on Michael. This tragedy breaks Michael's spirit, and he withdraws from society until his lonely death in 1997 in Bagheria, Sicily, during which time Kay and Anthony presumably break with Michael permanently.
Behind the scenes
- Kay was portrayed in all three films by Diane Keaton. She was a relatively unknown actress at the time of the first film. While she didn't garner an Oscar nomination for her performance, it is considered a career-making role for her.
- While the scene where Kay fled to New Hampshire was removed from the first film, it appeared in drafts of the sequel script.
- Michael's pursuit of Kay was partly motivated by the desire distance himself from his Italian heritage and lead a more "Americanized" life. Ironically, Michael himself would be used in the same way, when he married Apollonia Vitelli. To the Vitelli family, Michael was seen an American compared to they, who were native Italians. Apollonia's change in dress and attitude after her marriage was her desire to become more Americanized and the hopes that she would eventually emigrate to the United States.
- In Mark Winegardner's Puzo-estate authorized novels The Godfather Returns and The Godfather's Revenge, Kay's abortion is actually a miscarriage. She lied and told Michael that it was an abortion, knowing that he would never forgive her for it and would allow her to get a divorce. Some time after their divorce, Kay confesses the truth to Michael.