- "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
- ―Peter Clemenza[src]
Peter Clemenza was born in June 1889 in the province of Trapani, Sicily, and emigrated to America at a young age, moving into Hell's Kitchen in New York and leaving behind his brother Domenico, who would become a Mafia boss in Trapani. He swiftly became friends with another savvy youth, Salvatore Tessio. He became known as a suave yet violent presence in the neighborhood, ruthless in the protection of his property and his businesses. For this, he became of interest to Don Fanucci, but Clemenza rejected the idea of having a 'boss', and Fanucci let him go. Clemenza instead turned his sights toward mentoring a young Vito Corleone.
Clemenza and Vito
Clemenza became a friend of Vito Corleone after Vito immigrated from Sicily to the United States. As a young man, Vito held a blanket of guns for him to prevent their discovery by the police. Clemenza repaid this favor by stealing a rug for Vito's family, with the unwitting Vito's help, thus facilitating the future godfather's first introduction to the rewards of crime. Their roles were later reversed when Vito killed Don Fanucci, establishing him as the group's leader. Friendly and jovial, Clemenza was known as a storyteller among many of his acquaintances and family members - a trait that endeared him to Vito, who loved listening to storytellers. Peter Clemenza got his start selling stolen goods such as dresses and guns with Vito and Tessio as far back as 1917, and became a key figure in the growing Corleone family. Vito kept him close through the years - even making him godfather to his oldest son Santino - though this was all to control his brutal and more ambitious tendencies.
During the Olive Oil War, Clemenza was considered a vital part of the family, and his street-smarts enabled Vito to learn more about his enemies, particularly the feared enforcer Luca Brasi, who eventually joined the family.
Clemenza played a key role in aiding Sonny following the shooting of Vito, despite initially being suspected of setting the Don up.
When Paulie Gatto was discovered as the true traitor, Clemenza was entrusted with the task of eliminating him, enlisting rising associate Rocco Lampone to carry out the hit. Clemenza took Paulie's betrayal personally, having shepherded Paulie's rise through the family over the heads of more experienced and loyal soldiers. In order to lull Paulie into a false sense of security, Clemenza and Rocco drove around in a car with him for a few hours, looking for good sites where the Corleone men could "go to the mattresses" in the imminent war. He also collected some cannoli for his wife. After this, Clemenza ordered Paulie to pull the car over so he could urinate, Rocco then shot Paulie in the back of the head three times. Rocco succeeded Paulie as a button man and Don Corleone's new driver.
When Vito's youngest son, Michael, offered to kill both Virgil Sollozzo and Captain Mark McCluskey, who was on Sollozzo's payroll, Clemenza taught him how to use such a gun to commit a murder while reducing the chances of being caught. The plan was successful, and while Michael was hiding out in Sicily, Clemenza prepared for an all-out war against the remaining four families.
- "How bad do you think it's gonna be?"
"Pretty goddamn bad. Probably all the other Families will line up against us. That's all right. These things gotta happen every five years or so, ten years. Helps to get rid of the bad blood. Been ten years since the last one. You know, you gotta stop them at the beginning. Like they should have stopped Hitler at Munich, they should never let him get away with that, they was just asking for trouble."
- ―Michael Corleone and Peter Clemenza[src]
As Vito's most trusted friend, Clemenza was assigned to keep a watchful eye on his son-in-law, Carlo Rizzi and the bookies that he owned in Hell's Kitchen. Clemenza kept tabs on Carlo through the use of his contact 'Sally Rags', who informed him of Sonny Corleone's brutal assault on Carlo in 1946. The war later claimed Sonny's life, and Vito returned from the hospital following the assassination attempt.
Peter Clemenza visited Sicily in 1950, where he met Michael Corleone in order to arrange his safe return to America and also to oversee the safe passage of a family friend, Salvatore Giuliano. He also picked out new recruits for the Corleone family in Sicily. At this time he was briefly reunited with his brother, Domenico Clemenza. However, Giuliano was killed by his friend Gaspare Pisciotta before he could make his escape. Michael and Clemenza were able to safely return to America.
In the 1950s, Clemenza and Tessio requested the opportunity to start their own families, as Emilio Barzini had been chipping away at their territories. Michael told them to wait, to which Clemenza reluctantly agreed, but Tessio did not and made a deal with Barzini, which resulted in his death. Clemenza remained loyal, and personally assassinated Victor Stracci with a gunshot as he was coming out of an elevator during Michael Rizzi's baptism. He also garroted Carlo Rizzi, Connie Corleone's husband, in revenge for Carlo's purported involvement in the murder of her brother Sonny. At a meeting with Michael, Rocco and Al Neri, Clemenza greets Michael as "Don Corleone" and kisses Michael's hand- a sign that Michael has become his father's successor in every way.
For his loyalty and years of service, Clemenza was given control of the Corleone family in New York City and continued running operations from the old Corleone compound. He also stood in as an informal consigliere for Michael when the family was making moves to become legitimate. Though old, he still retained the sharpness he had in his youth, and kept his ear to the street, with only the addition of a walking cane. It was through Clemenza that Michael learned about the rumors of bisexuality of his brother Fredo.
He died of a supposed heart attack in 1958 while at his favorite diner, cooking food for his men. He was succeeded by Frank Pentangeli, his loyal lieutenant and long time friend. Rumors swirled that the Rosato Brothers had something to do with his death. Willie Cicci and Frank Pentangeli stated that his death might not have been of natural causes, though Michael and Tom Hagen dismissed these rumors.
Personality and traits
A man whose jovial nature belied his street smarts, Clemenza was immediately seen as an asset to the young Vito Corleone, who utilized his violent tendencies for his own ends, although he attempted to curb them by naming Clemenza godfather to his oldest son, Santino, a duty which Clemenza took on with great pride and solemnity. He was known as quite the storyteller with a great sense of humor, being able to get a laugh out of Vito and even the more serious Michael; fittingly, he died after telling his junior associates an amusing story from his past. He also acts as an uncle to Michael, teaching him how to cook, as well as how to properly carry out an assassination. Clemenza also confided in Michael and told him that Vito was proud that he joined the Marines and became a war hero. While Tom Hagen initially suspected Clemenza of being the one who would betray Michael to Don Emilio Barzini's alliance, Michael reasoned that the more cunning Tessio was the culprit. Clemenza's strongest attribute to the Corleones was his stubborn loyalty, not his intelligence. Thus, regardless of his complaints about Michael, he would never have betrayed the Corleones.
Clemenza was known as a superb judge of talent. No fewer than five future capos got their start in his regime- including Sonny, Rocco, Pentangeli, Ritchie Nobilio and Joey Zasa. Clemenza's vehicle of choice was the Cadillac Sixty Special.
In the video game
In the video game, Peter Clemenza notices talent in Aldo Trapani after witnessing him helping Fredo Corleone to save Don Vito's life. Aldo then helps him and his soldier Rocco Lampone to rescue Tom Hagen from the Tattaglia kidnappers.
After rescuing Tom, Clemenza sends Aldo to help Michael Corleone to protect Don Corleone from more Tattaglia's assassins. He later calls on the young associate to accompany him to murder Paulie Gatto, the traitor and informant for the Tattaglias. Clemenza also gives Aldo the names and whereabouts of several prominent Cuneo members. At one point his house is raided by the police in connection with a strike breaking at the Verona Warehouse, but his goods were moved away by Aldo to Paulie's Apartment.
After members of the Cuneos rob a bank, Clemenza sends Aldo and Rocco to steal money that the Cuneos had not yet taken.
Clemenza also assists Trapani in the Moe Greene murder. During the baptism he accompanies Aldo to murder Victor Stracci at an old hotel. When Aldo is promoted to underboss Clemenza is at the ceremony to congratulate him. After this, he is not vital in side or story missions, but he can still be seen at the Corleone compound.
Also, in the original Godfather game, Clemenza will say to Aldo at the end of The Don is Dead: "Head on over to the compound", while in the upgraded versions he will say: "Go home or something". The Corleone mobster who appears afterwards will also not refer to Clemenza as "The Big Fish of the Corleone family" in the upgraded versions. Hypocritically, Clemenza refers to Luciano Fabbri as a "big eater" and a "fat man" when giving Aldo Trapani his hit contract.
Players (Favor 6: Steal the Cuneo Money):
Peter Clemenza - Clemenza is a regular at the Albatross Grill, thanks to his wife's voracious appetite for their special cannoli dish. He's here for other business too, though.
Players (Favor 8: Stash the Truck at Paulie's Apartment):
Peter Clemenza - Clemenza is short of temper, especially when he's personally involved in the aftermath of an operation he had no knowledge of. You should respect this man, and quickly complete his favor.
Players (Sollozzo's Drug Fronts):
Peter Clemenza - Clemenza isn't around to pat you on the back when you set each drug front ablaze, but he's the guy who provided you with the locations of each. Make this capo proud!
Virgil Sollozzo - Clemenza has been following the Turk's distribution network for a while, and Sollozzo doesn't know how seriously the Corleones take an assassination attempt on their Don. He soon will.
Behind the scenes
- Peter Clemenza could be based on Frank Labruzzo, who was one of the most loyal capos of Joseph Bonanno, staying on his side during the "Bananas war" in the 1960s. Coincidentally, Labruzzo was portrayed by Richard Castellano in the made for TV movie Honor Thy Father, which was released one year after The Godfather.
- The assassination of Victor Stracci by Clemenza could have been inspired by the assassination attempt on Frank Costello, who was also shot in an elevator. In Costello's case, the bullet only grazed his head, but as a result he retired from his role as mob boss.
- Peter Clemenza was portrayed as a man in his fifties and sixties by Richard Castellano and by Bruno Kirby when he was in his twenties and thirties. Clemenza was scheduled to return in The Godfather Part II, but due to a disagreement between Castellano and Paramount, his character was killed off and was replaced by Frank Pentangeli.
- For unknown reasons, in the Italian dub of the first film, Clemenza speaks Neapolitan dialect rather than Sicilian, but returned to a strict Sicilian dialect in the second film.